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Grow a Greener Lawn: Both in Color and for the Environment

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 2:35 PM

Green lawns can also be "green" (as in eco-friendly) lawns. In fact, some of the best tips for lawn care actually reduce our carbon footprint. For example, watering and mowing less often is generally more beneficial for grass.

Lawn Care

Tom Tiddens, Plant Health Care Supervisor at the Chicago Botanic Garden, oversees the care and maintenance of more than 80 acres of grass. He offers an array of tips to care for your lawn that will turn your neighbors green with envy and help the environment as they green the grass.

First Things First

A beautiful lawn starts with the right environment. Enough sunlight is key, at least six hours a day, as well as at least 8 inches of good, fertile soil. Here are some tips to address soil problems and create a healthy growing environment.

Lawn "Mow-How"

  • Consider purchasing a mulching mower. It leaves behind finely shredded grass clippings, far smaller than traditional mowers. It is best for your lawn and the environment to leave clippings instead of bagging them for the landfill. Clippings return nitrogen to the soil, bolstering the health of your lawn. If you mow weekly, on dry days, clumping will not be a problem.
  • Leave it long. For the health of your lawn, the ideal height is about 3½ inches. A taller lawn boasts deeper roots, holds moisture better and increases photosynthesis. It also will deter weeds and foster healthier grass than a shorter lawn.
  • Keep your blade sharp. A dull mower blade will still cut, but the frayed ends will brown, leaving your lawn less vibrant.

Did You Know?

American homeowners use more pesticides per square foot on their lawns than most farmers use in their fields! Try using natural bug busters instead of chemicals. The same goes for herbicides; there are many naturally derived compounds available. You can even make them at home. A mixture of vinegar and salt or gin/apple cider/vinegar sprayed directly on weeds may do the trick without the need for expensive herbicides. The best way to manage weeds is to have a healthy, vigorous lawn that will out-compete them. And though it may seem like a fine line between what is a tolerable amount and what is unbearable, remember that a few weeds won't hurt your lawn. 

Your lawn will never be weed-free without the use of herbicides unless you plan to do a lot of weeding. If you do currently use herbicides and want to cut down, consider spot spraying your weeds in trouble spots instead of spraying of your entire lawn corner to corner.

Watering, Seeding and Fertilizing

What's your approach to watering your lawn? Many gardeners choose to leave the watering to Mother Nature—if rain is scarce, lawns are just a bit browner. When drought conditions leave lawns thirsty, it is fine to let grass go dormant and save yourself gallons of water. When the rain does fall, green grass will return.

If you choose to water your lawn, do so infrequently, but deeply. This strengthens grass by forcing roots to reach deep for water. The best time of day to water is just before dawn; moisture has a chance to seep into the roots, won't evaporate, but also won't foster disease. 



When it comes to grass seed, you get what you pay for. Invest in high-quality seeds, but don't limit yourself to one type; lawns flourish with a mixture of grass types. Here at the Garden, we have found success with a mixture of 80 percent bluegrass and 20 percent perennial rye, and within that is a blend of five different bluegrasses and three perennial ryes. Once that grass has grown and established itself, consider using core aeration to help create a favorable environment for grass to thrive.

Aerating loosens the soil, increases drainage, limits thatch development and encourages good rooting. Aerate in late spring or early fall, and follow up with over-seeding. Organic/natural fertilizers are a good substitute for synthetic fertilizers—they are just as effective if not more so. But remember: less is more. Don't over-fertilize, and avoid fertilizers with high levels of phosphorus, which can lead to water contamination and algae blooms.

NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Chicago Botanic Garden are proud to partner together to help people live better and healthier lives.