The acre of ground we live on is smack dab in the middle of what used to be a giant alfalfa field. The years of farming, irrigation, and ploughing took its toll, and what we were left with when we built our house was hard packed, ‘dead,’ rocky dirt. I wouldn’t even call it soil!
When our house was being built, we came to check out the progress and walk through the construction. Out one of the back windows, I could see where the hole for the septic tank had been dug. The sides of the hole looked more like foundation walls! Full of thousands of tightly packed, round river rocks we marveled that they’d been able to dig the hole at all. Long before our property had been a farm, the Snake River had wound its way through over generations, wearing rocks smooth and depositing them in the earth.
Once this great, wide river valley was probably full of rich, fertile soil left over from the river deposits. But those have long since been eroded away. We wanted a nice big lawn for our children to play on, but absolutely nothing but giant, prickly weeds would grow on our property. As I mentioned in another post, we had to haul truckload after truckload of topsoil in before we could plant anything at all.
Of course, the topsoil we brought in wasn’t much to write home about. It was fine, powdery stuff, and we thought all they’d done was probably filter all the giant rocks out of a big pile of the native dirt. A lot of it blew away in the wind, but finally we were able to get grass planted.
Our baby lawn was so beautiful! We wanted to learn how to best maintain a healthy green lawn, but struggled because our soil was so depleted of nutrients. We found that regular application of good fertilizer is a must to encourage healthy green lawn growth. But even with regular watering, fertilizing, and weed control, it can still be really difficult to keep our grass looking healthy and green.
Tips on how to maintain a healthy green lawn
With four children, two dogs, and four goats, and two dozen chickens, our yard can take a beating! We do keep the chickens and goats penned up in their own area for the most part, but we do let them out occasionally. Our already compromised ‘soil’ beneath the grass gets compacted and can result in drainage problems and poor air circulation. I think we battle with nutrient depletion on a seasonal basis. We’ve found that if we rent a lawn aerater to pull behind our ride on mower (they have smaller versions for smaller yards), we have much better results. Aeration loosens the soil beneath which allows for better circulation, and helps the fertilizer get to the roots.
Mowing at the Correct Height
We were cutting our grass too short in an attempt to go longer between mowings. After consulting a lawn care company, we found that if we raised our mower blades, we had a much healthier looking lawn.
Watering at the Right Time
Though our kids love to run through the sprinklers on a hot summer day, the best time to water is actually early in the morning or late at night, when the sun is not shining at its brightest. This keeps the water from evaporating too much, giving our lawn the moisture that it needs. In hotter climates, watering during the day can actually draw the sun to the lawn, overheating it and burning it!
Composting the Grass Clippings
While we do save our grass clippings in a compost pile in the garden, one thing we haven’t tried is to let the grass cuttings fall naturally on the lawn as we cut the grass. Many claim that compositing helps give the grass a more vibrant, healthy look, stimulates root growth, and reduces topsoil erosion. We haven’t figured out how to get the grass clippings to fall evenly on the lawn without spending hours raking. Clumps of grass cuttings can kill patches of lawn, so this method might work best for smaller yards.