August 11 marked the official end to the Dog Days of Summer, but hot temperatures remain the norm in our weather forecast. In Oklahoma, it will still be a while before we experience crisp autumn air or the need for a light jacket, which means a few more months of lawn watering and maintenance are in order.
Over the last few weeks, oppressive heat moved across our state setting weather records and wreaking havoc on the American dream of the perfectly green lawn. This time of year it becomes increasingly difficult to keep these status symbols lush. Instead of giving up the fight, many simply pile on more water and fertilizer without realizing that most lawn care products are not only unnecessary but may actually harm soil and turf. (For now I’ll spare you my soapbox on how many people apply fertilizer without even reading or following the directions.)
According to Ted Steinberg’s book American Green, lawn care is not only significant to the American psyche but also to our economy – generating more than $10 billion in annual sales of pesticides, fertilizers and other products. (Keep in mind this figure doesn’t include the water bill.)
So why is America obsessed with acquiring and maintaining the perfect lawn by any means necessary? It’s a subject that turns perfectly rational people into irrational, obsessed lawn warriors. Looking down my suburban street, sprinklers blast water in the heat of late afternoon while a retiree across the street mows for the fourth time this week (each time inching a little further over his property line leaving a message for his neighbor to pay more attention to lawn maintenance).
Growing up with a father who has a significant collection of “Yard of the Month” signs, I’m torn between my environmental principles and the joy I see in my dad’s face when someone compliments his perfectly manicured lawn. He has eased up slightly over the years and now chooses organic fertilizers when possible, but I know there are times pride kicks in, causing him to revert to guerilla tactics against his stubborn weeds and mole invaders.
At my own home, we’re lucky to have several large trees surrounding our house so our yard is mainly shade grass requiring minimal maintenance and mowing compared to other grass varieties. Not only does my husband enjoy freedom from slavery to the mower, but as an added bonus, our yard stays green year-round without a lot of fuss. Although our self-imposed water rationing and abstinence from fertilizer use may not result in the textbook version of a perfect lawn, we maintain decent curb appeal while the time and money we save allows us to obsess about something more interesting than grass.
So what are your lawn pet peeves or tips and tricks for sustainable lawn care? Together, maybe we can redefine our local lawn standards into a “Yard of the Month” club based on methods not just results. With this mental shift we might even come to find that weeds are not the enemy our American yard dreams have made them.
American Green by Ted Steinberg
The Green American Dream
Free seminar to focus on Oklahoma City lawns
A free seminar about shade grass and cool season lawns will be at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 21 at Oklahoma County Extension auditorium, 930 N. Portland.
The workshop will focus on grass types, planting techniques and maintenance schedules.
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"It's really easier than most people think to have a nice, green lawn most of the year,” Extension Educator Ray Ridlen said.
"Some grasses flourish in cooler weather and can stay green and healthy through most of the fall season.” For more information, call 713-1125.