Let Nature Be Natural: Green Lawn Care

Communicating with Mother Nature

The following post was written by Dr. David Dobbins, Emeritus Professor of Plant Anatomy and Development, Morphology, and Horticulture at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Thank you David for describing how regenerative organic landscapers and homeowners help restore and protect Mother Nature who sustains all life. – Aggie Perilli

By Dr. David Dobbins

I grew up in the city of Indianapolis, with little exposure to nature, and had no real interest in the environment. My friends and I burned trash in a barrel, dumped oil and other items down the sewer, and threw garbage into vacant lots. Everyone did.

All that changed when the Boy Scouts took me on camping trips in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. Camping inspired both my enthusiasm for nature and my career as a researcher and professor of biology, botany, horticulture, and environmental science.

For 20 years, I conducted research in the rain forests of Australia and Central and South America. While studying and teaching, my mind kept returning to the same question: “How had our lives become so nonbiological and unnatural?”

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed stark changes in people’s attitudes. In our headlong rush to raise our standard of living, we have completely shortchanged our quality of life.

We bought houses with lawns we admire but have no idea how to maintain. Our lawns consist of one species: grass! No ecosystem in the world consists of one species.

To maintain what is unnatural, we poison it with increasingly toxic and ineffective herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and fertilizers.

Fighting against nature has led to the wholesale pollution of our air, soil, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and coastal areas–and is jeopardizing the health and safety of human beings, animals, and non-target plants.

How can we restore and protect our environment? Grow native woods, meadows, and rain or wildflower gardens. Beautiful and self-sustaining, these ecosystems provide natural habitats for the numerous organisms that form the bulk of our food chain.

Meanwhile, in urban and suburban areas, where lawns may still be the landscaping standard, go green. Wild landscapes are less expensive and easier to maintain than chemically treated landscapes. They are also safer, healthier, and, like natural parks, more beautiful.

A natural lawn occasionally treated with lime.

Regenerative Organic Landscaping Tips

  • Raise your standards for health and beauty. Let chemically treated lawns lie fallow for at least a year to withdraw from their chemical dependency the way some addicts can withdraw from drugs.
  • Before treating your lawn, test your soil to determine the nutrients it may need. Many states will test soil at no charge. In Pennsylvania, you can obtain a $9 soil testing kit from the county offices of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and submit your soil samples for a free analysis.
  • If recommended by your soil analysis, spread lime. This adds nutrients and turns your grass a more vibrant green. (Avoid costly carbon-releasing chemicals that kill the healthy microorganisms in your soil, and poison our air, water, and soil. Rather than prevent weeds, herbicides deaden your soil and will exacerbate the conditions that promote weeds.)
  • Especially in recreational areas and vegetable beds, hand weed. To eliminate or reduce the need for hand weeding and mulch that can attract termites, grow native spreading shrubs or self-seeding meadow grasses, ground covers, flowers, and plants.
  • Avoid weakening your lawn by micromanaging it. Allow your grass to grow 3.5 inches or higher. This leaves your grass with nutrient-rich blades tall enough to shade out weed seeds. A thick turf will sustain itself.
  • If necessary over the summer, apply an organic mix of a fertilizer your soil analysis recommended. Use only those products approved by health and environment scientists at the nonprofit Beyond Pesticides in Washington, D.C.
  • If your lawn has become compacted, aerate or oxygenate it to improve drainage and restore its natural vitality. Use an aerator with hollow tines; solid tines will further compact your soil. Aeration in a regenerative lawn is self-sustaining.
  • In autumn, seed or over-seed your entire lawn or just those areas that are weedy or bare. You can buy grass seed in bulk for $40 to $200 for 50 pounds. Look for the variety of high quality seeds your lawn needs.

I encourage homeowners and landscapers who have taken the lead in regenerative organic landscaping to persevere for the year or two it may take for their chemically treated property to return to its healthful natural beauty. No progress is greater than that which restores and protects our environment, and improves the quality of all life!

How is regenerative organic landscaping protecting and beautifying your property?

recommended media

Rodale Institute

Beyond Pesticides

Organic Consumer Association

Mercola research and articles

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