01 April 2010

Taking Care of your Little Green Patch

Daily News Online (NY)

A thriving lawn is more than a soft, friendly playground. It can help cool the environment and clean the air. And it's not hard to practice a little backyard environmentalism - here's how it works and what you can do to ensure good lawn care.

Keeping It Cool

Have you ever noticed that temperatures in town are often higher than in outlying areas? That's due to what's commonly called the Urban Heat Island Effect. Pavements retain heat, so the more pavement there is instead of grass, trees or shrubs, the more an area "bakes" in the heat.

Through its natural processes grass releases water to stay cool, much the same way our bodies stay cool through perspiration. Water evaporating from your lawn or body absorbs excess heat to keep a constant cool temperature. (Just like the big fans with water mist sprayed in the air at amusement parks and ball games!) Because your lawn stays cool the air above it can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than it is above your driveway, patio or sidewalks.

Cleaning the Air

An average lawn has over 11 million individual grass plants. These little green machines work 24/7 to trap dirt, dust and impurities from the air. And like all plants, grass absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, making it possible for us breathe a little easier.

How to Have a People and Earth Friendly Lawn

    * The Most Important Thing for Your Grass Is Feeding Regularly: Well-fed lawns are strong and vibrant. In general, feeding two to four times a year will build a lawn that is ready to stand up to weeds, heat, drought and insects. So how do you decide? Well it's pretty easy. If your lawn doesn't get much activity from the kids, pets or parties, 2 to 3 feedings is enough. Feeding a couple of times a year also applies if the spring and fall seasons where you live are only a few months long.

      On the other hand, if your grass is used for ball games, Slip'n Slide or parties, you'll want to feed 3 to 4 times a year so the grass can regenerate and withstand wear and tear.

      So when should you feed your lawn? That's easy too! Anytime grass is growing and you are mowing is a good time to feed.

      Some fertilizers are designed for lawns, some aren't. Choose a fertilizer that says "for lawns" on the bag and has a spreader setting. All-purpose fertilizers don't have the right nutrient balance for lawns and may not even have spreader settings to apply the right amount!

    * Mow High: Set your reel mower to one of the highest cut settings to give your grass an advantage over heat, drought, weeds and bugs - and make lawn care simpler. Mowing high means more grass leaves and therefore more deep roots that reach water in the soil better. Longer grass blades crowd out weeds, capture rain water better and reduce moisture loss from the soil. Not only does longer grass look better, it's greener! Why? Because you see more grass leaves.

    * Keep Clippings: Mow and feed your lawn at the same time by leaving grass clippings from your push reel mower on your lawn. These break down quickly and recycle nutrients back into the soil.

    * Clean Up: Sweep any fertilizer and grass clippings that land on driveways and sidewalks back into the lawn to keep nutrients where the grass can use these for food.

Watering Optional!

In many parts of the country, Mother Nature provides enough water for your grass to survive. Well-nourished lawns are particularly good at bouncing back from dry spells. These tips should guide you to deciding if you need to water.

    * Sometimes when it's hot and dry, the lawn will go dormant and turn brown. Don't worry. Grass will bounce back again once it rains, especially if you've fed it well and mowed high. Properly fed grass survives on Mother Nature's drinking fountain.

    * If you use your lawn as an extension of your living space, then your grass will let you know when it needs a drink. It will turn dull in color and footprints appear.

    * If rain isn't expected soon, water using a sprinkler that shoots the water in a jet fashion, low across your lawn, and in the morning to reduce water loss from evaporation.

    * Compared to unfed lawns, properly fed lawns tolerate heat and dry weather better than unfed, weak lawns. That's because they have better roots and stored energy reserves to bounce back when rainfall or water returns. Keep your lawn well-fed and let nature be your primary sprinkler.

Feeding Menu
Grass is like any other living thing, it needs nutrients to grow strong. Just like humans need several small meals, so does your lawn. Here is a menu to help you make your green space great.


Think of fall as the breakfast for your grass: the most important meal of the day.* Many experts say this is the single most important lawn feeding of the year. Feeding right before the winter months gives your grass nutrients to recover from summer damage and increase nitrogen storage for an early spring green-up next year. (*Except for Southern grasses which benefit from lawn fertilizing during the rainy season in June-July.)

Early spring

Feeding your lawn in the spring is the lunch that strengthens roots and gets it off to a good start before the heavy growing season. If you have had crabgrass in the past, now is the time to apply a combination fertilizer with a pre-emergent to control it.

Late spring

Grass is busy growing and using up stored energy. If you are bothered by the dandelions and other weeds popping up, use a weed and feed combination product that gives the lawn nutrients and helps control broadleaf weeds. If your lawn has only a few weeds, use a liquid spot weed treatment. If weeds don't bother you, a dinner of lawn food is great to continue keeping your lawn strong.


Heat, drought, foot traffic and insects can stress grass out. Your lawn might appreciate a snack to help protect and strengthen it against these problems.

If weeds or bugs don't bother you or aren't a problem in your lawn, you can substitute an application of a straight lawn fertilizer for any of the meals on the menu above.

Follow these easy tips to make good lawn maintenance a breeze.

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