Lawns are interesting. A nice lawn is generally considered to be an integral part of most landscaping in the U. S. and serves as both a decorative and practical feature. A lawn is a cooling, dust-free, barefoot-friendly and attractive part of most homesites.
Much advice has been written about how to successfully maintain a lawn - which is essentially a monoculture crop of grass. A huge industry has built up to produce specific chemicals for weeding and feeding lawns, along with countless service companies who will apply those chemicals on a periodic basis.
At one level, these products obviously "work", as lawns remain green and weed-free under chemical regimens. However, besides the high cost, the runoff of all that combined tonnage of lawn fertilizers is contributing to the contamination of both underground aquifers and surface water. Lawn-care chemicals are a primary source of water pollutants, including nitrates, and communities that depend on wells for their municipal water supplies are facing major decontamination problems in the future.
As an experiment, last summer I tilled under a rather average-looking lawn area that had been chemically maintained by the previous owners of this property. I then blended in compost from the local yard-waste recycling center, along with gradual-release pelleted fish fertilizer and a light dusting of mycorrhizal inoculant. After leveling, I seeded a fescue and annual ryegrass mix which is recommended for this climate.
This spring, I applied more of the fish pellets (developed at Oregon State specifically for turf grass). I water deeply about once a week (this is a high-desert zone that typically receives less than 10 inches of precipitation - mostly snow - per year). I will not fertilize again until next spring.
The new lawn is beautiful, to the point where strangers have driven in to ask what I use on it, and I feel that I am now contributing minimal amounts of runoff into the local water supply.
By using compost, natural biological agents and small amounts of dry organic fertilizers at a rate the grass can actually uptake, I think homeowners can greatly reduce the collective harmful impact of lawns on the environment.
However, as with agriculture, I have no illusions that widespread conversion to cleaner lower-input biological methods will happen overnight. As usual, soil and water problems must become severe before being dealt with - that's just human nature.
But I feel good about having a low-impact lawn.
Cheers, my friends,
President, BioOrganics, Inc.