BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Despite my push to grow Illinois native plants to create biodiversity and sustain wildlife, our lawns do benefit the environment in a few ways. Lawns prevent erosion, improve water quality, along with trees and shrubs it can reduce evapotranspiration making the area cooler, helps improve air quality and creates a space for children and pets to play. A sustainable lawn is possible if you take an integrated approach in these steps.
Reducing the water supply to the lawn just before the onset of the summer heat prepares a lawn to become dormant. Rather than regular watering, deeply watering the lawn once during each rainless month allows turf grasses to retain enough growth to remain competitive with weeds such as dandelions. If your area receives a light rain during dry months, water is immediately released following the rain to mimic deep watering. If you want to maintain a green lawn, water deeply on a monthly basis, but combine with 10 minutes daily in the morning.
Mow your grass three to four inches high. Adopting this gardening practice will require fewer inputs from herbicides, fertilizers, and grub control and of course, less overall fossil fuels. Regularly sharpen mower blades, tearing grass with dull blades creates stress and provides an entry point for diseases.
The secret to organic lawn care is healthy soils. Adding a thin layer of fine compost to your lawn at least annually is an excellent way to amend your soil and build up soil microbes. An additional way to add organic matter is by "grasscycling." It is the practice of leaving lawn clippings on the lawn to break down naturally and serve as a soil amendment. If grass clippings do not decompose quickly, this is a sign that soil microbes and earthworms may be suffering from an overuse of synthetic pesticides.
This idea is blending clover with grass seed. Studies have found adding clover to the lawn can increase the drought-tolerance provide nitrogen annually, and decrease disease, pests, and weeds.
Add preventative corn meal gluten for weed control
The timing of the corn meal gluten application is critical because this must be complete before weed seeds germinate. The highest efficiency is during the third and fourth year of treatment. Therefore, weed plants that have already germinated will grow.Do not water in the lawn after application, or apply so soon after a rainfall, because wetness will reduce its effectiveness. CMG must contain 60% protein. There are many brands on the market that do not contain enough protein to be effective. It will usually work for about 5 to 6 weeks following germination. A general recommendation is 20 lbs. product per 1000 ft2; this also provides about 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 ft2.
Using Vinegar as an Herbicide
Vinegar works as an herbicide by degrading the waxy cuticle layer on weed leaves, resulting in desiccation. More frequent applications or applications with a stronger solution are necessary to control weeds with very thick cuticle layers. Research conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service demonstrated that vinegar at 10, 15, or 20 percent acetic acid concentrations killed 80 to 100 percent of giant foxtail, common lambsquarters, smooth pigweed, and velvetleaf.