Successful organic lawn care
depends as much on employing
proper cultural practices as it does
on using organic fertilizers & inputs.
Correct mowing is the most important step in maintaining an organic lawn. Improper mowing stresses your grass and makes it more susceptible to drought, weeds and disease. Using the following tips will greatly enhance the health of your turf.
The cool season grasses we have in Minnesota should be mowed at a length of 3-4 inches. The exception to this is fall when the blades can gradually be lowered to 2-2.5 inches over the last few mowings. By raising up those mower blades, your organic lawn will enjoy several benefits:
Deeper roots: Root depth is directly related to grass length. Longer roots increase plant vigor and allow the grass plant to pull moisture from deeper in the soil, helping your turf during hot and dry weather.
Fewer weeds: Weed seeds need warm soil and lots of sunlight to germinate. Longer grass shades and cools the soil, depriving weed seeds from the conditions they need to thrive.
Increased photosynthesis: Photosynthesis is the process by which grass produces the carbohydrates it needs for energy from carbon dioxide, sunlight and moisture. Longer leaves provide more surface area for photosynthesis to occur.
Recycle or Mulch Clippings
With a few exceptions, you should never bag your grass clippings. If left to decompose on your lawn, grass clippings will provide up to a third of an organic lawn’s nitrogen needs for the year. Clippings are also a great source of organic matter for your soil. The beneficial soil microbes present in an organically maintained lawn will easily convert the clippings into fuel for your turf. The only time grass clippings should be bagged is when weeds are seeding or an excessive amount of clippings have clumped on the lawn.
Sharpen Your Mower Blades
Mowing grass injures and stresses the plant. Sharp mower blades allow for a cleaner cut, reducing injury to the grass and speeding up recovery. Dull blades tear at the grass, increasing plant stress and leading to browning turf. Have your mower blades sharpened prior to mowing in the spring and again halfway through the year.
Time it Right
Never mow your lawn during the heat of the day or when the grass is wet. Mowing during hot weather puts incredible stress on your grass. Mowing when turf is wet can contribute to turf disease.
Mulch your leaves
Instead of bagging those leafs mulch them with the lawn mower. Leaves provide nutrients and organic matter for the soil. New study have shown Mulching leaves into the soil also reduces weeds.
Never take off more than 1/3 of the plant height at a time. It stresses the grass and causes turf roots to shorten. If your grass has become longer than 4.5 inches it’s better to take a small amount off on successive days than to chop it all off at once.
While the soil in an organically maintained lawn retains more moisture and requires less watering, it does still require irrigation. Depending on soil type and temperature, this can range from 1-2 inches per week. The heavier clay soils in areas like Plymouth and Maple Grove will retain moisture better than sandy soils in suburbs such as Blaine and areas of Coon Rapids. As a general rule the following guidelines will apply:
Water Less Frequently: Depending on temperature, rainfall and soil type, one to three times a week should be sufficient. Letting the lawn dry out between waterings will prevent lawn disease and encourage deeper rooting.
Water Deeply: Approximately one inch per watering will provide moisture to the upper 6-8 inches of soil. Shallow watering encourages shallow root growth and weakened plants as the roots never have to expand to reach water.
Timing: Watering in the early morning allows the moisture to be absorbed by the grass before the heat of the day and lessens moisture loss due to evaporation. Watering in the evening or at night can lead to turf diseases.
One of the benefits of natural organic lawn is thatch reduction. Kentucky Bluegrass, which is commonly found in Minnesota lawns is particularly prone to excess thatch production. Thatch is a layer of dead material between the grass leaves and roots that includes including leaves, stems and dead roots. When this material accumulates faster than the soil microbes can dispose of it, a thatch layer occurs. While a thatch layer up to ½ inch thick is desirable and helps cool and shade the soil, thatch deeper than ¾ inch begins to cause problems.
The main cause of thatch is a lack of beneficial soil microbes compounded by compacted, poorly drained soil. Typical causes of decreased soil microbes are the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides (herbicides, fungicides and insecticides).
Fortunately, following an organic lawn care program results in far fewer thatch problems in the typical lawn. Using natural organic fertilizers and microbially rich compost tea liquids will increase beneficial soil microbes and reduce thatch. Lawn aeration will relieve soil compaction and provide oxygen to your soil. Following the proper cultural practices outlined above will also help reduce thatch.