Six Tips for Sustainably Maintaining Your Lawn

Grow More with Less

Vincent Simeone

Editor’s note: Vincent Simeone is author of the newly published Grow More With LessHere are his thoughts on the perfect lawn.

(Cool Springs Press, 2013)

For as long as I can remember, home gardeners have been obsessed with maintaining the perfect lawn. When I was growing up on Long Island, lawn care was more like an Olympic sport than yard work, with one neighbor trying to outdo the next for the honor of having a weedless, well-manicured lawn. But how green is too green, and at what cost? The “traditional” lawn requires a lot of hard work, fertilizer, water, and pesticides to keep it looking its best. And that costs money and time, which is always at a premium in the American household. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have better things to do with my time than to spend it trying to achieve a golf green–quality lawn.

But there are alternatives to these high-maintenance gardening practices. First, our lawns are often cut too short, which can cause turf grass to become stressed, especially in times of drought. The shorter the grass is cut, the faster it dries out, requiring more water, more frequently. Shorter turf is also more susceptible to weeds and noxious pests. In addition, synthetic fertilizers with a quick-release form of nitrogen are often used to keep the lawn green and lush.

Grow More with Less

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, there are several simple things gardeners can do to have a nice lawn without all of the fuss. So here are a few helpful tips to make your lawn more eco-friendly, lower maintenance, and still functional.

  • Raise your mower deck to at least 3 ½ inches. Longer mowing heights mean less stress, less water, and a thicker lawn.
  • Use a mulching mower blade to recycle grass clippings on your lawn. Leaving grass clippings will slowly add nutrients back to your lawn, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Use a slow-release organic fertilizer each spring. This can be accomplished by using corn gluten meal, which will add nitrogen to your lawn while helping control weeds.
  • If you decide to use a chemical fertilizer, be sure not to overdo it. Use a slow-release fertilizer either in the spring or fall, and take a soil test every so often to check nutrient and soil pH levels in the soil. If needed, you may have to fertilize your lawn more than once a year, but you should do so only if the soil test calls for it.
  • Water your lawn infrequently for longer periods of time, such as a few hours, once or twice a week. This will encourage a deeper root system and save water and money. Watering for short intervals often causes shallow, weak root systems and wastes water, most of which will evaporate before it gets to plant roots.
  • Overseed bare areas of the lawn with a superior variety of turf grass that is drought and pest resistant. Use a topdressing of a thin layer of compost to lightly cover the seed.

Although it may seem like I am anti-lawn, I am really not. But gardening should be fun, safe, and rewarding, and we need to find more responsible ways to maintain our green spaces. With a little creativity and compromise, we can have our cake and eat it too: a functional lawn and a clean, healthy environment.

Grow More with Less

Vincent Simeone

What other ways can you recommend to have a sustainable lawn?