A GROWING CONCERN: Making the grass greener on your side of the fence

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WHILE WE MOVE in the summer season, relaxing outside in our yard, sipping a drink or swinging in the hammock becomes a pastime.

We Americans love to be in our backyard overlooking the lawn.

The perfect American lawn is an unattainable myth that we chase due to the societal mindset of our particular culture. And the very nature of this unrealistic pursuit, a low lawn, just cut, trimmed and manicured, makes the grass look and grow poorly!

Last week I concluded (required) that if you want any chance of getting a nice yard, you must first mow to an appropriate height, which is 2¾ inches high.

When grass isn’t stressed by being cut down repeatedly, then as a plant it’s a pretty aggressive creature.

The turf will grow very lush and thick, quickly reproducing by asexual means. Because mowing removes all flower and seed heads, sprouting is not a reproductive option for your lawn.

But with all of these nutrients available and no flower heads to develop, reproductive energy and nourishment are transferred to producing new roots and shoots.

A massive, balanced canvas above and below ground develops a healthy lawn. Provided, however, that said nutrient is abundant, constant and available.

This is where the problem lies.

We Americans, on the whole, really love our chemical lawn fertilizers – God bless Weed-n-Feed. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, lawns need to have abundant, readily available nutrients almost all year round.

Without it, you cannot succeed. Our weather is perfectly mild, ideal for grass – never too cold to force dormancy, never too hot to stress it out – so it grows, grows and grows.

When you mow properly, it is a pruning method that stimulates the development of new blades.

Also, being cut higher and allowing the grass to grow about an inch before cutting it again, a growing healthier lawn produces even more new roots and shoots. All of this growth activity needs nutrients – lots of nutrients.

Typically, lawn fertilizers have been developed to instantly release massive amounts of nutrients, especially nitrates and phosphates, into the environment upon first watering.

This fertilizer is so soluble that it seeps into aquifers (if you have a well, it goes into tap water)!

It will also flow into the ditch, to the creek, and into the strait and strait, where all kinds of algae love your assortment and suck up all the oxygen during the feast.

But let’s say you’re not so concerned about drinking water sources or trivial matters like the parts per million of dissolved oxygen in our local water bodies.

Let’s say you only care about the fertility of your soil.

You should be concerned about soil fertility, as it is an important building block of a healthy lawn.

Natural, healthy and fertile soil is totally dependent on a living soil structure.

Your soil, in order to be a complete platform for plant growth, needs a plethora of organisms ranging from worms and larvae to bacteria, molds and fungi.

When Weed-n-Feed or perfect builder urea is applied, it actually kills a large population of soil life due to quick release nutrient dumps or chemical herbicides and pesticides.

The remaining soil, now just dirt, is barren, totally dependent on its next turf builder fix – your garden is now a crank junkie.

Microbes, all those fungi and bacteria, are needed as catalysts for nutrient availability. It is their interactions of feeding, breeding, dying, and droppings that break down and form the nutrient mush that plant hair roots absorb as food.

If the release amount of your fertilizers destroys this web of life, then your fertility is ruined.

Organic fertilizers have many benefits to consider.

They release slowly and evenly in amounts that are beneficial for complex soils, as well as healthy, long-term plant growth.

They linger longer in the soil, unlike highly soluble fertilizers which release very quickly and bleed or run off quickly.

Organic fertilizers support and promote the soil, greatly increasing its ability to ward off or manage plague without the use of destructive chemical compounds.

Organic fertilizers do not pollute in an extremely detrimental way like commercial urea salt fertilizers do.

Next week, we’ll discuss non-chemical, organic, and organic Weed-n-Feed options as we continue our journey to a healthy lawn.

Be mentally prepared to question and challenge some of your long-held beliefs about your garden and grass.

But please be well everyone!

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Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA”. Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, PO Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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