Eco-friendly lawn and grass-cycling

The City of Vaudreuil-Dorion encourages eco-friendly lawn and grass-cycling.

Eco-friendly lawns

An eco-friendly lawn contains a variety of grasses as well as legumes like clover and sometimes even wild plants. Its diversity makes it resistant against pests, diseases and bad weather. Plants in an eco-friendly lawn are well adapted to environmental conditions. An eco-friendly lawn is hardy and requires very little care.

Traditional turfgrass lawns are usually kept very short and uniform. Because they're monocultures and not adapted to the environment, they're extremely vulnerable. To stay aesthetically pleasing, they have to be mowed and watered frequently, and people often resort to the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Even with all this maintenance, turfgrass lawns are fragile and easily fall prey to recurring problems.

How to plant an eco-friendly lawn

Preparing the soil

A lawn requires at least 20 cm (6 inches) of good-quality soil. If your soil is compacted and poor in organic matter, you should loosen it with a roto-tiller and add compost. It's better to add compost than lawn soil. Then, level the ground and go over it with a roller.

Sowing

In the fall or spring, sow a mixture of several kinds of grasses and at least 5% clover. Clover is a great ally: it's always green, and it feeds the lawn with nitrogen and protects it from certain pests. In addition, clover leaves create shade, which prevents weeds from germinating and helps the grass stay fresh and green.

The day before sowing, if it hasn't rained recently, water the soil. Make sure to follow the City's watering by-law. On the day you sow, rake the ground to loosen the soil. To distribute the seeds evenly, sow half in one direction and the other half perpendicular to that. Then add about ½ inch of compost and go over it with an empty roller. A watering permit may be issued to you if you meet the conditions. Wait until the lawn is 10 cm (4 inches) high before mowing. Avoid walking on the lawn for three weeks after seeding.

Maintaining an eco-friendly lawn or transforming a turfgrass lawn

Core aerating

In the fall or spring, perforate the lawn with a core aerator. Aeration lightens the soil and facilitates absorption of water and nutrients. Aeration must always be followed by top-dressing.

Top-dressing consists in spreading about ½ inch of compost on the lawn and then working it in with a rake. Compost lightens the soil, helps it retain moisture, provides nutrients to the grass and acts as a natural form of pest control.

Before aerating, make sure the ground is damp (not soaked). If the thatch is more than 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) thick, you should aerate every year; otherwise, once every two or three years is enough. To check the thickness of the thatch, push a shovel into your lawn, lift a section and measure the layer that remains attached to the grass.

Overseeding

Before overseeding, you should mow the grass to about 1½ inches and pick up the clippings. If your lawn has bare or damaged patches, you can fill them in by adding seed. About ½ inch of compost should be applied to the areas you want to overseed.

Apply the seed mix and work it in with a rake. Then go over the area with a lawn roller one-third full.

Mowing

Keep your lawn at least 7.5 cm (3 inches) long. This allows it to stay green all summer, helps the soil retain moisture and creates a physical barrier against insect and weed invasions. Never cut more than one-third of the grass height at a time.

Watering

Water infrequently but thoroughly (i.e., for a long time). Your lawn will grow longer roots and will be more resistant to drought. Once your eco-friendly lawn is established, you'll have to water it only rarely.

Fertilizing

Grass-cycling, top-dressing and clover will feed your soil in a natural way, so fertilizers are not necessary. If your lawn is still growing or is having difficulty, you can add biostimulants such as compost tea or algae extract. As a last resort, you can add 100% natural, low N-P-K fertilizer (all numbers under 10), but never during the summer or on newly seeded areas.

Grass- and leaf-cycling

Grass-cycling means leaving grass clippings on the lawn, and leaf-cycling means mulching dead leaves on the spot instead of raking them up in the fall.  The bits of grass and leaves create a barrier that helps the grass retain moisture and makes it more difficult for weeds and pests to take hold. And when these organic materials decompose, they feed the soil. Since the lawn retains moisture better and has benefited from additional nutrients, it's more able to withstand droughts without falling dormant.

Benefits of grass- and leaf-cycling

  • Improves the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil
  • Reduces water consumption and fertilizer use
  • Avoids the transportation of biodegradable residues.

Tips for grass- and leaf-cycling

  • Remove the grass catcher and run the mower slowly over dry leaves.
  • Adjust the blade height between 6 and 8 cm (2.5 to 3 inches).
  • The finer the leaves are shredded, the more rapidly they'll decompose.
  • To make the job easier, use a mower that has a mulching blade. A subsidy for the purchase of chipper blades or hand mowers is offered by the City. If your mower doesn't have a mulching blade, you can get similar results by going over the yard twice. This technique is used by the Public Works Department in all City parks.

What to do with surplus leaves and grass clippings?

If you can't see the grass through the leaves, it means the layer of leaves is too thick. Run the mower over them more frequently, or rake up the excess and use it as mulch in your flowerbeds. Mulch will protect plants from frost. Leaf mulch can also be used to enrich your vegetable garden.

Or, if you prefer not to leave shredded leaves on the ground, you can compost them. Use the grass catcher to pick them up and empty them into the composter.

While it is best for the environment to keep grass clippings and fall leaves on the ground, you can still participate in the City's fall and green waste collection.