10 Mar 2010

In Praise of Lawns

rotary mower
A Quiet Push Mower

You might not expect it – but lawns are rife with controversy.

For many, mowing the lawn is a tedious chore. For others, the smell of freshly cut grass is the very essence of summer.

Some people think watering the lawn is a waste of a precious resource. Others can’t image allowing their lush, green turf to go dormant and brown.

Some homeowners douse the grass with weed and feed and keep the blades of grass golf course short. Others swear by slow release organic fertilizers and won’t consider a cut shorter than three inches.


  1. True or false – lawns are so suburban; xeriscapes are hip and urban.
  2. What looks better – bluegrass or rye grass?

Did you think there would be a correct answer? Sorry.

Aside from the generally accepted belief that grass is green, almost anything you say about lawns will engender a passionate argument from someone.


Whatever your outlook, here are a few facts about lawns that may surprise you:

barefoot in the grass
Barefoot In the Grass
  • A well-cared-for lawns can significantly increase property values.
  • A 50-foot by 50-foot lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four
  • Lawns cool the atmosphere.
  • Eight healthy front lawns have the cooling effect of 70 tons of air conditioning, which is enough for 16 average homes.
  • Grass converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clear the air.
  • Dense, healthy grass slows water runoff, removing contaminants, returning fresh, filtered water to the underground water supply


An organically maintained lawn is one of the best ways to care for the environment! You’ll trap greenhouse gases, remove contaminants from the water supply, and lower electricity consumption in the summer.

Here’s the secret to a healthy lawn: rich soil.

Really, there is no mystery to what keeps a lawn green – deep roots in soil rich in organic matter will produce healthy plants, whether those plants are thousands of blades of grass, a few tomato plants, or a dozen rose bushes.

Smothering your lawn in weed and feed kills the micro-organisms that build healthy soil. Dead, compact soil – without worms or other beneficial insects – must be forced, over and over, to push up new growth. The grass in such a lawn is always fragile and in danger of damage from rough use or disease.

girl in grass
A Young Girl Plays In A Field Of Grass

But a rich, aerated soil allows the roots to penetrate deeply.

The grass can take up nutrients slowly as minerals and organic matter break down. The soil holds water. The healthy top growth mirrors the vibrant life below the soil surface.

Healthy lawns invite us to kick off our shoes and walk barefoot through the grass. Kids can play, adults can just sit in the sun (or shade) and enjoy the day.


1. The first rule of organic lawn care is the world is not divided into grass and weeds. Diversity is healthy. Monocultures are fragile. For instance, clover can be very beneficial when mixed with lawn seed. Clover returns nitrogen to the soil, and it can keep your lawn looking green and lush with minimal care. So don’t reach for the weed killer at the first hint of “weeds” in your grass.

2. The second rule is: pull the dandelions, don’t poison them. Dandelions are so persistent because their tap roots grow deep into the sub soil. If you dig the roots, instead of destroying the top growth, you’ll not only eventually get rid of your dandelions, you’ll aerate your soil.

3. The third rule of organics is the golden rule: add compost. Return nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. If you have a mulching mower, leave the grass clipping on the lawn to decompose. If you rake the clippings up, compost them and then spread the compost in the fall and spring.

4. The fourth rule is feed the roots, not just the tops. Don’t dump pounds and pounds of high nitrogen fertilizer on your grass. Yes, it may make it look greener, but it is a short-lived pleasure. The short top growth of a manicured lawn is mirrored below the soil, where the roots are shallow and thin. Use slow release minerals, like rock dust, greensand, bone meal, granite dust, and rock phosphate to feed the roots.  These minerals will last many seasons, building strong roots and healthy soil. Look for slow release, organic sources of nitrogen as well. If you need some instant gratification, an organic tea can do wonders for a lawn in need of a quick pick me up.

5. The fifth rule of organic lawn care is water deeply. Turning on your sprinklers for 15 minutes every day just wastes water. The water thrown into the air will evaporate more quickly.  The water on the ground will not have a chance to penetrate and may drift onto sidewalks and gutters. Instead, water early in the morning. Use low rise sprinklers. Monitor run off. Adjust your watering schedule according to the season. Use enough water to penetrate about 6 inches deep into the soil – but don’t water so much that the soil turns muddy and soft.

Barefoot in the Grass by saragoldsmith Photo released under Creative Commons License
Girl in Grass Field by Bill Liao Released under Creative Commons License

01 Nov 2009

Autumn in the Pacific Northwest

Fall in the Pacific Northwest
Fall in the Pacific Northwest

Now that temperatures are falling and nights are getting longer, your plants – both indoors and out – will require different care than they received in Spring and Summer.

While indoor plants will not go completely dormant, they will need less water and fertilizer. Your technician will test the soil carefully before watering. It is very easy to overwater in the winter. This, especially when combined with fertilizer, will force plants to continue to grow. Unfortunately, in the low light conditions of a Northwest fall and winter, the growth will be weak and spindly, making your plants prey to all sorts of pests and diseases.

Plantscapes’ technicians will groom your plants and water carefully to encourage compact, healthy foliage.

If you have trouble at home, however, with leggy houseplants, aphids, or mealy bugs, try cutting back on the how much and how often you water. Stop fertilizing entirely until spring. If you aren’t sure how wet – or dry – the soil should be, talk to your Plantscapes’ technician on his or her next visit.  They’ll be happy to advise you.

Outdoor plants may go fully dormant. Turf, for instance, stops growing during the winter. This is the season to encourage deep root growth, not top growth.

Of course, our heavy winter rains make regular irrigation unnecessary. The Plantscapes’ irrigation team will visit your property to turn off your irrigation and to winterize your system. 

Some plants may need to be protected from freezing temperatures. While Plantscapes always selects shrubs and foliage suited to the Northwest, all plants are at risk for root damage in the winter. Variations in temperature can cause the ground to freeze and then thaw. This creates a condition known as “heaving.” If the ground thaws after a hard freeze, it expands. Plants’ roots may be forced closer to the surface by the movement of the earth. There, they may be damaged by the next hard frost.

The best way to protect plants’ root is a good layer of mulch.

If you have plantings in areas that are subject to repeated freezing and thawing, talk to your Customer Service representative about Plantscapes’ bark service. An inch of mulch will protect tender roots in the winter and conserve water in the summer.

Photo by ricardo.martins Released under Creative Commons License