Natural Lawn Management
Consider more natural and sustainable ways of maintaining your lawn. A healthy lawn growing in healthy soil is better able to withstand periods of heat, drought and pest problems. The following points are all ways to improve the health and durability of your lawn and are easy to integrate into a lawn management program.
- Do a soil test to determine that the pH of the soil is correct for healthy lawn grass growth. The optimum pH for lawns is between 6.0 and 7.5.
- Choose cool-season blends of turf-type fescues, ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass that are selected for Missouri lawns. For warm-season lawns, choose buffalo grass or zoysia. Many of the lawn grass blends are also selected for disease and/or drought resistance—check the label when selecting a grass type for your lawn.
- Try to reduce or eliminate the need for inorganic fertilizer and pesticides, including herbicides. This will help to drastically reduce the potential pollution carried off lawns during storm events. Most lawn pest problems can be controlled by selecting resistant varieties of lawn grass, by following these best-management practices and by maintaining a healthy soil.
- Use slow-release natural and/or organic fertilizers. These are applied in spring and fall for cool-season grass (such as bluegrass, fescue, ryegrass) or in early summer for warm season grass (such as zoysia, buffalo grass).
- Application of compost (organic matter such as decayed leaves, etc.) in spring and fall is recommended for soil improvement. Most composts can be used in a spreader for easy application. In addition to supplying nutrients, compost also contains the micro-organisms that build healthy soil. These microorganisms (beneficial bacteria, fungi and other microscopic life) along with the compost will increase the health of the soil by improving its structure and water-holding capacity. Earthworms are attracted to soils with adequate organic content and their activity in the soil increases soil aeration and infiltration rates. Their presence is an excellent indicator of a healthy soil.
- Aeration may be necessary to repair highly compacted soils. Consider hiring a professional landscaper to do vertical mulching—drilling deep holes in your lawn that are backfilled with compost. Annual aeration followed by an annual application of compost is a way of ensuring that the soil remains healthy.
- When watering, water less frequently for longer periods of time. Watering in the morning hours is recommended to prevent potential fungal diseases. A healthy lawn growing in a healthy soil will develop stronger and deeper roots and need less frequent water. Excessive watering may cause fungal diseases to flourish.
- Mow the grass higher (about 3–4 inches) and less frequently. Use a mulching mower so that grass clippings can compost back into the soil over time.
See Lawn Management Resources.
Organic Waste Management
Organic waste in the home landscape is commonly from two sources: yard waste (such as grass clippings, branches and leaves) and pet/animal waste.
Simply leave lawn clippings on your lawn. Leaves may be collected and run through a shredder (or mowed and collected in the mower bag) and spread over the surface as a mulch. Consider using shredded leaves as mulch rather than removing them from the property. Yard waste can also be dealt with by using a compost pile at home. Compost can be used as fertilizer around the yard reducing the need for chemical fertilizers that can pollute storm water runoff draining into creeks. Locate the compost bin(s) away from areas prone to flooding or other areas where rainwater runoff would cause leaching of nutrients out of the compost into nearby storm drains or waterways. Yard waste should never be disposed of in a nearby creek. Many municipalities provide yard waste removal as curb pick-up. The yard waste is then hauled to a compost facility.
Pet waste should be removed and disposed of properly in the trash. Livestock manures should be dealt with especially in more populated areas by hauling to local compost facilities, etc. In the case of geese, shoreline plantings are helpful and other forms of goose control such as dogs, coyote silhouettes and goose repellent has proven to be helpful. Large numbers of geese can cause water pollution and eutrophication of lakes in a short amount of time.
Weed control is especially critical in the first 1–3 years as plants become established. Use of herbicides, which can negatively affect human health, water quality, and wildlife, should be kept at a minimum. Frequent inspection for weeds and hand-pulling of weeds in the first few years is the preferred option. By the third year, plants should provide a solid canopy over the soil surface and will out-compete most weed species.
See Maintenance Resources for a Weed/Plant Guide.
Conducting a soil test will prevent overfertilization which can adversely affect plant growth and contribute to water pollution. Soil tests will give you an accurate picture of the nutrient levels and pH in your soil and tell you exactly which nutrients your plants need. Proper levels of available nutrients promote healthy plant growth. It is highly recommended to use organic forms of nutrients (i.e. compost) in landscape features to further reduce the potential for water pollution. For more details on how to conduct a soil test, see Understand Your Soil.