For An Environmentally Correct Lawn, Try Grasscycling


Only Tool Required For Healthier Grass Is Your Lawn Mower

April 26, 1992|By Mary Gold

When the members of the Howard County Gardners' Association decided to present an educational display at this spring's Maryland Home and Garden Show held last month, they rejected more flowery projects in favor of one about "grasscycling."

No, grasscycling is not another new exercise program. There is no pedaling, no pulse-taking and no special equipment.

There is a machine involved, however -- the lawn mower. And the concept does emphasize fitness -- lawn and environmental fitness.

Many of us grasscycle and don't even know it. The idea is simple, saysMiriam Mahowald, spokeswoman for the group: Not only is it easier toleave cut grass clippings on the lawn after mowing, but it's also better for the lawn and the environment.

Collecting and bagging grass clippings is no longer recommended by lawn care experts. The idea that something that takes less work is somehow better seems too good to be true. But the experienced gardeners in the association are convinced. Springtime, when many homeowners resolve to improve their lawns, seemed the ideal time to spread the good news.

Although the group meets primarily to share each other's gardening experiences, seeds and plants, the members traditionally prepare an annual Howard CountyGarden Festival.

In fact, it was their participation in the 1990 Home and Garden Show that determined their identity. Newly formed andstruggling to reach a consensus on a name, they entered that show nameless, writing "Howard County Gardners' Association" on the dotted line as a temporary fix.

The show staff misspelled Gardeners as "Gardners" on their booth's sign, presenting the group with a four-day ongoing task of explaining the error. They endured a lot of teasing and a few jokes. After the show, the members decided to stay with the original quick-fix title in its misspelled form. They discovered they not only shared an interest in gardening but had a collective sense of humor as well.

That first display focused on how to protect landscape trees from the gypsy moth caterpillar. It featured real specimens of gypsy moth caterpillars in various stages, as well as a tree-trunk section, on which show-goers were invited to practice caterpillarproofing with burlap bands and sticky barriers.

There were handouts on those protective techniques and lists of trees most favored andleast favored by gypsy moths. The hands-on display was very popular.

But, back to grasscycling.

"People were very attracted to our display," explains volunteer staffer Helen Tyson, "because of the real grass we had installed."

Children couldn't resist putting their feet in it. But most inviting were the beautiful child mannequins created by doll-maker Mary Ellen Shaeffer especially for the show. The lifelike dolls stood eyeball-to-eyeball with many inquisitive children. They, and a healthy green 4-foot tall "Mr. Turf" were the catalyststhat initiated the teaching of proper lawn care.

Mowing is very important to a good lawn in several ways. First, mowing at the proper height -- at least three inches high for blue grass and tall turf-type fescue grasses -- is healthier for the grass plants, and the tallergrass keeps many weeds, especially crab grass, from germinating.

"There were a lot of 'I told you so's' between people at this bit of news," remembers Ellen Oppenheimer, who spent her share of time staffing the exhibit. They weren't so happy at learning that they should be mowing a little more frequently, she says.

Cutting the grass should be done often enough so that you never remove more than one-thirdof the blade at one time. The grass remains healthier, and the shorter clippings may be left on the ground. They dry and shrivel quickly,and add nutrients to the lawn, lessening fertilizer requirements.

They do not create a thatch problem, a common misconception, says Mahowald. Thatch is the buildup of dead grass runners and roots on the ground typical to bluegrass. If left to accumulate, thatch can createa dense mat that blocks water and fertilizer from reaching grass roots, and promotes disease.

And, contrary to some current advertising hype, a special lawn mower is not necessary to grasscycling. Any lawn mower can be used as a "mulching" mower if the homeowner mows frequently enough.

The grasscycling regimen may be difficult to keep up with in the springtime when grass seems to leap out of the ground. But a study done in Fort Worth, Texas, revealed that while homeownersfollowing the grasscycling formula for lawn care mowed a little moreoften, they actually spent an average of 30 percent less time on lawn care.

This was because of the time saved by not removing and bagging the clippings. And, most important, their lawns looked beautiful.

Grasscycling is being promoted by the Professional Lawn Care Association of America, as well as many environmental and conservation groups, a unique alliance to say the least. The concept was even mentioned recently by County Councilman Paul Farragut during a council discussion of the landfill problem here in Howard County.

No one can argue with the fact that yard waste takes up a large proportion of our landfill space.

"Don't trash the grass," is an idea that is hereto stay.

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