jack-edgingA FRIENDLY SUGGESTION just filtered in as a comment this morning, and mplonski is right, I haven’t given you any real lawn help yet and should open a forum on the subject. Mea culpa. Here’s how I answered him, which hopefully serves as a place-holder for those in similar circumstances until then:

I replied:

“Good idea…I will put it on my to-do list. Meantime my favorite lawn resources are Safe Lawns (a non-profit promoting organic care), and Cornell Cooperative Extension (assuming you are in a northern region like mine). The Cornell site includes chemical and non-chemical options; you know where I stand I expect.

Paul Tukey, formerly of Safe Lawns nonprofit that promoted organic lawncare, wrote a fantastic book called “The Organic Lawn Care Manual,” and it really is the best, sanest program I can imagine–answers every question. On the Safe Lawns site he does a series of videos and if you can get past the pre-roll ads they are also good. Hope this helps.”


My basic approach is not far from benign neglect, frankly. I don’t feed, and I definitely don’t use weed-and-feed products because they contain herbicides (as well as chemical fertilizers). If it’s green (including some weeds and clover), I try to love it and care for it kindly. That means: I mow frequently (never let your lawn grow so long between mowings that you need to remove more than one-third of the height at a time).

I mow with a sharp blade, which I have honed or replaced every year or more frequently if I am working in rough areas. Tearing grass blades with a dull mower invites pests and diseases. I let my clippings lie, returning all that Nitrogen to the soil to feed the lawn. I incorporate clover into my grass seed for its soil-improving quality, too. Aeration (with a machine) and de-thatching are two of the other most important things you can do for your lawn.

I dig out some of the most tenacious weeds like dandelions in the highly visible areas, like maybe 25 a week or something as a token toward not being overrun, and mow before weeds go to seed to prevent dispersal.

Except in the small areas right around the house, between my garden borders, I let the lawn go brown during the highest heat of summer, and rebound when the rains return in fall. The areas I do water get watered deeply and once a week or less, depending on rainfall, letting an inch of water soak the lawn to encourage deep-rooting (instead of a dependence on me and the sprinkler). Use cheap plastic rain gauges to calculate water applied.

Like any plant, lawn grasses depend on healthy soil. And the better the soil, the better the lawn’s ability to thrive without artificial support. This is why Tukey and Safe Lawns recommend spreading a layer of compost on your lawn each year (which I swear I am going to do someday when I check a few other things off my list). Like I said, practically benign neglect over here in the lawncare department.

  1. Ellis Hollow says:

    Thanks for the plug for the Cornell lawn site. I worked with the ‘Turf Guy’ Frank Rossi to pull that together a few years ago at my day job. It’s still pretty current. Stop by Ellis Hollow sometime. I don’t write much about lawns there, and these days it’s mostly pix.


  2. margaret says:

    Welcome and thanks for the link. I love your dubbing this “hyper-spring,” because that’s exactly what it is. I hear the Hudson Valley/Berkshire area where I am, is to get some rain this coming week, so I am crossing all fingers. Enough with the whoosh of things!
    Not sure what I would have done all my life without Cornell, so happy to give plugs (both for the Extension and for the Lab of Ornithology, another favorite of mine).
    Hope to see you here again.

  3. Dahlia Delight says:

    Cornell Master Gardening taught me a great deal and classmates swore by corn gluten but the question is,,, when should it be applied and still try and seed a lawn

  4. Nadja says:

    I just had some drainage work done around the house. Now what was sort of ground cover weeds, native grasses, and stones and clay-y dirt, is now just dirt! I was thinking of spreading some grass seed and trying my hand at more of a lawn. What type of grass should I plant for summer sun about 4-5 hours in the afternoon? And, should I spread a layer of top soil first? I don’t want to smother all the pretty weeds and ground cover, but I’m not sure if grass would really thrive. Any suggestions for seed to plant this fall? thanks!

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