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A healthy lawn has fewer problems with weeds, which some lawn owners define as anything but grass. Applying corn gluten in the spring can help control pre-emergent weeds, although timing is crucial. Spot weeding by hand, or with sprays that use vinegar or citrus oil, can finish off the survivors. But the best solution for weeds may be attitude control. Before 2,4-D came along, the typical lawn contained clover, which helps create the nitrogen that healthy lawns need. Now clover is considered a weed. Tukey suggests adding 5% clover to a lawn, calling it “the best weed money can buy.”

Less is Greener
Beyond proper cutting, watering and nourishing, a sure way to a greener lawn is to have less of it. That means less water, less cutting, and less time. Just as the sprawling faux chateau is falling out of fashion for housing, so is the lawn that’s too big to mow, but too small to farm.

Shrink Lawn Area. Why not set aside the turf you need for sports and recreation, and convert the rest of your yard to other surfaces?

Think Beauty. Depending on your climate, ground cover such as sedum, juniper, and sagebrush can hold soil and block weeds. Ornamental grasses create year-round visual interest, even in northern climates when gardens die back.

Add Hardscapes. Between grass and ground cover, use natural landscape materials such as gravel and stone for paths and walkways. Brick nuggets, which are recycled chunks of waste brick, are especially eco-friendly.

Go Wild. If your subdivision and neighbors will tolerate it, let a corner of your property go wild, and watch it evolve into a habitat for birds and other critters. Fight for your rights. Neighborhood covenants are among the stiff est obstacles to a greener lawn. So are the chemically based practices of big lawn-care companies, which now perform roughly half the lawn maintenance in America.

Grass Roots Change
Will the day come when we feel embarrassed to be seen mounted on a riding lawn mower? It could happen. You can sense the subtle psychological shift coming from the bottom up at small companies such as ecoLogical Lawn Care in Boulder, Colo., which uses only organic fertilizers and cuts with electric mowers recharged with wind and solar energy sources. A few years ago, you couldn’t find an environmentally responsible lawn care company. Now, when you search, you’re almost sure to hit pay dirt. In the Seattle area, for instance, the Coalition of Organic Landscapers offers sustainable lawn and garden services. Many companies in other states belong to the Ecological Landscaping Association

Change also is happening on a larger scale, from the top down. In late 2010, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the nation’s most restrictive fertilizer standards. The new bill limits fertilizer use, and requires manufacturers to phase in 20% slow release nitrogen in their products. Other states and communities are taking similar actions.

There’s no reason to wait for regulation. People are looking for novel ways to reduce lawn care, beautify their home, and become the envy of the neighborhood. Moving away from boring, resource-intensive lawns, toward low-maintenance landscaping, is a common sense transition.


A Phoenix couple replanted a barren lot with strawberry clover, converting it into a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant greenspace.

1. Break ground. The hard pea gravel soil had to be broken up to a depth of about 18 inches. The toughest part of the job, the owner did the labor by hand.

2. Add dirt. Several inches of organic compost were added to the site, along with a ficus tree for future shade. The area was rototilled to mix the new soil with existing gravel, then compacted with a roller barrel.

3. Plant seeds. The tiny clover seeds were combined with an inoculant for better germination, then mixed in a wheelbarrow with compost and sand before planting. The resulting yard requires occasional mowing and minimal watering.



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