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August 23rd, 2011

Weeding an Organic Lawn

I’m trying to maintain my lawn organically. But I became discouraged by weeds and came close to buying a bag of weedkiller at the hardware store. How can I eliminate weeds without poisons?

blog-dougYou are wise to be skeptical of chemical weedkillers. Read the warning label on one of those products and you’ll think twice before using it anywhere near yourself and your family.

Once you’ve decided to eliminate poisonous chemicals from the equation, you’ll need to change your perception of what constitutes a beautiful lawn. Perfectly weed-free lawns are nearly always chemically induced. Nature doesn’t create monocultures on its own; if left to nature, your lawn would fill with a variety of plants. And who’s to say that a natural lawn isn’t prettier than one whose tidy appearance comes at a toxic price?

In my small patch of lawn, I hand-weed the dandelions and plantain, rake out the ground ivy, and welcome the white clover. One easy technique for improving your lawn’s ability to combat weeds is to set your mower blade at its highest setting in summer. Mowing low gives the weeds an unfair advantage over turfgrass.

Although a turfgrass lawn is the “default” choice for home landscapes, you should consider alternative groundcovers that blanket the ground but don’t need to be mowed, watered, or fed. Options include sedges, moss, creeping thyme or sedums, dichondra, and clover. Or put the space to productive use and grow organic vegetables and herbs. —Doug Hall

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May 24th, 2011

What's Good for the Garden

dougIt’s raining today, following rain yesterday and the day before. When will it end?

Here in Emmaus we’re having a rainier-than-usual spring. The mud is slowing down my gardening projects at home. At the Organic Gardening test garden, we’re still waiting to till some new beds for squash, cucumbers, and melons. Turning wet soil is never a good idea; it damages the structure and porosity of the soil. Clods result.

As eager as I am to get on with the task of soil preparation, I have to remind myself that all this rain does wonders for plants. I can’t remember a spring when the tulips lasted so long, or the grass grew so lushly. It would be petty of me to grumble at the rain while surrounded by the beauty generated by all that moisture.

Gray skies and high humidity also facilitate transplanting. Two weeks ago I moved a foxglove that had already sent its flowering stalks 18 inches out of the ground, and it didn’t even notice. I couldn’t have attempted such an untimely transplant if the weather had been hot or sunny. Weeding is easier, too, when the soil is wet. Even weeds with long taproots slip right out of the oozy soil.

So bring on the rain. The tilling can wait.  —Doug Hall

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April 26th, 2011

The Antisocial Weed

doug

Unlike some eco-minded gardeners, I’m not anti-lawn. In my yard, lawn forms the pathways among the garden beds and provides a place to set chairs when friends drop by. From a design perspective, it’s a calm counterpoint to the jumble of flowers and foliage in the beds.

To serve these purposes, the lawn doesn’t need to be pristine and weed-free, and it isn’t. In my opinion, if it’s green and ground-blanketing, it qualifies as lawn. Among the blades of bluegrass you’ll see plantain, chickweed, henbit, creeping charlie, and oxalis. There’s plenty of white clover, too—my gift to the neighborhood rabbits.

There’s one weed, however, that doesn’t qualify for my inclusionary policy: dandelions. The other lawn weeds don’t stray far, but dandelions send their seeds flying far and wide on the wind. They’d eagerly colonize the neighborhood if I let them.

So, out of courtesy to my neighbors, for whom a tidy lawn is everything, I hand-dig the dandelions before they can go to seed. Yesterday, a glorious spring day in Emmaus, that’s what I did after work: I removed each yellow-flowered offender, leaving a lawn that still fits my desire for diversity while respecting my neighbors’ pursuit of perfection.  —Doug Hall

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