As a child, I watched and listened for many years as my parents and their
neighbors had the lawn service mow, fertilize, and weed, so that all the
lawns were identical.... Well, almost. I found tiny little variations that
fascinated me. And it is those variations that shaped my philosophy about
lawn aesthetics and care.
When my husband and I bought our own house, it was an older one. The
lawn was overrun with black spiders, slugs, sow bugs, and other assorted
creepy crawlies. It was loaded with overgrown dandelions, plantain,
crabgrass, clover, chickweed, cranesbill, etc. I was faced with a choice:
plow it all up and start anew with preplanted grass sod and/or grass seed;
or weed. Due to the small size of both our lawn and our budget, I elected
to weed. Looking back on this choice, it wasn't a bad one, but it didn't
solve one problem that still remains: our ground is slightly uneven. I
have had some success scraping the high spots with a spade and filling
the hollows with potting soil.
On the other hand, electing to weed and not plow up and start over,
permitted me to keep the clover, cranesbill, chickweed, and other
selected 'weeds' that help make a lawn interesting to me.
I didn't want to use chemicals on our lawn. Chemicals that break down
quickly tend to be less effective than the ones that last, but either way,
the chemicals themselves or their breakdown products will eventually
seep into the water table and wind up in our lakes, streams, ocean. Also, I
eat many of the plants I grow in my garden and so do my pets and I didn't
want either of us getting sick from soil additives, weed killers, or
pesticides. Finally, the use of chemicals tends to become reinforcing by
preventing or delaying the development of a natural balance. I decided to
use mechanical techniques and natural substances to manage my lawn, and
to resort to chemicals only if other methods had failed.
I talked to some experts and learned the following: soil needs insects,
they are part of a natural balance, but my overpopulation of slugs, sow
bugs, and black spiders was related to my untidy lawn. I needed to remove
the broad-leaved weeds: dandelions and plantain. I also needed to clean
dead leaves and debris out from underneath bushes and plants.
Furthermore, since I had indoor-outdoor cats, I needed to mow my lawn to
reduce their exposure to fleas! Other than aesthetics, which are relative,
here is a practical reason for mowing the lawn.
I purchased a dandelion weed puller. It looks like a seven inch steel rod
with a forked tip at one end and a 5 inch wooden handle at the other. The
first one broke after I had used it for 2 months. I brought it back to the
nursery and they replaced it for free (which I didn't expect) saying that it
shouldn't have broken and it must have been defective! Of course, they had
never seen my lawn! But the second one has lasted.
I began by mentally carving up my lawn into sections and weeding one
section at a time; pulling a few weeds each day. I pulled all the
dandelions and false dandelions first because they spread the most easily.
False dandelions are close cousins of the true dandelion. A true dandelion
has no hairs on its basal leaves and a hollow flower stem.
A false dandelion has fuzzy basal leaves and its
flower stem is not hollow. Where I live, the true dandelions start
blooming in early spring and continue to bloom half way through summer. The
false dandelions start blooming in late
spring and will continue to bloom into the fall. I pulled the entire tap
root so that they would not simply regrow. I plucked any
yellow flowers or buds as soon as I saw them anywhere in my lawn so
that they would not reseed. After an entire spring, summer, and part of
the autumn, I had removed 95% of the dandelions. The next year I did the
same for the remaining dandelions and the plantain. I still pull an
occasional dandelion, since my neighbors still have some. I pull them as
soon as I see them to keep their numbers down and it has worked.
The dandelion has (usually) one long straight tap root but plantain has a
shorter root with more limbs. I would rarely have to patch the ground
after pulling a dandelion, but I frequently had to add some potting soil
after pulling plantain. Little by little the black spiders, sow bugs, and
slugs began reducing in number.
I purchased an electric lawn mower because my lawn is small, so it isn't
too much work. Over time, the electric lawn mover is less expensive than a
lawn service, less polluting than a gas lawn mower (due to the problem of
discarding old gas at the end of the season) and it is light enough for me
to use with ease. Regular mowing helps encourage an even ground and
helps control crab grass (my next project). I have a mower that can be
height-adjusted. I let our grass stay medium high because it keeps the
moisture in the soil longer and forgives an occasional missed watering.
Have you ever noticed that you will rarely find a mono-culture in nature?
Variety can add interest to a lawn. I have kept the clover and the bees
love it! I strongly recommend clover unless a member of your household
is allergic to bee stings. I also obtained a few lawn asters from a goose-
ridden lawn and added them. Other controllable plants and benign weeds
that can adorn a lawn include cranesbill, chickweed, blue field madder,
Johnny jump-ups (and small violas), small varieties of Veronica. .. there
are many more. I look for them in empty lots and keep a garden trowel and
plastic bags with me. My neighbors do admire my lawn. Sometimes I
wonder how many of them see what is different about it.