A place to relax and play
A lawn, unlike most areas of the garden, is a good outdoor space for people to be. With that said, I mostly don’t care about lawns and whether they’re perfectly manicured or weed free and green. I just don’t want to give much of my brain space over to “the perfect lawn”. Part of the beauty of a lawn for me is it is a ground cover that requires very little maintenance. My approach is to mow it during the growing season (my kids help a lot with this), let it go dormant in the summer when the rains stop and then mow it a few more times in the fall when it comes back to life with the return of wetter weather. All of this happens over the course of about 6-7 months here in Port Townsend. Compared to the rest of the chores in the garden, this takes very little time and skill for the ground it covers.
Here in Port Townsend the lawns are not great. The soil tends to be acidic so, the grass does OK but, so do the weeds. Also, water is so expensive that, besides it being a waste of such a precious resource, it would cost a fortune to keep it green through the summer. So, most people do not irrigate when it comes to grass. For those who only love the green, these brown lawns in no way meet their expectation of what a lawn should be.
The only thing I can suggest is to reframe the story to include the grass’ natural cycle of going dormant in the summer. Instead of saying the grass is dead and brown I’ve come up with the phrase Summer Gold to help me view it differently. I guess it’s worked because now a shimmery green lawn in August seems really out of place.
Fast forward to November
The lawn is green again, but the colder weather has slowed down the microbial activity of the soil which, in turn, slows down plant growth or stops it all together. This seems like a time when you should be able to enjoy the lawn without a lot of work.
There is one more chore that I would recommend though. If you have a lot of leaves piling up on your lawn don’t just leave them there. It seems to be the one thing that can kill your grass and create the perfect conditions for weeds to grow. This mass of leaves breaking down makes the ph of the soil more acidic instead of alkaline; which is what grass prefers. I know I wrote earlier about not caring about a perfect lawn but, over the years of working in gardens and spending a lot of time walking across lawns, the weeds make the lawn lumpy and I’ve even twisted my ankle on a few gnarly clumps of dandelions. Grumble, grumble.
Left in Place
Not all leaves are an issue. I always gauge it by if the grass can still be seen standing up through the leaves. If so, your work is done for the year! Some deciduous leaves are so small and delicate that they will compost on their own in a very short amount of time. If your leaves are forming a dense mat (oak and maple leaves are a good example) I would suggest raking up the bulky areas and then running a lawn mower over what’s left so that they’ll compost in place. The lawn will really benefit from this natural fertilizer.
What’s your style
The leaves that you rake up are great for adding to a compost pile. Or…
Some gardeners prefer to rake them onto the garden and leave them for the winter as a kind of replacement for mulch. An added benefit to leaving some leaves is this will give the insects a place to be which, in turn, can be a nice treat for the birds as they scratch around for food on a cold winter’s day!
Click on the images to see and read more.
There are three issues to watch for with this method.
When leaves are left to compost right in the garden, as they break down, they lock up and use the nitrogen in the soil so that it’s not available to the plants as they start to grow again in the spring.
Secondly, as leaves rot they give off a gas that attracts slugs who mainly feed on decomposing matter. That wouldn’t be so bad but, while they’re there, they will just as happily eat the tender new spring growth of your garden plants. If you keep your garden clean you won’t have the slug damage that you normally would! There is a way to get around this slug problem if you want to mulch this way: in late winter you need to rake up the leaves that have not broken down but, leave any that have composted in place.
That brings me to my third point. If you don’t time it correctly, when the garden starts to wake up, the clean-up is way more difficult. The bulbs and perennials that are starting to grow are delicate and easy to damage. I can do it, but it’s not easy!
What you do with the fallen leaves are an important part of maintenance in the yard and garden. It’s a nice thought to skip it and try to create a more natural setting (with less work), but gardens and yards are not a natural occurrence. Not at all. If this thought bothers you maybe consider leaving some parts of your property to grow and be wild. Just think of it as the ‘back 40. There are some cities that have ordinances against letting things grow wild but, even in those situations, you can probably find some spots to not be so tidy. The birds, bugs and bending backs will thank you!