Garden Talk: Healthy Lawns

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

On this edition of Garden Talk, Larry Meiller learns about care for healthy and sustainable lawns.

Featured in this Show

  • A Beautiful Lawn Can Also Be Healthy, Sustainable

    Lawns can be the frame around a home or a colorful garden. To keep them looking good and thriving however, they take a fair amount of attention. That means more chemical treatments and watering than some homeowners feel comfortable using.

    Doug Soldat, an associate professor of soil science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in turfgrass, said he knows that many homeowners want an even, lush lawn, but that they would also like to minimize the use of chemicals for their own sake as well as to spare Mother Nature as a whole.

    “The key to reducing reliance on chemicals is maintaining a thick, dense stand of grass,” Soldat said.

    To do that, the most important factor to take into account is the growing environment. For many homeowners, that means sealing with a shady part of the yard, he said.

    “For the most part, grasses aren’t meant to grow in the shade,” he said, “So, you’re always going to be struggling there.”

    So, focusing on lawn coverage in sunny areas and making other plans for groundcover in shady areas is one approach, he said.

    A close second to access to sun is having healthy soil for the grass to grow in.

    “If you don’t have a healthy soil that’s going to allow the roots to grow, you’re always going to be battling weeds, which do better in those situations,” Soldat cautioned. Soil compaction can also cause trouble for a lawn. He said that adding compost or aerating the soil can correct that issue.

    Finally, Soldat said, like any other plants, lawns need to be fed. He recommends fertilization once or twice a year, which will keep the grass thick and make it harder for weeds to have room to grow.

    A caller who identified herself as Victoria added that the best fertilizer ever for the lawn is backyard chickens. “What other fertilizer is going to give you eggs, too?” she said.

    Another part of having a sustainable lawn is conserving water resources. There is a lot of awareness of the need to preserve our water supplies, Soldat said, and he anticipates that it will become an even more prominent issue.

    Soldat said that there are a couple different ways to look at the water issue. First, he said, “If you don’t water your lawn over the summer, it’s going to survive, in most cases.” Even with 2012’s drought conditions, he said that people were surprised that a lot of grass survived after looking all but dead.

    On the other hand, Soldat said that regular watering during the summer can maintain the lawn’s “competitive ability.” That is, how well it squeezes out those weeds.

    But if a homeowner would rather save water and live with some unwelcome residents, Soldat assured listeners that our grasses are suited to surviving pretty extreme drought conditions.

    “A lot of lawn management is personal preference and what you’re into,” Soldat said.

    So, whether it’s a perfectly manicured lawn like at Miller Park, or just a patch of grass for the kids to play soccer on, there are good options to consider.

    “There’s a right level for everybody,” he said,” and at the University, we try to figure out the best way to do every approach.”

    The UW Extension Learning Store has several publications on healthy lawns.UW-Madison’s Turfgrass Science program also offers some useful resources about lawn care. Soldat has written many articles on the topic as well.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Doug Soldat Guest

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