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5.1.08

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Has the Greenest Lawn of Them All?

The grass is greener in front of everyone else’s house. This isn’t some woe-is-me sentiment. It’s pretty much true. Our grass isn’t green. Well, it starts the season with a greenish hue, but the color generally bleeds out by mid-summer. The brittle, sun-stroked, dandelion-infused grass that poses as our front lawn might not look particularly green, but in fact, it’s actually the “greenest” of all. Or so I’ve convinced myself.

We mow it two or three times during the summer. We water on occasion. We never fertilize. Our neighbors down the road mow weekly, water daily, and fertilize. Their grass screams green. Ours sputters out a desperate whimper and feebly limps along through the summer months.

I tell myself we forgo chemicals out of respect for the environment, not out of sheer laziness and neglect. But the truth is, I’ve never actually checked into this. Is it really better for the environment not to fertilize your lawn? Given that Martha’s Vineyard Magazine decided to do a green issue, it seemed like the optimal time to check out my theory.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the greenest lawn of them all?

Well, it’s not exactly us, according to Brian Packish of Packish Landscape Construction in Vineyard Haven. When I spoke to him, Brian had recently returned from a five-day seminar in organic land care. I suppose since his job is landscaping, his interest in helping people obtain a beautiful yard isn’t particularly surprising.

“You don’t have to sacrifice the environment to achieve a good turf,” he assured me. An advocate of soil testing, Brian explained that the first thing people should do is find out which compounds their soil is deficient in.

“If you perform a soil test, you get back a report that tells you what is missing from your soil, and once you have a balanced soil, then it can support life,” explained Brian. He claims that it isn’t terribly difficult to get balanced soil organically. “Use compost,” he kept suggesting. He did admit that most lawns on the Vineyard will require some lime to lower the pH.

In spite of his eagerness to convince me that a healthy lawn is easily achievable, I still held out hope for the benefits of relative neglect. Midway through our conversation, he had yet to convince me that total disregard isn’t the way to go.

So I asked again:

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the greenest lawn of them all?

“There are benefits to having a happy and healthy turf,” he finally explained.

“Oh really?” I asked.

Yes,” he continued. “A properly balanced soil can take advantage of beneficial bacteria and fungi, which will act to continue the life cycle of the soil, which in turn will aid the trees as well as any other plantings.”

Indeed, he was about to dispel my theory. It turns out that by making my lawn healthy, it would be part of a healthy ecosystem. Even the United States Environmental Protection Agency has chimed in on this one: “Healthy grass provides feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich source of insects, worms, and other food. Thick grass prevents soil erosion, filters contaminants from rainwater, and absorbs many types of airborne pollutants, like dust and soot. Grass is also highly efficient at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clean the air.”

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the greenest lawn of them all?

Alas, a lawn that, according to Brian Packish, is “thriving, healthy, and happy on its own legs,” is the greenest of them all.

Brian Packish has four tips for keeping your lawn “green”:

1. Test the soil.

Know your soil’s exact needs before applying any type of lawn product. Two sources for soil testing are the University of Massachusetts Amherst (www.umass.edu/soiltest) or Soil Foodweb (www.soilfoodweb.com).

2. Seed.

Aggressive seeding and overseeding are the best natural choices for weed control. Bare spots are a vacancy sign for weeds to move in.

3. Water.

In summer, lawns in New England generally require one inch of total watering per week (including natural rainfall). Water deeply, but avoid puddling or runoff. Proper water management is essential to healthy turf and the environment.

4. Mow properly.

Keep mower blades sharp. Never cut more than one-third of the grass height per cutting, and mulch the grass clippings. Mowing “high” is the best “herbicide.”

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