We LOVE grass. Like a lot. Like more than a friend.
We also really love the earth.
A common misconception is that good lawn health requires a lot of expensive and harsh products and chemicals. Although we do love a good organic fertilizer (you get used to the smell), there are still plenty of things you can do to have a healthy lawn that don't require a single product or chemical.
Good mowing practices
The first and most effective thing you can do for your lawn health is something that we talk about all the time - Good mowing practices. These include:
Cut your grass long, between 3 1/2 and 4 inches. If you only change one thing with your lawn, make it this one. There are so many benefits to mowing high, and it takes no extra effort or money. Mowing high looks better, your lawn will retain water more effectively, it strengthens your grass's root system, and believe it or not it's a natural way to control pests and weeds. Don't believe me? Read more about it here. You'll be sold.
Mow frequently. Frequent mowing also contributes to a healthier and thicker lawn. Every time you cut your grass, hormones are released from the tips that stimulate rhizome growth. Rhizomes are horizontal rootstalks that grow underground. It's the primary way that most of our grasses around here reproduce. More rhizomes means thicker, healthier, and more pest-resistant grass.
Use sharp blades. Dull mower blades will leave torn ends on your grass, rather than a nice sharp edge. Ragged edges will not only turn brown and ugly, they are susceptible to diseases and pests. We sharpen ours at least once a week, but yours will probably only need to be done once a year or so, depending on the size of your lawn. You can do it yourself with a bench grinder, but honestly it's like less than $10 to have it done professionally. Worth it.
Mulch leaves & grass clippings. If there is a light layer of leaves or grass clippings in your yard, you can mow over them to mulch them into the grass. There are special mulching blades you can use, or you can just set your mower blades to the highest setting. Mowing will shred the leaves and clippings and break them down small enough to let light and oxygen through, and the leaves will decompose and add the nutrients and organic matter back into the soil.
Core aeration is the process of pulling small cores of earth and sod to improve the health of your lawn by allowing water, oxygen, and important nutrients to reach the root system of the grass. It also creates space for the roots to grow into, which makes a healthier, greener, and stronger lawn. And as we know, healthy grass means fewer weeds.
As a bonus, the cores left behind from aerating will break down into a natural compost, and any nutrients will be recycled back into the soil. Free fertilizer!
It's tricky, because while we don't want to be wasteful with water, it's also one of the 3 building blocks of good lawn health (soil biology, irrigation, and grooming). Watering is the quickest way to wake your lawn up after winter dormancy, and it absolutely essential when growing new grass from seed. We have seen many costly lawn installs and rehabs that have been completely wasted because they didn't get adequate water. It's the reason that we require some kind of irrigation system every time we are growing grass. It's just that important.
You don't need a fancy irrigation system with an automatic timer, although those can be really nice. You really just need a hose and a sprinkler. You can even get one of those colorful wiggly ones. I don't care if you have kids or not, no judgements here.
To be clear, we are not against using products on your lawn. Sometimes you have a nasty infestation of crabgrass or voles or teenagers that will take something a little stronger than a sprinkler to get rid of. And soil in the Adirondacks is notoriously difficult to grow grass in, and will almost certainly need to be fortified with additional nutrients and organic matter. But the more you use good lawn practices, like mowing high, the fewer products you'll need.
The best lawns we have grown use a balance of products and good practices for complete lawn health. It's all about minimizing the impact, both on the earth and on your budget.