Environmentally Speaking Arkansas Department of Environment Summer Lawns

As mowers and sprinklers gear up for their busiest season, many baby boomers may drift back to the strains of Joni Mitchell’s ode to suburbia, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” While sprinklers and lawn care can evoke a pleasant nostalgia, they also require diligent monitoring and planning for the best results, aesthetically and environmentally speaking.

                Audree Miller, pollution prevention coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, encourages homeowners to follow green guidelines for a healthier lawn. “Many people think it’s more difficult or more expensive to do things in a way that’s best for our environment, but sometimes it’s just the opposite,” she said. “Actually, you can save money by using less water and fertilizer and still have a great-looking lawn.”

                The best plan for lawn watering is to water slowly, deeply and only when needed. Different soil types, grass and climate affect the amount of water needed, but no lawn should require daily watering. Generally, about one inch of water should be applied for a soaking depth of six to eight inches to promote deep root growth. The lawn should be visibly dry before re-watering to prevent lawn disease and runoff that can carry sediment and pollutants to storm drains and on to creeks and lakes.

                The best time to water is before 10 a.m. If you water at midday, much of the water evaporates; watering at night can encourage the growth of mold or plant diseases. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, check regularly to be sure the water is aimed at your grass and not the street. For more efficient water use, try trickle irrigation or soaker hoses.

                Be cautious when using any pesticide or herbicide. Misuse can be harmful to people and the environment and can kill organisms that are good for your lawn. Follow the directions carefully, use protective clothing, keep children and pets off freshly treated grass, and store and dispose of containers properly. To save money and avoid unnecessary environmental damage, spot treat problem areas instead of treating the whole lawn. Post a sign to let neighbors know they shouldn’t wander through your freshly treated grass.

                ADEQ recommends having your soil tested so that you can buy the fertilizer that will work best for your lawn. (The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers free soil testing. You can find the extension office for your county at www.uaex.edu.) Using the most effective fertilizer means using less, paying less and causing less-to-no runoff of excess nutrients that can end up in streams and lakes and disturb aquatic life.

                For healthy grass, set your mower blades high. Long grass grows thicker and develops deeper root systems, increasing drought tolerance and moisture retention while reducing weed growth. For best results, grass should be 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches high. Be sure to keep mower blades sharp to prevent injury to grass blades. Instead of bagging clippings, leave them on the grass to add nitrogen to the soil.

                For more ways to protect the environment as you grow and maintain your yard and garden, visit ADEQ’s website at www.adeq.state.ar.us and click on Brochures Online, then Fact Sheet Series, then Landscaping for the Environment and Managing Soil Quality. Additional green lawn care tips are available in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s online brochure Healthy Lawn Healthy Environment at epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/lawncare.pdf.