By Matt Pascarella
The Highland Lake Association held a Spring Lawncare Workshop which was sponsored by the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District on Wednesday April 3 at the Windham Public Library. Ali Clift, Educator and Outreach Coordinator from the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, spoke about the YardScape program and the importance of proper, healthy landscaping.
“The goal of the workshop is to help participants transition their lawncare practices from dependence on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides towards a more natural lawn which focuses on soil health and requires fewer resources (nitrogen, phosphorous, water, time, and money) to grow,” explains Clift.
“Lawns treated in this way have a stronger resistance to common lawn pests and diseases.”
Clift spoke about the dangers of ‘weed and feed’ fertilizers which contain pesticides. While pesticides kill bugs and rodents and keep weeds from growing, they can be harmful to adults, children and animals. More than 50% of pesticides contain carcinogens, which pose a threat to your family and pets. Clift described pesticides as a ‘war on lawns.
Several areas were addressed to help grow a healthier lawn: mowing, aerating, topdressing, fertilizing and overseeding.
When mowing, you do not want to cut your grass down close to the soil. Taller grass has healthier roots. With a sharp blade, cut your grass at 3” or 1/3 of the grass blade. This allows root development. Leave your grass clippings on the lawn as a fertilizer source. Mowing in the early evening is best, after the heat of the day and before the dew settles. Vary your mowing pattern so you don’t compact your soil will keep your grass healthier. Depending on rain, water your lawn between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. once or twice a week.
A core aerator removes plugs of soil from your lawn. It loosens the soil, so that air, water and nutrients can reach the roots. It makes existing nutrients more available to grass, reducing the need for fertilizers and improves root growth and thickens turf.
Topdressing is spreading a thin layer of compost on your lawn. This will help increase soil depth. The most effective way to do this, aside from hiring a lawn professional, is to make ‘compost tea.’ Compost tea is steeped in room temperature water. This process grows the population of beneficial microorganisms and makes nutrients immediately available to the grass.
When it comes to fertilizer, organic doesn’t always mean safe. It’s very important to read the ingredients and how to properly use them. People interested in using YardScaping-friendly products can look for yellow ducky stickers and tags in their local garden centers and hardware stores.
Unless you have done a soil test that identifies a need for phosphorus and potassium, all you really need is nitrogen. Looking for a 10-0-0 bag with corn meal gluten is a good choice. Slow release is ideal, too. Younger lawns (under 10 years) need nitrogen as food, while older lawns (10+ years) can get by with just lawn clippings.
Focus on fertilizing in the fall; doing so in the summer creates extra work.
Overseeding is the process of spreading seed over existing lawn to rejuvenate the grass. This restores grass and thickens turf. Adding clover, a rapid spreader that crowds out weeds and grows well with grass, takes nitrogen from the environment that plants can’t use and converts it to nitrogen plants can use.
Brent Olsen, a Windham resident and retired teacher, attended the workshop because he received a memo from the Highland Lake Association and thought it would be a good topic to explore and found it very informative.
“Lawns do not provide adequate buffering capacity for any shoreline property,” observed Rosie Hartzler, President of the Highland Lake Association. “But when coordinated with a vegetated buffer along the shoreline, lawns can be part of the homeowners plan to exhibit ‘lake smart living.’
She continued, “The goal of Highland Lake Association education efforts is to encourage every homeowner to provide better buffering capability of their property especially if a property is located in the Shoreland zone at Highland Lake (first 250 feet from the edge of the lake). It is highly recommended that homeowners not cultivate lawns right down to the shoreline, as grass does not have an adequate root system for buffering and filtering potential runoff.”
YardScaping practices build healthy soil to grow a beautiful lawn without weed and bug killers and with reduced use of fertilizer. We all play an important role in keeping our soil and water healthy and clean.
For more information visit: http://cumberlandswcd.org/site/ and click on the Yardscaping tab.