By John Sandri –
“Greensward is another word for lawn.”
It’s April and many people are making their annual treks to stores to procure inputs for their lawns. We actually live in one of the best grass-growing regions in the world, yet many of us are still applying chemicals to our lawns. Chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides encourage monoculture lawns, kill good soil microbes and worms, make plants less drought-resistant, and require larger applications each year to coax grass growth from the failing soils. In theU.S., 18% of water pollution can be attributed to lawn chemicals; and Americans spend more on lawn-care products than the entire gross domestic product ofCanada! So, what can we do to help to ensure clean wells, lakes and watersheds in our region, healthy green spaces for pets and children, and lower lawn care bills over the long term?
A truly healthy lawn or field must have a diverse variety of legumes and grasses and other micronutrient fixers with deep roots like dandelions and plantains (not just one type of grass). A thick layer of healthy sod would sit over topsoil rich in humus content. Entire lawns or areas on your lawns that are not growing grass well are usually due to thin layers of topsoil put down following site work, insufficient organic matter in the topsoil and too low a pH. Plants will naturally colonize these areas over time to repair and build the soil. You will see colonizer species like clover first populate those areas with its deep drought-resistant roots and ability to fix nitrogen on its own. Other species like dandelions and plantains help to bring up micronutrients from the subsoil, like calcium, with their deep root systems. It may take many years.
To encourage a faster building of your soils and sod, test your soil to determine if the pH needs to be modified with lime or wood ash, as our soils tend to be inherently acidic due to our area’s granitic geology. To organically fertilize your lawn, apply thin layers of compost over the sod, or plug aerate, and rake the compost into the holes (be careful on steep slopes — heavy rain could erode your amendments). Where too thin a layer of topsoil is the problem, topsoil with compost should be added over the areas and then reseeded. Of course one of the best things for a grassy area is to be occasionally grazed by animals!
With just a little care to organically mediate your lawn’s issues, the lawn itself can become a sustainable green area that will be able to care for itself.
John Sandri grew up inDublin, and is director of Farmer John’s Plot, a nonprofit farm in Dublin.