Back in "Lawn, Really?" we discussed the reasons lawn has had such a negative impact on the environment. In "Choosing Lawn" and "Installing the Lawn" we decided on a MicroClover blend and installed the lawn. But now it needs taking care of!
Right now the lawn is still coming up. Here are the tricks we'll use to maintain a more sustainable lawn, once it has grown in:
Water deeply, only as needed. Lawns should only be watered until the water stops infiltrating. If it's running off or puddling you're wasting water! That said, it's important to water deeply. You want the roots to get a good drink and reach for that water. But don't do it too often, either - wait until the soil has dried out to the bottom of the root zone. If you water all the time the turf won't get the chance to build a strong, deep root system that can withstand drought stress. Especially in areas like ours where we don't get summer rain, it's important to make those blades as resilient and drought tolerant as possible!
Mow regularly, with a hand-push reel mower at 2.5 or 3 inches. This eliminates our use of fossil fuels for mowing. Frequent mowing is important, so that we never remove more than 1/3 of the blade of grass at a time. With a reel mower, frequent mowing is especially important, since if the grass gets higher than the axis the blade is rotating on, it will just push the grass over rather than cutting it. The higher mowing setting and frequency reduce the amount of water and nutrients the grass needs to stay green and makes the turf less susceptible to stress. Additionally, the reel mower makes a cleaner cut.
Grow the lawn in great soil. The area we are using for the lawn is positively alive. Two years ago it was a very unhealthy lawn. Then we sheet mulched it with rabbit manure, horse manure and shredded wood and grew potatoes in it. Every spade-full is now teeming with life, and the tilth is amazing. Soil that is full of nutrients, full of biology, and which has good structure will provide exactly what the lawn needs to grow. If your soil is full of life, you won't have as much of a problem with compaction or as much of a need for fertilizer.
Manage broadleaf weeds. Most people spray weeds. If you are going to spray, don't spray the whole lawn, just spray the individual weeds! We prefer not to use poison where we play, and we want to keep the soil biology strong. Instead, we dig them out and then fill the holes with a mix of seed and compost. A healthy lawn, especially one including clover, can outcompete broadleaf weeds.
Leave clippings on the lawn, and include clover in the mix. Lawn clippings fertilize the turf, so long as they are not allowed to form mats on the grass. Nitrogen fixing plants included in the lawn also reduce the need to add nitrogen.
Aerate. Taking plugs out of the lawn every year or so will help battle compaction, and make it easier for air, water, and nutrients to make it into the root zone of the turf.
I'm looking forward to sharing back yard picnic pictures featuring our new, healthy lawn!