Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 19, 2005
Reduce environmental harms; maintain lush lawns

Environment is the buzz word for today, and saving it is the phrase.

Increased environmental awareness has motivated many gardeners to seek ways to make their lawns and gardens more environmentally friendly. Gardeners make many mistakes that are hard on the environment, in the name of having a great lawn. However, having a lush lawn does not require those mistakes.

Irrigation

The most flagrant environmental problem is over-watering.

Studies show many lawns receive water at a rate of four inches or more per week. If we were depending on rainfall to put that much water on a lawn, it would have to rain more than 200 inches per year.

In reality, the bluegrass lawns we traditionally grow here will thrive on something closer to 30 inches applied during the growing season — or an inch to an inch and a half of water per growing week. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep, drought tolerant root systems.

Our desert does not come with an inexhaustible supply of water so use each drop wisely.

Mowing

Mowing is another misunderstood lawn care operation.

Harvesting clippings is not a favorite pastime! Raise your mower height to three inches.

Taller lawns withstand summer heat better and require less water because thick, taller grass shades the soil so water does not evaporate. Lawns mowed at this height are healthier and have fewer problems with annual weeds including crabgrass and spurge.

Raking up lawn clippings has no horticultural basis. Leaving the clippings does not increase thatch and does not add to disease problems. Lawn clippings add nitrogen and other nutrients and build soil organic matter over time. If the grass goes too long between mowings so that clippings are very long and thick, remove the clippings.

Environmentally conscious gardeners can reduce their use of small gasoline engines.

While these machines are labor savers, they produce more pollution than a late model automobile run for the same length of time. Keep them in good repair. They are also very noisy.

Electric mowers produce fewer problems, but the ultimate nonpolluter is a push type mower which is much easier to use than older models.

Fertilizer

Leaving lawn clippings on the grass provides some but not all of the needed nutrients. Apply nitrogen fertilizer as needed. Strong, healthy lawns crowd out most other plants. Use small amounts to produce a dark green, dense turf. Avoid extra fertilizer that produces excessive top growth that must be mowed frequently. Slow release fertilizers even out the growth. A base recommendation is to apply one half pound of actual nitrogen per growing month. Adjust it according to plant growth.

Organic gardeners can choose several kinds of manure, compost or sludgebased fertilizers. Always choose weed free products to reduce the need for herbicides.

Insects

Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are naturally resistant to some common turf insects such as billbugs. Mixtures of several varieties or species help prevent disease problems.

Using resistant varieties is the easiest way to control pest problems. Tall fescue varieties are also more salt tolerant so are excellent for those areas of the county with poor drainage or alkali problems.

Apply the right amount of water and water deeply and infrequently.

Weeds

Crabgrass need not be the Great American scourge it is touted to be.

If you are willing to follow a few simple rules, it does not have to invade your lawn.

Crabgrass is an annual that germinates when soil temperatures get above 50 degrees. If you have a wide-bladed grass in your lawn that survived the winter, it is not crabgrass and won’t succumb to crabgrass controls.

Crabgrass usually germinates in April. Because it is an annual grass, it will not withstand frost in the fall. The best crabgrass control is effective turf management.

Crabgrass often comes in around the edges of the lawn or in areas of heavy traffic. It also grows well if lawns are mowed too short. Crabgrass seeds require light to germinate and lay dormant waiting for ideal conditions.

Short mowing and ruining turf with high traffic encourages seeds to germinate.

Protecting the turf from damage and raising the mowing height will reduce infestations.

Frequent, shallow irrigating practices encourage crabgrass and other weedy, annual grasses.

Deep, infrequent irrigation favors deep grasses while eliminating the less desirable, shallow- rooted annual varieties.

If crabgrass is a persistent and difficult problem that cannot be controlled by cultural practices, chemical control may be needed. There are no herbicides that will selectively remove one type of grass growing in the middle of another grass. The best chemical controls are pre-emergent herbicides.

They should be reapplied for spurge control six weeks after the first application.

Gallery is a product that can be applied early for season-long crabgrass control.

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