Bay-Friendly Tips: Springtime Lawn Maintenance
Alyssa Pietraszek, Communications Intern
With spring coming into full bloom, many are looking ahead toward summer in an attempt to ensure that their yards will be ready in time for the upcoming cookouts and backyard parties. However, in an effort to accomplish this task, a lot of us are left wondering how to maintain our lawns in the most Bay-friendly manner.
Should You Use Fertilizer? If So, What Should You Use?
Many folks choose not to use natural or synthetic fertilizers at all, which is a perfectly valid choice. While excess nutrients in many store-bought fertilizers contribute to water pollution and algae blooms in Narragansett Bay and its watershed, there are several natural, Bay-friendly alternatives that can be added to your lawn as fertilizers. Grass clippings can be left on your lawn after it has been mowed, which will provide up to one-third of your lawn’s nutrient needs for free. Alternatively, you can add up to 0.5” of compost on your lawn or garden. Compost is nutrient-rich organic matter produced by bacteria and worms that break down food scraps and garden waste. Compost, whether bought or homegrown, will fuel plant growth and restore vitality to depleted soil!
If you choose to fertilize your lawn with store-bought fertilizer, there are precautions that you should take. First, make sure to test the pH of your soil before adding fertilizer. If the pH of your lawn is too low, the grass will not be able to absorb the fertilizer. To avoid excess nutrient runoff into storm drains that lead into the Bay, never fertilize immediately before or after a rainfall. Choose slow-release fertilizers that release nutrients gradually over time, making it less likely that excess nutrients will be washed off of your lawn and end up in the Bay. Fertilize sparingly, during ideal times (in spring after your lawn greens up, and/or in fall before mid-October).
When Should You Start Fertilizing?
During the colder winter months, your lawn goes dormant in order to conserve water and nutrients while the ground is frozen. However, once soil temperatures start to increase again in the spring and the ground thaws, your lawn is reawakened and begins to actively grow once more. This growth typically begins before you first start to visibly notice a difference in your lawn, starting at the grass roots beneath the ground surface. Any added fertilizer will limit the amount of root development by redirecting all efforts into blade growth. As a result, fertilizer should only be added to your lawn in the fall, before mid-October, or in late May or June when you notice that your lawn is starting to turn green and grow on its own.
What Else Can You Do to Ensure A Healthy, Bay-Friendly Lawn?
There are several other practices that you can implement to maintain your lawn without harming the Bay.
- If You Choose to Water, Don’t Overwater Your Lawn: Watering your lawn is never mandatory. Overwatering can result in any added nutrients or fertilizers running off of your lawn, onto pavement, and then into nearby storm drains and eventually into the Bay. These excess nutrients negatively affect water quality, resulting in algae blooms and fish kills. Overwatering can also result in shallow roots, which makes your lawn more susceptible to disease, drought, and pests. The best practices for watering are to use a sprinkler timer, and to water in the early morning to reduce evaporation, making sure to let your lawn dry out between waterings. (If water is flowing off your lawn into the street then you are overwatering.)
- Let Your Lawn Grow: Waiting weeks between mowings is less work for you, and letting your grass grow longer will provide more shade for your lawn’s soil and encourage deep root growth. Some folks challenge themselves to not mow at all the entire month of May, in an effort to help pollinator insects. A taller lawn retains moisture and doesn’t need to be watered or fertilized as frequently. Together with deep roots resulting from a properly-watered lawn, these longer grass blades will provide you with a healthy lawn to enjoy during the warmer months!
- Plant Local and Native: By planting native grasses, trees, and shrubs, your yard will require less water and fertilizer, which will save you both time and money. In addition, these native flowers and flowering plants will also provide important habitats for beneficial species, such as ladybugs and bees!
For more Bay-friendly tips, download our Bay-Friendly Living Guide!