Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Steps to a Healthy, Pet-safe Lawn

We just bought our house last year, in 2014. Before that, we’d rented for… well a decade! My husband grew up in a condo, so yard work isn’t really his thing, but I grew up in the woods. We had a lawn, a forest, a couple gardens and a driveway to take care of. So I thought I knew a thing or two about taking care of our yard.

Boy was I wrong. We just have a little house in the city, so a small yard by my estimation, but mowing that thing every week is a pain! And then there’s mulch. My parents never worried about mulch, but our new house came with landscaping that I had to figure out how to maintain.

Anyway, I thought I’d done a pretty good job until September rolled around and our yard started to look awful brown. It dawned on me that mowing might not be enough. But I don’t want to put those chemicals on my lawns that so many of my neighbors do. You know, the ones that smell really strong and they put those little flags on the yard to tell you to keep kids and pets off it.

So I did a little research and put together a few simple steps to keeping my lawn healthy without hurting my pets or any other wildlife. I’m going to explain the “why” behind each step a bit, so if you just want to know the “what” I’m making it super big. Skim on through. 
Step 1: Water in the morning.
This is the easiest step. Water once in the morning briefly, wait an hour to let the water soak in, then
come back and do a deeper watering. This helps the water soak in better. I’m going to try to do this once a week to start and see how it goes.

Why water in the morning? You have less chance of mold developing because the sun evaporates excess water. Also, the later in the day you water, the hotter it is, so the more water will evaporate before hitting the ground. Seriously, like half the water coming out of your hose will evaporate. Why are you paying for that? Water early!

Step 2: Don’t cut grass shorter than 3 inches, and leave the clippings on the lawn.
Yes, this means you’re going to have to mow more often. But it also means you may have to buy less seed and fertilizer every summer. Why 3 inches? It’s tall enough to keep weeds from getting enough sun to grow, and also tall enough to keep from burning out in hot weather.

Leaving grass clippings on your lawn is a natural fertilizer as long as the grass clippings are short. If you have a mulching mower and you cut your grass regularly, you’re doing it a big favor.
Last summer, I waited until the grass was ridiculous to cut it, then it left huge clumps of grass behind which killed the grass underneath. Whoops…

Step 3: Aerate your yard in the spring and fall.

What is aerating? Ever go walking with your dog and you come across a yard with huge clumps of dirt pulled up all over it? They look like little dirt-poos. That’s aeration. It keeps the soil from getting too compact. Compact soil can strangle the roots of your grass.

There’s a couple ways to aerate. You can hire someone to do it. Or, you can buy an aeration machine that pulls behind your lawn mower or that you push by hand. The way we’re going to do it is to buy shoes with spikes in them designed to aerate. I’m going to wear them when I mow once in the spring and once in the fall. These are the shoes I’m going to try. The reviews say they work best if the lawn isn’t super dry.


Step 4: Put down compost in the spring.
Ok, so this one you’ll want to keep your pets off it for a day or two so they don’t get sick or track animal poo all through your house. I think organic compost is the way to go. Some people make their own. You only want it ¼” thick, which isn’t thick at all, so you can probably throw some clumps out there and rake them out.

Step 5: Fertilize with organic fertilizers in spring and fall.
Probably going to do this right after we aerate. Why organic? Because they have less nitrogen, so there’s less nitrogen runoff into the ground water. Also, they don’t contain those synthetic pesticides that were developed during the World Wars. Those are some nasty things, those pesticides, and are really bad for your pets.

This is another one where you’ll want to fertilize and keep your pets/kids off the yard for a day or two.

So there are the 5 basic steps, and it doesn’t cost much at all. I’m thinking of putting down some grass seed too after I aerate to fill in the sad brown patches. If you put down seed, be careful what you buy. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most popular type, but it also needs the most water out of any type of grass. Also, last fall I bought seed and it was bright blue. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think plants make seeds that color. Freaked me out a little bit, I felt bad for all the birds consuming those neon blue chemicals.
What works for your lawn? If you have any quick, pet-safe lawn care tips, please share!

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