Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Wow, so sorry about posting this month. We have been hit with illness almost every other day! First, we got sick right after Easter for a few days. Then, the next week our entire extended family was sick after Selene’s 30th b-day. I celebrated 60 and then got sick again. I am still not Tom Terrific but am better.

During my lucid moments, I got to thinking about it being Spring and everyone wanting to get ahead on their garden chores. Here in the PNW, it has been raining and cold. Upside: all the flowers are lasting longer then ususal. Downside: it is too cold and wet to get into the garden. In fact, I was trying to corral the dogs one morning and fell into one of last year’s compost piles. Chasing dogs + wet clay = one fat woman face down in fragrant, completed compost. If I wasn’t so mad at the dogs for fussing over a possum I would have laughed harder than I did!

I would like to address the overuse of garden chemicals, both pesticide and fertilizer. That’s right folks, just a few well expressed thoughts on our environment and your pocketbook all rolled together into one HUGE MOTHER OF A RANT!

Our environment, health, and pocketbooks are paying the price for the runoff from the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers.

Now, don’t you go saying it is the farmers and golf courses that are responsible; because they are not. No, professionals know that not only is it against EPA regulations to overuse chemicals; overuse of said chemicals costs them more money with less return. It is pure economics for the professional.

People, it is the home gardener who is doing most of the pollution and overpaying for what they do not need. Really, take a good hard look at your own use of garden chemicals.

Recently I have had the privilege to speak with many home gardeners about their landscapes and gardens. So many people are doing things that are so wrong, I decided to write about it and share my feelings.

Fertilizing the lawn:
Your lawn needs, at the most, one pound of Nitrogen (N) per 1000 square feet per month during the growing season, April to October. The calculation is simple. The first letter on the fertilizer bag is the percentage of Nitrogen content per pound of the fertilizer. Say, you buy a bag of 27-0-4. One pound of the product contains 27% Nitrogen. Easily, 4 x .27 =~1; now figure square feet, just multiply length x width. 40 feet long x 25 feet wide = 1000 square feet. You would spread 4 pounds of that product over the 1000 sq ft of lawn.

New lawns, diseased lawns, and weed choked lawns can do with 1.5 pounds N per month until they are lush and healthy.

By mulch mowing, you can cut back on N by 1/3. That means in our above example, you can reduce the amount applied from 4# per sq ft to 2.5-3# per sq ft. Saves you money and saves on finding a way to dispose of the debris.  Total cost is 18 pounds of Nitrogen a year.

Mulch mowing does not add to thatch, that impermeable layer of old grass roots that is not good for you lawn. You are adding the moist, nutrient-rich tips of the grass blade which decompose in a matter of weeks. On the topic of thatch, unless you have an old bent grass lawn you don’t need to thatch every year or even EVER. More on that another day.

The mid-point of fertilizing is to use your fertilizer only three times a year; June, August, and October. Use the above formula for one pound of N per 1,000 sq ft. If you mulch mow, reduce N by 1/3. That means you only need to use a total of 9 pounds of fertilizer per season,.  To just keep your lawn, you may opt for a one time application of 1#N/1k sq ft. in June and that means only 3 pounds of fertilizer per season!

And of course, many lawns go without fertilizing at all. I don’t fertilize my lawn, my dogs do. Oh, and we mulch mow.  Our lawn if lush, thick, and grassy to the extreme!

I recommend Fertilizing Lawns, an OSU Extension bulletin by T. Cook and B. McDonald. Tom Cook taught me what I know about turf. And that is a lot of information! There is a great picture of the Lewis Brown Farm where Tom Cook, Professor Emeritus, designed and installed golf green years and years ago. Turfies, those students studying Turfgrass Science, used that green to become great putters. Oh, and really great golf course managers!

Besides pollution, when you over fertilize you are just pouring your money down that proverbial rat hole! Think about it. Please, think about it. If you are still wanting to throw your money to the wind trying to have the best lawn on the block; at least learn a little about the what, why, and how to get that perfect lawn! The chemical companies do have good information. And so does the Oregon State Extension Service: free, at your fingertips, saving your money, health, and environment!


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