Well, I’m not embarrassed. I think grass is awesome. Call me an unreconstructed suburbanite, but I think children should be able to frolic on front lawns. A bed of forsythia and lilacs is a dreadful playing surface for kickball.
Unfortunately, if you get it wrong in our area, the negative environmental effects of poor grass management can be significant.
Grass is now the biggest crop
in the Chesaeake Bay area, and will soon surpass all crops combined. Excess chemicals placed on lawns at the wrong time or carelessly scattered on impermeable surfaces can end up in the fragile bay. Excess fertilizer, to take just one example, contributes to eutrophication, a process that occurs when too many phosphates and nitrates build up in a body of water, feeding an explosion of algae. When the algae decompose in the bay, they use up much of the available oxygen, choking off crabs and other marine life.
So is it possible to be environmentally sensitive and have a good lawn? Yes, according to Frank Rossi, an associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University, who offers a crib sheet: “When people at a cocktail party ask me how to have a great lawn, I tell them to prepare the soil, choose the right grass, mow it high and fertilize it no more than twice a year.”
It’s that simple, he says. No mysterious chemical brews required. Now here’s the longer version.
“The number one issue is choosing the right varietal,”
says Mark Carroll, an associate professor of turfgrass management at the University
of Maryland. “The right grass for a golf course isn’t the right grass for a home lawn.”
Carroll and his colleagues subject new varieties of grass to an extensive, five-year testing process to see how they fare in the variable climate of Maryland, Washington and Virginia. They publish a list of the certified grasses, which you might have better luck finding at a nursery than at a big-box store.
Now that you’ve got the right grass, you have to prep your soil. If you can’t easily insert a screwdriver into the ground, consider tilling. And, while you’re at it, work a modest amount of composted plant matter into the dirt. But don’t go crazy with this step.