Mr. Green Car: Green lawn care–part two

Editor’s note: The following is the second in a series. Part one appeared in the June 30-July 6, 2010, edition.

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

In the last Mr. Green Car, we looked at how using manual- or electric-powered lawn care equipment could reduce your impact on the environment. This week, we’ll continue to look at making lawn care easier and more environmentally friendly.

One of the “hidden” ways fuel is used is in the creation of fertilizer. A great deal of natural gas is used in the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. A 40-pound bag of fertilizer contains about the equivalent of 2.5 gallons of gas. This does not count all the trucking involved in moving the bags around. Fertilizing your lawn sure makes it look good, but it also grows faster and taller—requiring more mowing. Organic fertilizers are available that are not derived from fossil fuels if you do need to fertilize your lawn.

To control weeds, particularly once you have them under control via chemical or physical attack, allowing your grass to grow longer inhibits weed growth. I have no idea why we have this obsession with putting-green-short grass. It requires more watering for short grass. Watering involves energy to move the water, too, as well as using a precious resource on something that is only aesthetic in nature. Rain barrels and saving gray water for watering can relieve much fresh water consumption for lawns and gardens.

I have a fairly large yard. I hate trimming, so I either kill grass around objects that must be mowed around, or I use wood chip or grass mulch to make it possible to mow without trimming. Other techniques are using heavy rubber mats and such to deny grass and weeds the opportunity to grow. This makes for quicker, more efficient, mowing. I often pine for living in a nice apartment that requires no lawn care at all!

I also let my grass grow much taller than most folks do. Not quite the 2.5 to 3 inches recommended for summer stress periods or the 2 to 2.5 inches for spring and fall, which to most people would look unmowed, but in the 1.5- to 2-inch range. Since you need to mow every week anyway, it makes no difference what height you cut at, as long as you do so before it becomes too long. If it does become too long because of rainy periods or infrequency, mow once at a high height, then return when the clippings are dry and mow again at a lower height to avoid the need to bag the grass clippings. Experts recommend cutting only one-third of a blade length at any one time. Low-cut grasses have shallow root systems that make them susceptible to drought.

If you have a really large yard, you might want to consider bi-weekly mowing, growing prairie or simply allowing it to become a natural meadow and mowing only once or twice a season—while doing more regular mowing in cosmetic areas near buildings, drives and walks. Gardens and ground cover alike reduce areas that need mowing and do a better job of absorbing rainfall than does a manicured, low-cut lawn. Much of our flash-flooding problems come from rapid lawn runoff.

Areas hard to mow, such as ditches and embankments, should be let grow long, or planted with species that grow naturally in the conditions present in these places—they often look better than grass, too.

Grass clippings should be allowed to fall where cut; this is natural fertilizer to the lawn and eliminates the energy costs of transporting clippings to landfills or compost facilities. If using a typical rotary mower, one should mow in a pattern where the clippings fall in an area just mowed; they are less noticeable than if a pattern is used that tends to pile them up. Sometimes a pattern of going back over the just-cut clippings again will mulch the blades into finer bits that integrate into the lawn better. If grass is quite long, this may not work, and the “blow it outward” technique is the most efficient—a mower working hard is burning gas and polluting.

I change my mowing pattern frequently; to distribute the cuttings more evenly, prevent the blades from lying in one direction and to relieve the boredom of mowing. Yeah, I’m occasionally one of those “diagonal” mowers. “Mulching” mowers don’t blow out the side, and usually have special blades that re-cut the clippings, but these mowers don’t work well with cutting down tall grass. They are great if you mow regularly and make less of a mess that requires clean-up of clippings.

If you’re the sort who collects or bags the clippings, they should be used as compost. Those full of weeds may not be what you want to use for gardening, but if you have the space, just let it decompose naturally in its own pile. Grass clippings make great mulch around plants if piled deep enough. Mulching cuts down on trimming, helps plants retain ground moisture and controls weeds. It is always amazing how fast these piles of grass disappear.

However you go about it, you can make your life easier, spend less time working on the yard and help the environment if you take some of these easy steps to reduce lawn care requirements.

From the July 14-20, 2010 issue

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