It’s springtime. That means it’s time to start thinking about your lawn. Actually, the time for thinking is over — it’s time for some action.
There are a number of things homeowners can do, on their own or with the help of a hired professional, to create a lush, green carpet of grass. And it can be done organically. Organic lawn care, if done properly, will result in a healthier lawn, and a lawn that will be more likely to bounce back when conditions aren’t so good, such as in the middle of August when the sun is sucking all the moisture out of the lawn. That’s all according to Chester Mandrik, organic landscaping guru and owner of YardSpice Organics in Hudson.
“More folks are looking to go this way,” Mandrik said. “They’re finding organics is working, and what’s happening is that people are seeing their next-door neighbor’s lawn ... and now they’re starting to go organic. ... People are seeing results.”
But homeowners might not see results overnight. With an organic approach, particularly if you’re converting from chemical fertilizers to organic, the transition is gradual. Mandrik said the transition takes four full years. Along the way, anything can happen. That’s why it’s important to get educated before you start spreading something on your lawn.
Mandrik remembers two years ago when lawns were particularly dry. It was the organic lawns that bounced back. He said all the chemical lawns didn’t make it.
First things first: Get your soil’s pH tested. The results will show you how acidic the soil is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 7. The lawn should be around 6.5 to 6.7. Whatever the pH is will indicate how much lime you should spread. Lime raises the pH of the soil. Local garden centers will typically perform pH tests, as will the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. The Cooperative Extension will also provide fertilizer recommendations and a full soil report.
Mandrik noted a product called Magi-cal, which is essentially calcium — one bag replaces 10 bags of lime.
“One of the things with organic is that you always want to try to use less instead of using more,” Mandrik said.
Whether it’s an organic or a chemically fertilized lawn, at this time of year people need to de-thatch the lawn. That means getting a rake and raking up the dead, brown grass from the previous year. Professionals can do the work for you, but regardless, that’s the first thing you’ve got to do, Mandrik said.
Take a look at the lawn itself. If the lawn is patchy, with lots of dead spots or spots without any grass, you might want to consider re-seeding the lawn. If the lawn is pretty well established, you might want to opt for applying a weed control agent. Mandrik suggests using an organic option: corn gluten. But you have to pick one or the other. If you pick the weed control agent, you can’t re-seed as well. Although you can re-seed in the fall even if you put down a weed suppressor now.
“If you’re going to have a lot of weeds, you’re going to want to go with the corn gluten,” Mandrik said.
Almost immediately after you de-thatch, it’s time to start to thinking about re-seeding or spreading a weed control agent, Mandrik said.
“It really just depends on how your lawn is,” said Mandrik of whether people should re-seed or spread weed suppressors. “If you don’t feel like you have enough grass, then you’ll want to re-seed, if the grass is fertile, you can go ahead and use the corn gluten.”
In other words, it’s a personal assessment.
Then it’s time to fertilize. Whether it’s a chemical or an organic fertilizer people choose, it’s typically a four-step process, so just follow the instructions.
“The biggest issue we’ve had this year was that there was no snow,” Mandrik said, noting the lack of snow resulted in less moisture in the soil.
It’s been a well-documented dry spring so far, which means it’s all the more important that homeowners begin watering their lawns now.
“You need to irrigate longer than you normally would,” Mandrik said. “The reason is that if you irrigate longer now, it makes the grass’s roots grow longer, and then the roots will grow longer and need less water throughout the summer.”
“If you don’t irrigate now, you’ll lose the lawn,” Mandrik added. “It’s very important to start now.”
Plus, dry summer or not, most towns are probably looking at a water ban in the summer months.
When it comes time to start mowing the lawn, be careful not to chop off too much. Mandrik said to leave at least three inches and he said people shouldn’t cut off more than one-third of the grass height at one time.
In the organic world, homeowners would always return the clippings to the lawn. They provide valuable nutrients, particularly nitrogen for the soil, and that means homeowners need to spread less fertilizer. The only time returning the clippings is a bad idea is when weeds are starting to seed. Leaving the clippings could help spread those seeds, so at those times, bag the clippings. When you see dandelions turn into the puffy, white balls that your kids probably like to play with, that’s when you want to bag them. Crabgrass, another weed species that causes problems on many a lawn in New England, usually goes to seed around the end of July.
If you’ve already got an established weed population, sure, you could go spray the weeds with some kind of chemical that might kill them, but you might see better results and an overall healthier lawn if you get a little dirty and pull out the weeds yourself. The hand-pulling approach can actually be easier, more effective, and definitely less expensive, Mandrik said. And if you pull them out by hand, you’re not risking hurting your lawn with the weed-killing chemicals.
During the summer months, homeowners can also spread an organic post-emergent weed killer. That’s something that only came out in the last couple years. Mandrik noted a post-emergent weed killer by the company Fiesta.
As the weather cools and the season turns to fall, go ahead and re-seed, and make sure to use slow-release seeds, an organic option that helps to prepare the lawn for the winter, Mandrik said.
Then you’re essentially just putting the lawn to bed for the winter.
Now, go wash your hands.