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Less Lawn Labor for the Long Run

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
October 18, 2017

Source:  Brenda Postels
Interim Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties

Less Lawn Labor for the Long Run
By Brenda Postels, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (10/18/17) — Having a beautiful landscape brings us much joy, but the financial and environmental costs of fertilizing, weed killing and watering landscapes can be hefty.  Maintenance can be tedious and time consuming. By planting native plants and grass adapted to our environment and sticking to a few simple guidelines, you can achieve a beautiful landscape that requires less work and less water, leaving more time for swinging in the hammock and listening to the birds.

The secret to success starts with the soil.  The healthier your soil, the healthier your lawn, trees, shrubs and gardens will be.   Without adequate topsoil, it doesn’t really matter what you plant—the vegetation will require excessive watering, fertilizing and weed or insect control.  Amend soils with compost to improve aeration and water retention and to promote fertility.  Existing lawns can be top-dressed with up to one-half inch of compost each spring or fall.   Grass clippings and chopped leaves provide organic matter and many nutrients that can be beneficial to your lawn.  This will allow you to lower your dependence on chemical fertilizers, thereby saving you money.  Just be sure that the leaves are chopped well so as to not smother the lawn.  Standard mowers will work, just close the side discharge for mowers that have one.  Closing the side discharge will contain leaves in the mower so they get chopped up better before they fall into the grass canopy.  Mulching blades can be purchased as well. 

Consider seeding or re-seeding your lawn with low-input grasses.  Fine fescue species require less water, fertilizer and pesticides than a higher input grass such as Kentucky bluegrass, and they can be maintained with less mowing. 

Try to purchase trees, shrubs or perennial plants that are grown in Minnesota. Plants which are native to our northern climate are adapted to our weather and need little to no additional watering.  Also, check with your local County Soil and Water Conservation District for their annual fall tree sale.  As a way to promote conservation, wildlife habitat and forestry, they offer high-quality plants at a reasonable rate. This fall is a great time to order native trees and shrubs which can be picked up and planted in the spring.
Mulch tree and shrub beds once per year with three to four inches of shredded wood, leaves, bark or compost.  Mulch smothers weeds which compete for available water and nutrients.  It also helps minimize evaporation and adds nutrients to the soil during decomposition.

Try to minimize lawn areas to only those that you actually use for play or sitting and replace with native vegetation, wildflower meadows, or some type of ground cover.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend 70 hours per year mowing our lawns.  By rethinking how we manage our lawns, we can recover many hours of free time all the while creating a perfect environment for swinging in the hammock while listening to the birds.

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