Summit is beautifully green right now. The trees are completely leafed out, shrubs are flowering and full, and the lawns are finally green and lush now that we have had a few weeks of rain. With a little careful planning, you can help keep your lawn inviting and safe for bare feet well into the summer:
Cut High. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is cutting your lawn too low. The Rutgers Agricultural Extension explains that proper mowing height should change according to the season. In the spring and fall grass can be cut at 2.5 to 3.5 inches (like the rough beside a golf course fairway); in the heat of the summer, the lawn can be cut at 3.5 inches. Proper mowing helps to keep the soil cooler during the hot summer months as well as blocking weed growth.
Cut It and Leave It. Instead of collecting and hauling off all those grass clippings, save yourself money, time, and work at the same time that you help your lawn. Grass clippings, especially from a mulching mower, return healthy organic matter to the soil reducing, even eliminating, the need for fertilizer. They help maintain a more moderate soil temperature and reduce water runoff. And no spending money on yard waste bags or stopping to empty your lawnmower bag--truly a win-win situation.
Grass clippings that are thrown away also enter the solid waste stream. By leaving clippings on your lawn, you can reduce the amount of waste and, therefore, the amount Summit pays for transferring waste, saving taxpayer money.
Water appropriately. According to the Rutgers Agricultural Extension, watering more than twice per week is probably excessive. Our loamy-clay soil (in most of Summit) can be irrigated less frequently with larger quantities of water. A sure sign that turf needs irrigation is a wilted appearance. Use the “footprinting” test--if your footprints on the lawn do not disappear within an hour, your lawn could use water. Be sure to water at a rate that does not cause runoff.
The best time of day to water is late evening through early morning because it is less windy, cooler, and more humid, so there is less evaporation.
Control pests and weeds naturally, and use little or no fertilizer. Avoid widespread use of pesticides and herbicides. Maintaining healthy soil and giving nature a chance to eliminate pests on its own go a long way toward preventing and managing unwelcome bugs and weeds. Remember that many bugs are good, so be sure to identify suspects before you go after them.
Fertilizer is regulated by New Jersey law. To protect our state's waterways from fertilizer chemicals entering bodies of water via storm water runoff, New Jersey law regulates the nitrogen level in fertilizers, severely restricts the use of phosphorous, and directs when and where fertilizer can be applied. A "Cut It and Leave It" policy may be all you need! And you will be doing your children and pets a favor by reducing or eliminating chemicals on your lawn.
Keep your lawn beautiful and your family healthy (and save money and time) by adopting a "Cut It and Leave It" policy, watering wisely, and reducing or eliminating pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
By Beth Lovejoy, on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission