Let Nature Be Natural: Green Lawn Care

communicating with 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 chemical-free landscapers and homeowners can restore and protect the environment that sustains all beings. – 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 camping in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. Camping inspired 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 I studied and taught, my mind kept returning to the same question: “How have 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 that we admire but have no idea how to healthfully 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 nature has led to the wholesale pollution of our air, soil, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and coastal areas, and has jeopardized 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 wildflower gardens. Beautiful and self-sustaining, these ecosystems provide wild habitats for the many 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. Natural landscapes are less expensive and easier to maintain than chemically treated landscapes. They are also safer, healthier, and, like natural parks, more beautiful.

A lush natural lawn that is occasionally treated with lime.

Cost-Saving Regenerative 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 certain addicts can withdraw from drugs.
  • Avoid weakening your lawn by micromanaging it. Allow your grass to grow 3.5 inches or higher. This will leave your grass with nutrient-rich blades tall enough to shade out weed seeds. A thick turf will sustain itself.
  • In March, before you treat your lawn, test your soil to determine what nutrients it may need. Many states will test soil at no charge. In Pennsylvania, you can purchase a $9 soil testing kit from the county offices of The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and submit your soil samples for a free analysis.
  • If your soil analysis recommends it, apply lime. This adds nutrients, such as zinc and chlorophyll, and turns your grass a more vibrant green. (Avoid costly carbon-releasing chemicals that kill the healthy microorganisms in your soil, and that poison our air, soil, and water. Rather than prevent weeds, herbicides deaden the soil and exacerbate the conditions that spread weeds.)
  • If your soil becomes compacted over the years, aerate or oxygenate it to improve drainage and restore your lawn’s natural vitality. Use an aerator with hollow tines; solid tines will further compact your soil. Aeration in a regenerative lawn is self-sustaining.
  • Just before the rainy season in spring or fall, slice seed or over-seed your lawn–or just areas that are weedy or bare. Grass seed ranges in price from $40 to $200 for 50 pounds. You can shop around for the variety of high quality seeds that your lawn needs.
  • If necessary over the summer, apply an organic mix of the fertilizer that was recommended in your soil analysis.
  • Especially in recreational areas and vegetable beds, hand weed. To eliminate or reduce the need for hand weeding or mulch, which attracts termites, grow native spreading shrubs, tall grasses, ground covers, flowers, and self-seeding plants.

I encourage homeowners and landscapers who have taken the lead in green 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!

What regenerative landscaping techniques are improving the quality of all life in your area?

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