Though I think that the expanses of turf that constitute most lawns have  all the classy appeal of Astroturf, and are an generally an environmental travesty, there are some things to be said for this stuff:

So, if we must have grass, let’s make it sustainable  grass.

My master gardener volunteer class this week was all about the latest findings on how to take care of our turf as ecologically as possible.  So let’s re-examine the  three things turf requires:

  1. Mowing
  2. Fertilizing
  3. Watering


  1. Keep your mower blades sharp.  If you see grass tops that are ragged with browning on the cut edges – sharpen your blade because:

    ...The shorter you cut your grass, the shorter the roots beneath it, and guess what happens in dry spells.

  • Grass recovers faster
  • Does not dehydrate as much
  • Is less vulnerable to disease

Use the 1/3 Rule:

Do not cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time.  In general mow to 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches.  This height will stimulate denser growth and shade out weeds, whose seeds won’t get the light they need to germinate.


Research is changing  standard fertilizing practice for the better.

For one thing, in Wisconsin phosphorous is now banned in turf fertilizers. That’s o.k. because most soils in this state have plenty of phosphorous already.  Really, in this area the limiting factor for turf grass growth is nitrogen.

So how much nitrogen do you need, and when should you apply it?

The rules used to say 4 pounds per 1000 ft 2, but they have been revised to recommend only 3 pounds now.

Minimize your fertilizer needs by putting it on during the times when grass is growing most rapidly and can theoretically use a boost.

If you only want to fertilize once a year – do it in September.

For twice a year – do it in May and September.

If you feel you must fertilize 3 times a year – slap it on May, September and October.

(Use slow-release nitrogen in September and October!)


Turf guzzles about an inch of water each week.  (Sandy soil needs more like 2 inches.)

4 weeks without water can kill your grass, but once you make a commitment to water – you have to keep doing it till the rain returns.

Measure it with by putting a tuna can or such in the grass.  Don’t water more than you need to.

The most beneficial time to water from the turf’s point of view is morning.

Now that you know the current best practices for maintaining this imitation indoor/outdoor carpeting,  why not consider  gradually replacing most of your turf with other plants that:

  1. Fit your climate better
  2. Provide more habitat for birds and invertebrates
  3. Express your own creativity, the diversity  of your site and look better in the first plac


2 replies

  1. I lived in Colorado for two years and as a European it was hard to come to terms with the perfect green lawns required by the home owners association. The pouring on of water in a semi-arid desert while the farmers struggled to water their crops from time to time shocked me and I couldn’t understand the logic at all, still don’t. So this article is a welcome reminder of what turf is useful for but also I like the call to use more appropriate planting. Maybe next time I visit the US it will look very different, I hope so!

    • Thanks for your feedback, Joanna. I can only imagine your chagrin during your U.S. sojurn. I cringe whenever I see vast stretches of green lawn here in the Midwest, but I too lived in the arid Southwest for a time, and the folly of trying to create lawn there was beyond fathoming to me.
      I also marveled that people had moved there to avoid allergies, and then attempted to grow all the same plants they had moved away from. It did puzzle me.

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