It’s time to take a deep breath of fresh air, shift some of our daily activities outside, and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us! Simple steps can help keep our grass green and our flowers blooming without the use of chemicals that may be harmful to our children and pets.
- Soil test to determine which nutrients are present and which ones are lacking. Go to your local hardware store or contact MSU Extension [call (517) 355-0218 or visit msusoiltest.com] a for soil test kit. The kit includes individualized suggestions to mediate your soil. Results can take 4 – 6 weeks.
- Aerate the soil if it is compacted or if low in organic matter. Weeds, such as plantain, dandelion, and thistle, love compacted soil. Be sure to aerate when turf is actively growing, not when dormant and not when moist. Use a pitchfork, a walk-behind aerator, or core aeration.
- Spread grass seed over bare or thin patches in the lawn. Opt for ryegrass or fescue seeds. Tall fescue, in particular, is drought tolerant. Avoid bluegrass, which requires more maintenance, does not tolerate shade, and will need watering in the dry season. Cover with compost.
- Mow low (2 inches) for the first cut of the year to remove snow mold.
- Mow high. After the first cut, raise the blade as high as it will go (3 to 3.5 inches). Keep blades sharp. Mowing high will create a stronger turf grass and discourage weed seed germination.
- Top dress with compost (1/2 inch thick) and/or an organic slow-release fertilizer that meets your lawn’s needs (refer to your soil test results).
- Avoid weed-and-feed products as they are pesticides. Most of these products contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to various cancers in humans and canine lymphoma.
- Replace Preen or other pre-emergent herbicides with corn-gluten meal. Spread it on established turf as a natural way to prevent weeds. (Be sure to keep it away from areas where you are trying to grow plants from seed).
- Check for grubs. If you find more than five to seven per square foot, treat your lawn with beneficial nematodes or milky spore. For more information refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs.
- Plant native perennials, shrubs and trees to attract beneficial insects and birds. They will eat aphids, mosquitoes and other pesky pests. (Go to www.mnppa.org for a list of native plants and where to buy them locally). Also welcome some feathered friends with houses, baths and feeders. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.
- Water without worry. Choose rubber garden hoses rather than plastic or vinyl, which can leach harmful chemicals. HealthyStuff.org found high levels of toxics in garden hose water two years in row. See the results.
- Go “neonic-free”. Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. Fifty-one percent of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic. Lowe’s is phasing out neonics. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same. Read more bee-safe gardening tips.
- Don’t want to do it yourself? Visit LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center’s list of lawn care companies offering organic services.
– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.