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Regenerative Lawn Care for Beginners

Writen By
Alex M. [Permaculturist & Regenerative Agriculture Consultant]

Whether you have a traditional lawn with lush green manicured grass, or a wild pasture exhibiting indigenous plants, perennial herbs, and edible cover crops for your family. There is something satisfying about the sight and serenity of an expansive living green carpet before your home, which can be both soothing and assuring.

Here you will find an approach to lawn maintenance that harmonizes plants with beneficial microbes, simple regenerative methods, and organic cycles.

Follow these recommendations in regenerative and organic lawn care and you will find yourself with not only the most alluring lawn around but a cheap water bill, reduced maintenance, healthier plants, and less work overtime. But first, let’s start with a bit of the history of the lawn.

Origins of the Lawn

The term “lawn” comes from the mid-1500s Middle English “launde,” and translates to “an open space in a forest or between woods,” it was often revered as a place of worship and a grazing pasture for livestock. Coming into the 17th century, aristocrats began displaying vast lawns as a sign of affluence as well as to ascertain any threat that is approaching the castle or residence. These lawns of the Renaissance were extremely labor-intensive, directing servants with scythes, shears, and blades to cut the grass cut just above the ground. As European colonization and the gardening methods they brought spread throughout the world, they also brought their lawns with them. One hundred years later the lawnmower would be invented in England, spawning a new generation of lawns accessible by the masses.

Benefits of a Lawn

 My favorite element about lawns is the fact that it is one of the most practical locations to celebrate with your friends and family outside, while still being in the comfort of your own home. You can play fetch with your dog, have a picnic, plant a vegetable garden, or host a BBQ. The possibilities are limited by your imagination.

                                            Cons of Lawns

  - Can Require Significant Water Usage

 - Lack of Biodiversity

 - Excess Nitrates Lead to Nutrient Leaching and Water/Soil Pollution

One of the main problems with modern lawns is the widespread unsustainable and non-regenerative methods used to maintain them. When you cut the grass to the top of the roots, it doesn’t allow the root structure to grow further which means there is less water efficiency overall.

Growing only one plant species in a given area homogenizes an ecosystem which contributes to a lack of biodiversity.

Often lawns are over-fertilized with commercial soluble nutrients such as NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium,) and in excess amounts, are quite damaging to the plants, soil, organisms, and available water sources contained on and around the site. These soluble nutrients when applied, replace the function of the natural relationship between the microbes and plants, causing the plant to no longer release the typical proteins and sugars they secrete in the root zone to attract the preferred group of microbes. Because of this human intervention, there are fewer microbes to release the very nutrients the plants require. This quite common method of treatment of lawns contributes to plants becoming dependent on chemical fertilizers and more easily susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

 

Over Fertilized Damage On Lawn

Additionally, the types of salts left behind as residue from these fertilizers further contribute to the degradation of the soil microbiome by inhibiting natural growth.

Pesticide use remains rampant; conventional non-microbial-based pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides such as round up are damaging to vast communities of beneficial microorganisms and human health. Because the soil microorganisms evolved symbiotically with plants for the last seven hundred million years, these nutrient-releasing microbes play a crucial role in plant health, soil health, and water retention.

As a result of reckless widespread chemical fertilizer usage, water and resources are wasted while the soil is toxified by an unhealthy abundance of nitrates which can leach into nearby water sources, this is a process referred to as eutrophication.

Since plants require four water molecules for every one nitrate molecule, the more the nitrate, the more amount of water you need to fulfill the nitrates demand continuously, this can lead to an expensive water bill, reliance on unsustainable fertilizers, a dead lawn, or all of the above.

All that said, there are ways we can go about this to avoid the above circumstances. The following are those methods and principles. Soils need to be built up and amended with the proper biology and minerals. So, through this process, you can naturally avoid the cost of conventional fertilizers, pesticides, excess water use, and the damaging effects of these harsh chemicals. Applying any number of these techniques can make a phenomenal difference rapidly while creating a cascading effect on plant health and lawn resilience.

Which Type of Lawn Is Right for You?

Types Of Lawn Grass

Ryegrasses or Bermuda Grass? Bluegrass or Carpet Grass? Creeping Thyme, Clover, Cowpeas, or Vetch? If you are planting fresh grass or replacing a specific species, here is a list below of cool-season and warm-season grasses as well as weed suppressors and soil builders.

-COOL SEASON GRASSES: Oat, Wheat, Annual Ryegrass, Cereal Rye, Triticale, Fescue, and Barley

-WARM SEASON GRASSES: Corn, Millet, Sorghum, Sudan Grass, and Teff

-WEED SUPPRESSORS: Almost all grasses, Cowpeas, Sorghum, Buckwheat, Vetch, Field Peas, and Vetch

-SOIL BUILDERS: Daikon Radishes, Cowpeas, and Cereal Rye, C4 Grasses (C4 Grasses such as Sugar Cane, Corn, and Sorghum are the fasted carbon sequesters on land)

Regenerative Lawn  Care Tips

- Water the right amount.

Too much water leads to nutrient leaching and that is not what you want. Gauge the moisture level in the soil on your own:

Step 1. Squeeze a small handful into a ball firmly.

Step 2. Open your hand, does it fall apart easily? or does it stay intact? Pay attention to this and disturb it to see if it crumbles easily or can still retain its form.

Step 3. Deduce: If it falls apart easily it is too dry. The goal is to keep the moisture level in the goldilocks zone between these two states of looseness and firmness around 45% moisture.

Step 4. Do this method on various segments of the lawn to gauge the moisture level.

Step 5. If the soil was too dry, water your lawn and set a timer for how long it takes to bring your moisture level to 45%.

Once you figured that out you now know how long it takes to bring it to proper moisture level when you water it next time. If you like, do the same thing the next day or throughout the week every once in a while to document the amount the moisture level shifted with the weather and soil quality. Through this method of deduction, you can understand the amount of water your lawn needs corresponding to your soil and climate profile. As you build soil and plant health you will find yourself watering less and less over time.

- Chop and Drop:

Why put in the extra work raking up everything when you have nutrients right under your nose. After mowing your lawn or weeding, just leave the cuttings in place, this will feed the beneficial microbes which will decompose the cuttings further facilitating nutrient dispersal into the roots of the grass and adding to your Soil Organic Matter (SOM.)

If you prefer your lawn tidier, make sure not to waste your valuable biomass! Use your lawn cuttings as mulch for other plants, trees, or as an ingredient to make compost, which you can then process into more healthy soil. Using mulch significantly increases your water retention as well as inhibits moisture evaporation while cycling the soil nutrients from your plants back into the soil profile.

When you are weeding, try to cut the plant at the base of the plant so the roots can decompose back into the ground increasing soil fertility even more. If you time it right you can cut the weeds down right before they seed and won’t have to worry about the weeds spreading, otherwise you may want to use it on a Thermophilic Compost pile to neutralize the weed seeds if you are concerned about them spreading. Weed seeds cannot be neutralized in a Cold Compost pile. When you leave the grass cuttings in place on the lawn after they have seeded, they will fill in any bare patches and build the soil up even more.

- Inoculate your Lawn:

EM (Effective Microbes) is a selection of naturally occurring microbes. It is a biofertilizer that inoculates the plant directly, feeding microbes into the root tips and foliage of the plants saturating inside and outside with a protective shield of beneficial microbes and extremely robust plant health. This is the way plants have lived together for at least seven hundred million years. Use one ounce per gallon of water. If you make compost tea as well, you can add the EM to the tea when it is finished brewing to add to the potency. (see Compost Tea article for instructions on this)

- Mowing Lawns with Chickens?

Go old school, return to what lawns were originally used for, a pasture for grazing animals. You can Let your chickens, sheep, or goats graze on the grass mowing it down while you are simultaneously feeding them and cycling minerals back into the soil. If you decide to go this route, make sure they don’t eat too far down as it will take longer to recuperate growth in the grass, stop the grazing when there’s a little less than half the length of what was there, and have them come back through once it has recuperated as slightly taller length than it was before. Also, be mindful as to not let the manure become concentrated from any animals by spreading it around the lawn with a rake and watering it.

Lawn Remediation Recipe

Here are some recommended steps to take if you are having issues with your lawn or if you want to step it up another level:

  1. Ascertain as to whether you want to keep the current grass or replace it with a more preferred grass or a mix of cover crops. What you already have may not be the best choice for your climate and soil type.
  2. Gather any selection of the following amendments: Finished compost, worm castings, manure, basalt, or glacial rock dust for remineralization, and biochar (bits of charcoal inoculated with microbes that have a water holding capacity of 270% of its mass).

Be sparing with using manure directly on plants as it is very nitrogen-rich and can be damaging.

AMENDMENT FORMULAS

-Rock Dust:  Basalt, 1 cup per square foot

                        Glacial, ¼ cup per square foot  

-Biochar: Mixed into soils at 5-15%

Measure these out with the rest and spread them equally around the lawn, lightly sprinkling the manure.

  1. Use a broadfork to aerate the ground and push the amendments you applied deep into the soil and move the broadfork back and forth some. Sequentially go through the whole lawn in this way opening up cracks and any compaction layers so the amendments can make their way down transforming the dirt into higher quality soil. This will also allow roots to grow deeper if it is compacted.

If done correctly, steps two and three do not need to be repeated for at least three years or more.

  1. Apply EM with humic acids and water as well as Compost Tea if you brewed any. Add Mycorrhizal Fungi according to its recommended amount of use, now bring your lawn up to moisture with these liquid amendments.

Repeat step four weekly or as needed. Doing this often will shift what is called the trophic soil layer to become more fungal dominant, this means that the vast networks of mycelium and other beneficial microbes will hold extreme amounts of water and facilitate rapid and optimal enzyme and nutrient dispersal to the plants which mean watering a lot less.

With all that complete you can now set up a timer with a hose and sprinkler system to automatically water your lawn or water it on your own.

Go forth and good luck!

Get the right biology in the ground and on the plants with EM and/or Compost Tea every week or as much as you can, follow these innovative techniques enough and you may find yourself watering your lawn once or twice a year! For real!

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WELCOME TO H&F
HI, I'M Alex M.
Permaculturist & Regenerative Agriculture Consultant
With a background in construction, landscaping, & irrigation, Alex originally attended college for audio & film production studies. After two decades in landscaping, construction, & music, he came across the regenerative farm systems design field known as Permaculture. Immediately hooked, he devoured everything on the field eventually getting Certified in Permaculture, graduating from Rak Tamachat in Thailand. Then went on to study Applied Soil Microbiology & Microscopy in Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web School, as well as working on an industrial scale soil farm for a year. Musician, writer, & life-long skateboarder, Alex applies insights from the fields of Soil Microbiology, Keyline Design, Mycology, Korean Natural Farming, Holistic Management, & other regenerative farm planning techniques, ancient & modern. He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area in the US, where he is working on creating a food forest on twenty acres of land in the mountains of California.
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