ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
Increase the size of hardscaped areas to decrease the amount of grass in the landscape.
I believe many gardeners have a love-hate relationship with their lawns. We love the idea of a green carpet of grass to complement our landscapes and we take pleasure in watching visiting children cavort on the grass.
Xeriscape areas where grass will struggle to grow. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Use grass as connecting pathways between garden rooms. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Provide dappled shade in mid-day to reduce the amount of water grass will require. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
On the other hand, we are in tune with the current trend to minimize damage to the environment, so we feel somewhat guilty every time we start our lawn mowers and watch them spew out more harmful exhaust.
We might cringe when we purchase fertilizer — partly because of the exorbitant price! — and partly because we know adding chemical fertilizers to grass is a waste of resources and that some of the nutrients might run off the lawn, eventually ending up in our rivers and streams.
When we encounter a weed problem in our lawns, we perhaps try to dig the dandelions by hand or pull the creeping Charlie out by the roots, but often we are overwhelmed and resort to herbicides to win the battle with the weeds.
Some might also resent the fact that lawns have to be raked and mowed, edges have to be kept trim, and often a whipper-snipper must be employed to snip grass along buildings, wall and fences.
How can a gardener reduce the effort required to maintain a lawn, minimize the environmental footprint of the lawn, and still have useable grass areas that are not totally embarrassing? Surprisingly, we can take several actions that will at least partially achieve these goals.
A fundamental fact is that a healthy lawn will have fewer weed problems, look better, and in the long run take less maintenance. Keeping the lawn thick and healthy reduces the number of problems that are encountered.
Thoroughly raking the lawn in the fall to remove leaves and thatch and a spring raking to remove winter debris and to aerate the turf will help invigorate the grass. A spring application of a high-nitrogen fertilizer, in a slow release form, will ensure that the lawn is green and attractive throughout the growing season.
Applying the fertilizer at the lowest rate possible will ensure minimal runoff. Taking note of weeds early will allow for their removal by hand — use a dandelion digger to remove not only dandelions but also plantain and creeping Charlie, before they get too large or go to seed.
If use of a herbicide is deemed necessary, for example to combat an invasion of chick weed in the lawn, don’t spray the entire lawn. Use a hand sprayer of some kind to apply herbicide to only those spots where the weeds are a problem.
Choose a day with the correct conditions for application of a herbicide — read the label. Make sure to perform the task on a very calm day so drift will not occur.
Minimize the area of grass in the landscape by incorporating more area into shrub borders, flowerbeds, and rock gardens. If these are designed properly, they will be no more labour-intensive than caring for grass.
Don’t try to grow grass in inhospitable areas of your yard. Instead of trying in vain to have a verdant green lawn under your mature spruce tree or in the shady space between the garage and the house, use xeriscaping techniques instead of grass.
If good quality landscape fabric is used under the xeriscape mulch, whether it be crushed rock, bark chips, or river rock, maintenance will be minimized. Invest in a leaf blower to make cleanup of such areas easier.
Instead of the traditional idea of having a lawn and then flower and shrub planting around the periphery so that the lawn is the most expansive and prominent feature of the landscape, use grass to create connecting pathways between cultivated areas of the yard. The lawn then becomes a series of pathways instead of a broad expanse of open grass.
Grassed areas will not look their best if they are not watered during dry spells. Each gardener has to weigh the pros and cons of using this valuable resource for this purpose.
Using grass species that are more drought tolerant, planting trees to offer some shade to grassed areas, and setting the mower on a slightly higher setting will all reduce the amount of water the lawn areas will require.
Watering thoroughly, but less often, is more effective and will use less water than constant shallow watering.
It is a good thing that there are things we gardeners can do to ensure that the grass areas of our landscapes are attractive yet maintained in an environmentally sound fashion.
There are also things we can do to reduce the maintenance required by our lawns; we just have to rethink some of the things we are currently doing.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 24, 2012