June 30 – July 6, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 4


Summertime in the Belgrades

June 30 – July 6

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Choices in Yard Care: Be Responsible!!!

by Dale Finseth

This week I'd like to introduce you to a couple of "characters" who I'll try and feature in future "Conservation Too" articles. The first is Lush Lawn Lenny. Lenny, or LLL for short, has a huge, well manicured lawn right up to the water's edge. It looks great from both the water and the family deck which overlooks the lawn. He can be seen weekly using his riding lawnmower, one of those zero-turning-radius rigs, as he mows and bags the lawn clippings. He frequently fertilizes with a heavy dose in the spring to make the lawn turn green quickly. He also uses herbicide to keep those pesky broad leaf weeds at bay. He doesn't use the lawn much, though the grandkids occasionally visit and may play in the area.

Just down the pond's shoreline is another landowner, known in the neighborhood as Unruly Ursula. She has chosen to let the underbrush grow in beneath the large canopy of pine trees and has even planted a mixture of viburnum, dogwood, and other flowering and fragrant shrubs. She maintains a relatively narrow pathway made of stones, gravel and erosion control mulch down to the water's edge, where she can launch her kayak and sailboat from a small, seasonal dock. From the water, boaters would hardly know that her three-season camp exists. Her view from the deck is out over the thick, low-growing shrubs and beneath the pines. She can seen rummaging around in the yard, pulling invasive plants and replacing them with some of the native plant options.

We would recommend against the drive to have a lush lawn. Go with a "Maine lawn." Many of us would not have a lawn without the dandelions or other broad-leaved weeds. We recommend only managing a lawn and yard that you actually use. The drive of many landowners to create and manage their prize "lawnscape" is definitely more work and the methods used can harm the pond, lake, stream or wetland's water quality.

Each year, an average family with a one-third-acre lawn will use up to 18 gallons of fossil fuels in their lawn manage efforts. That includes gasoline plus the petroleum products used for fertilizer and pesticides.

An attractive lawn can be grown without regular use of pesticides (weed, insect, or disease controls) and little or no added fertilizer. What are the options for people who still want that great, green and lush yard? You need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • How much of your yard needs to be lawn? (I've visited LakeSmart sites with none.)
  • How much of your yard even needs to be managed? Let some of the property grow back to a more natural state with local varieties of plants and little to no need for maintenance. (Some people only mow trails and have a spot to play croquet or locate a picnic table. Control any invasive plants.)
  • Given the amount of lawn you need, what sort of grass would be best? Different varieties grow better in different conditions and soils. Get a soil test to learn what will be best and what, if any, soil amenities you need, i.e. fertilizer.

Once a lawn area is established, how and when should you mow and maintain it? The following information may help:

  • If and when fertilizer is applied, it should be done only once or twice a year in late August or September. This approach provides fertilizer when the grass can best utilize it, not when it is likely to run off into waterways (Always sweep fertilizer back onto the lawn from sidewalks and driveways). Fertilizer should never be applied to frozen or saturated soils, or in advance of expected heavy rain.
  • Select grass seed that works in your area and demands less maintenance. Turf-type tall fescues and fine-leaf fescues require less fertilizer and water and are more shade-tolerant. In small amounts, perennial rye grass, because of its quick growth rate, is perfect for overseeding bare spots but it is not as suitable for covering an entire lawn.
  • Mow your smaller lawn to maximize its health. Higher mowing heights leave a lawn with more resistance to water movement, therefore reducing runoff. They also tolerate a higher population of pests without significant damage. Taller grass shades out weeds and reduces the number of seeds that germinate.
  • In much of Maine, an appropriate lawn needs little watering. Only if absolutely necessary, deeply soak the lawn once or twice a week with a total of 1" of water. Shallow watering encourages shallow root growth, thatch buildup, and increases the potential for pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

Remember why you like spending the summer here in Maine with its great lakes and streams and greenery. Here is a hint: IT'S THE WATER! How you manage and care for your yard, can have a disastrous impact on water quality. DO YOUR PART!

My yard care can seem like anarchy. I seldom water the grass, then only a small patch in front of the house. Much of the original lawn is now garden mulched with old leaves and stump grindings. The gardens are situated to collect nearly all the water runoff from my yard. The remaining lawn is only mowed in selective areas. Whole sections just have pathways mowed through and the "wild stuff" is allowed to grow until late fall when I cut and compost the summer's growth.

Check out resources at Maine Yardscaping, plants to use and avoid at Maine Cooperative Extension, or lawn care recommendations at the Cornell Turfgrass Program.

Conservation Too columns are written by staff at by the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, call Dale Finseth at 622-7847, X 3 or visit www.kcswd.org.