Lawn Care

Gary Westlake


Lawns get more attention than they probably deserve. My wife looks on the lawn as future expansion areas for gardens. She might be right because every time I pass by the edge with the lawnmower it seems to creep farther inward. Our little dog thinks our lawn is his personal dumping ground and he may be right as well. He certainly spends a lot of time finding the right spot to do his business. I, like many others of my kind, make furtive attempts to perform the manly art of lawn care.

Monocultures like our lawns, where only one type of plant is grown, are rare in nature. If you insist on having one, nature is going to give you a rough time. The moment unsuspecting homeowners move into their new suburban home with attached lawn, the work begins. Dandelions soon appear and, wishing not to let down the neighbours, our homeowners start to weed and feed. Then the bugs show up. Summer comes and the grass goes brown forcing them to water. Itís like a treadmill.

In my grandfather's time or even my father's time (before Dow and Monsanto convinced us that they had all the answers) lawns always had clover to feed them with nitrogen. When I was young, lawns were cut with muscle. Then power mowers and the chemicals came, which seemed to give us all a simple way to have a lawn that was like the airbrushed pictures in magazines. But we now know that it was all a false dream.

Peopleís brains tend to evaporate when it comes to chemicals. Either they are ready to bring out the napalm as soon as they see the first bug or they get twitchy if someone wants to throw dishwater on their tomatoes. There seems to be no happy medium.

At our own place, we have learned that having a reasonable lawn is a balancing act. Our lawn is definitely not perfect like the ones in the magazines, but it is better now than it ever was when we treated it regularly for weeds. If we use weed killers, we have to balance that against the fact that they also kill the clover. If we were to try to control the white grubs with chemicals, we would have to balance that against the loss of worms, and the birds that feed on them. If we water the lawn in August to get rid of the brown, we have to balance that against creating roots so shallow that we cannot stop the watering. Now, some parts of our lawn are brown, some years in August but it always comes back.

So what do you do if you want to have a decent lawn? If you are moving in to a new subdivision, insist that the builder lays down more than Ĺ inch of topsoil because grass needs more to grow properly. Use grass seed that suits our climate and your location. The Ecology Park sells some excellent mixes. Feed the soil not the lawn by spreading compost on top on a regular basis. Let the worms come to the surface and get it while they aerate your turf. A healthy lawn resists serious outbreaks of disease and insects . A healthy lawn is alive with insects, worms, diseases, birds and all manner of life, not just grass. Cut your grass often but leave it long (minimum 3 inches) and never remove the cuttings unless they form piles on the surface. Leaving clippings on the lawn does not normally cause thatch unless you have killed all the worms. Even leaves can be mulched in using a lawnmower. Live with some imperfections, but if you see a problem that is getting out of hand, first find out for sure what is causing it and only use the minimum control you can, and use it at the right time. Hand digging a few weeds is sometimes all you need. If you are considering treating the entire lawn to correct a few bad spots, reconsider and only treat the spots. Donít leave your lawns in the hands of the chemical companies. Their purpose is to make money, so they need you to have to continually apply more. On the other hand, if used selectively and responsibly to get the upper hand on an infestation, there is little value in totally ignoring the chemical tools available to you. One of the secrets of life is balance and so it should be for your turf.