Like a lot of long-standing love affairs, the one Americans have with their lawns is maturing as we get wiser about how to take care of them. Considering turf or lawn covers nearly 2% of mainland America's terrain (well over 40 million acres), how each of us chooses to manage our part of this total can end up having a significant environmental impact. Expert advice for lawn maintenance has changed over the past few years, moving toward more eco-friendly practices that are about letting nature take its course without much involvement from you. In that spirit, here are four common lawn "problems" that really aren't a big deal, so the simplest solution for them is to do nothing other than change your mindset.
1. Rethink Clover
Rather than being a weed to battle with herbicides, the humble clover actually can be an attractive and useful part of healthy lawns. Clover is a “set it and forget it” type of plant, needing little water to thrive. If you've ever tried to get rid of it, you know how fast it grows, even in poor soil. It's a legume, which has the ability to capture nitrogen from the air and store it in the ground, essentially fertilizing itself with this important plant nutrient. Clover also can tolerate heavy foot traffic and prevent soil erosion.
If you allow clover to grow, this disease-resistant plant will dot the lawn with small white flowers in spring, helping to feed bees and other pollinators. If you'd rather not host these insects, just mow a little shorter to avoid the blooms. Another bonus? You won't have to mow as often as you would with grass, maybe once or twice in a growing season will keep this low-growing plant looking tidy.
2. Ditch the Lawn Clippings Bag
When you picture a well-manicured lawn, you might think it has to be completely free of grass clippings after a mowing. But all those clippings have to go somewhere. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2017, about 35 million tons of yard trimmings were dumped as municipal solid waste. That’s the same weight as if you took the largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas, and dumped it at the landfill a whopping 154 times!
Besides the astounding amount of waste, grass clippings left where they fall can actually help your lawn stay healthier. That's because they decompose and fertilize the soil, and they help protect the grass roots by keeping the soil moist and out of the sun’s rays. By “grasscycling,” which just means leaving the cuttings on your lawn, you no longer have to spend time bagging the clippings. Plus you may need to water and fertilize less frequently.
To get the most benefit from leaving the clippings, mow high and cut off no more than a third of the grass blades with each mow. Use a mulching mower that cuts the blades into smaller pieces that break down faster. And be sure to change the direction of your mowing pattern to keep the grass from bending in one direction.
3. You Don’t Have to Rub Out All Grubs
Grubs are those plump white larvae of scarab beetles you might see while digging in your garden. Something about the sight of them makes people want to go into full "Terminator" mode and eradicate them by whatever means necessary. But while they do munch on grass roots, a few grubs in the lawn is normal and no cause to declare all-out pesticide war.
Instead, get out a trowel and dig up a square foot of turf, about two inches down into the soil. Then, peel the grass layer back and have a look. If you see five or fewer grubs, experts say there’s no cause for alarm. Above five, you may have an issue. However, if you've got 10 or above should you take action. Even then, beneficial nematodes and neem oil are less-harmful ways to solve the problem.
4. Make Peace (and Tea) With Dandelions
Put the dandelion weeder away, and make a wish on those fluffy balls of white bobbing above your lawn instead. Dandelion flowers are a first-stop for many bee species and other pollinators when they emerge in the spring, when they need to find nectar and pollen. Dandelions are healthy for humans, too; it's a true superfood growing right under your feet.
Dandelions are loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, and many other minerals, and have more protein than spinach. That’s right, Popeye, dig in! You can grind the roots and make them into a tea. The tea fights staph infections, supports liver function, and balances metabolism. Herbalists tout the dandelion as a diuretic, and scientists are now researching the theory that it helps in the fight against colon cancer.
That long taproot you struggle to pull could be helping your lawn, too. Dandelions grow deep, helping to loosen and aerate the soil. If you don't want the plant to reseed itself, you could mow shorter before the blooms open, but why? Who hasn’t smiled at a child who picks a yellow bloom or makes a secret wish before blowing the seeds away? When you embrace the many benefits of dandelions, you'll end up with a greener lawn to enjoy.