It’s almost spring, time to make sure you lawn is in shape for the munchkins to play on. The good news—you can have a good looking lawn that is safe for your little ones and pets to play on and safe for aquatic life too.

Feed your soil.

The key to a healthy lawn is growing it in soil with plenty of organic matter and alive with microorganisms. Apply a thin layer of weed-free compost over the lawn in the spring and in the fall. Water gently to help the nutrients and microbes migrate into the soil.

Mow high; set the mower blade at two inches.

A longer grass blade has more area available for photosynthesis, converting sunshine into food for the roots and giving you a stronger, healthier plant. Longer grass will also shade weeds, helping to weaken and destroy them.

Use a mulching mower to leave the clippings well spread on the lawn for the organic matter to add nutrients back into the soil.

Water infrequently and deeply.

During the dry months, to keep a lawn growing and green you need to supply an inch of water per week. Place a can in the watering zone, and water until you have filled it one inch deep. Deep watering will reach the grass roots.

A healthy lawn can go dormant, or without water, for four weeks. If you choose this route, reduce stress to the lawn by not fertilizing during this time and limiting heavy use of the lawn. Some weeds will do better when the lawn is dormant, but can easily be pulled.

Fertilize sparingly, if at all, without added phosphorus.

Grass needs nitrogen, which it can get from soil rich in microbes and nutrients, and grass clippings, a lawn’s best and most economical fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize if your lawn is built on healthy soil.

If you feel the need to fertilize, the best time is in the fall with an organic, slow-release fertilizer.

Avoid added phosphorous in fertilizers, because runoff can lead to rapid growth of weeds and algae blooms that harm fish and other aquatic life.

Prevent weeds.

It is best to control weeds with prevention and the natural methods outlined above. The safest post-emergent weed control is pulling by hand or weedpuller.

A crop of dandelions indicates your soil is more alkaline. Clover and mushrooms are signs of low nitrogen levels in the soil. Excessive moss can indicate too much shade, poor drainage, soil compaction, overwatering, or low nutrition.

For pre-emergent weed control, apply corn gluten to the lawn in early spring, about the time you see the crocus bloom. Two cautions: it needs relatively dry weather to be effective; and since corn gluten prevents seed germination, don’t use it if you’re seeding grass.

Avoid using weed ‘n’ feed products, which contain toxic pesticides.

Kick-start a damaged lawn

If your lawn needs some TLC, try some of these practices until it’s in better shape:

  • aerate in the spring or fall to help air, water, and soil nutrients penetrate and encourage better root development. Top-dress with compost after aerating.
  • remove thatch when it is more than ¼ to ½ inches thick.  Some thatch is beneficial for the lawn as it helps to regulate soil temperature.
  • test the pH of your soil; lawns like soil between 6.5 and 7.0 pH. Soil that is too acidic will need a sprinkling of lime; gardeners’ sulfur can be added to soil which is not acidic enough.

See these additional resources:

www.healthylawns.org

http://your.kingcounty.gov/solidwaste/naturalyardcare/lawncare.asp

www.gardenhotline.org

http://www.seattle.gov/util/services/yard/natural_lawn_&_garden_care/Natural_lawn_care/index.asp

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/story.php?S_No=894&storyType=garden

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