When I noted a few weeks back via Twitter that I had fertilized my lawn, a family member put a note on Facebook: “Don’t do it! It only makes the grass grow!”
Well, as far as lawn care goes, I try to be a centrist. I do not dump copious amounts of chemicals on my lot to eliminate any form of insect grub, non-grass plant or soil imbalance.
I also do not “aerate” my lawn. Deliberately digging up dog-poop sized lawn divots is such a common process, perhaps it means something, but I can’t honestly wrap my mind around the concept of introducing oxygen into the soil to benefit plants—don’t plants consume carbon dioxide and fart out oxygen?
But, I make some attempts to care for it, too. I mow my lawn regularly (sometimes with a reel mower, which really upsets the boss because it doesn’t work well at all), I plant grass seed in bare spots and I do, now and then, no more than once a year and sometimes not that often, fertilize.
Anyway, at one extreme of the lawn care theology belief system is what I call the “golf course” or “AstroTurf” school of thought. A lawn should be uniform, only certain species of grass need apply, and it should extend beyond the border of my property clear to the nearest creek. (My wall-building neighbor has been busy trying to lawn up the woods behind his house—even to the point of burning brush, which, brought him a visit from the local fire department. You can’t burn brush in Cedar Rapids, not legally, anyway.)
I don’t belong to that fundamentalist theology. For one thing, I remember the old line that you can choose to raise grass or raise kids, but you can rarely do both—and I favor the kid end of that equation, which has become, in my life now, the grandchild end of the equation.
The other extreme is the “I love dandelions” approach to lawn care. Mow your lawn enough to keep the city at bay, and otherwise learn to appreciate the beauty of whatever green thing happens to sprout on your lot. The renters on our other side seem to fall more into that camp. And my mother was an outspoken extoller of the beauty of dandelions.
I don’t belong to that school of thought, either. For one thing, I do like the look of grass, and while I don’t want it as perfect as AstroTurf, I don’t want a crazy quilt of thistles and creeping Charlie, either. For another thing, there is the “nuisance” factor. While I do not care for the wall guy’s green carpet, if I allowed anything at all to grow unmolested on my land, the many weeds of my lot would constantly be encroaching on my neighbors.
Of course, some would say, so what? But I think that some of the invaders, particularly creeping Charlie, can be obnoxious, so letting those plants take over my lot would be a bit rude to neighbors.
I guess the real crux of the matter is a plant sometimes called “ground ivy” or “creeping Jenny,” but has a more common name—how do you feel about creeping Charlie? My family member says it’s a fine plant, with pretty flowers and a nice aroma. It’s low and green and mow-able, and why not have a lawn of that fine flower?
Well. Exhibit A—the photo. I will concede that creeping Charlie has pretty flowers. But the plant itself is not really green at all. It’s sort of a dirty looking purple green. The plant blooms briefly, and is otherwise a hideous lawn invader.
An aggressive, tough, take over the world and overrun both your lawn and your gardens invader.
I wage an ongoing low-level campaign against creeping Charlie, using chemicals (but only directly on the plants, I don’t weed-N-feed my lot because I don’t want to endanger other non-grassy plants) and physical pulling.
There is so much of it in my backyard that I have no hope of eliminating creeping Charlie.
So I do my best to contain it. I am comfortable trying to keep it a little humble, under control, not taking over the whole yard and gardens, but not wasting my time always attacking it, either.
Anyway, my attitude about other controversial lawn species?
- The dandelion. What child has ever grown up without a love of this pretty yellow flower that comes on stems perfect for braiding into faux jewelry or hangman’s nooses for Barbie dolls? And what child does not enjoy the white puffy seed ball, which can magically be blown into the air? Sigh. Sadly, the plant spreads like crazy. I do remove most dandelions in my lawn. I do not attack them with the passion of a battle against creeping Charlie—I like dandelions—but I don’t allow dandelions to take over. (I think if you could breed a sterile dandelion, you could get rich. As long as it wouldn’t spread all over the lawn, it could be the most popular garden flower worldwide.)
- Clover. It’s the white angel to the red devil of creeping Charlie. Like CC, clover creeps and spreads and flowers. Unlike CC, it doesn’t usually form dense mats that crowd out all other grass. Also—again see photo—clover is the same color as grass. In many lawns it was accidentally or deliberately planted as grass. My attitude? I do nothing to discourage or interfere with clover. It’s just grass without the spikes. Sure, the flowers attract bees and bees sting—a painful reality of both my youth and adulthood—but come on. In 51 years on the planet, I have been stung maybe a total of four times. Not enough to change my generally favorable opinion of clover. Just wear shoes when clover is in flower.
- Native violets. Pretty in the garden, invasive in the lawn, I try to move some and shamelessly kill the others. Then again, I try to plant grass in my lawn and kill it in my garden, so violets aren’t the only plant whose location makes all the difference. I found a pretty white variety that is not as common as the purple type, and wish more would attempt to encroach in my lawn so I could move it to my gardens. Violets do spread, but seem a bit more relaxed than dandelions, so I encourage violets in my gardens.
In sum: I like a healthy lawn, but my standards of “health” are far lower than some. I want grass that can resist weeds, and I attack the weeds that are so aggressive grass stands no chance. But I am not a “uniform turf” kind of guy—I like having a few dandelions and think of clover as “grass.” (I have not noted some obvious problematic plants—yes, I attack and destroy all thistles and garlic mustard. Goes without saying, I hope).
Will this blog post spark family controversy and passionate debate? I hope so, as long as we remember that we’re writing about fairly mundane vegetation. I’ll express my opinions and try to debate the merits of several plants, but this isn’t theology. There’s room in heaven for both the dandelion heathens and the fundamentalist Astroturf purists (although, it’s also true, God made the dandelion and likes the heathens more!)
Yeah, I know, this long blog post doesn’t even grapple with the central point—to fertilize or not. Again, I waffle. I don’t very often, but did this spring primarily due to new grass being planted, and partly because the fertilizer is also good for my gardens.