Grow crazy to promote happy, health lawns

June 02, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

As drought conditions swept across the region a few years back, Roy Good surveyed his lawn, then his lawn mower and did nothing.

And nothing, and nothing and, surprise, nothing again.

For five weeks he kept his lawn trimming impulses in check to preserve not only his grass but the thirsty soil beneath.

"It's very difficult because everyone wants that manicured, starched-shirt look," says Ray Good, owner of the Hagerstown franchise of NaturaLawn of America. "I understand it, but it's something we've been really conditioned to do, saying 'I can't let my lawn look ratty.' And you need to."


In reality, letting your hair down when it comes to lawn care creates a much more efficient, if a little shaggy, environment.

Serving 1,500 customers in Frederick and Washington counties, Good's NaturaLawn program feeds the entire lawn climate, feeding the soil so it can in turn feed the lawn.

"By using organics you're building that whole ecosystem up," Good says.

The result is a smoother running eco-machine operating more efficiently even when drought hits.

Often, Good says grass is clipped to a height of 2 to 2 1/2 inches - an inch to inch and a half shorter than necessary.

Like any solar plant, its leaves capture rays and water, replenishing resources. Instead, think of a blade of grass as it grows:

Inch 1 - The stalk.

Inch 2 - The sheath.

Inch 3 and higher - The leaf.

So, a 2 1/2 inch blade of grass has only a 1/2-inch section working to replenish nutrients, whereas a 3 1/2-inch blade will be more effective, with a larger leaf providing a greater cover to prevent sunlight from hitting soil directly.

"If people are cutting grass high right now, the lawn should look great because it doesn't take much moisture to keep it looking nice," says Eric O'Roke, owner of Lawn Doctor of Washington County. "Just because people's lawns are green doesn't always mean they're watering."

Think about it. Someone with a thick head of hair sitting in sunlight is less apt to get sunburn on his dome than the balding gentlemen.

"You're adding 50 percent more lettuce-y tissue on top of it," Hood says. "It makes a world of difference."

So, what can be done if - or when - water restrictions are imposed and the lawn begins to more closely resemble scorched earth?

It's a simple solution according to Good, if not overly popular given the proclivity to mow short.

"If it goes dry, don't mow," he says. "Take a week to keep water in the ground. (Otherwise) what are we doing? We're hurting the plant."

Lawn saving steps from Roy Good, owner NaturaLawn of America in Hagerstown:

--When fertilizing, go organic.

Organic materials aid the entire ecosystem, resulting in healthier grass in the long run.

-- If it's not growing, don't fix it.

Mowing just to mow doesn't help grass remain vital.

-- Have a sharp lawn mower blade.

Dull blades will shred grass, leaving less leaf to capture water and sunlight.

-- Change the cutting routine.

Criss-cross mowing does two things: Prevents grass from leaning in one particular direction, increasing air circulation and promoting a healthier environment, and keeps the same patches from dying out as wheels roll over them week after week.

-- Pick up heavy clippings to prevent dead zones.

Thick trails of clippings choke the ecosystem, preventing proper growth and killing off patches of grass.

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