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Here are four ways to help your lawn while helping the environment, too

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You can have a nice-looking lawn that's also kind to the environment, experts say.

Spring has arrived and for many Connecticut residents that means a season of watering and mowing lawns and fighting weeds.

But advocates say there are ways to treat yards that are friendly to the environment.

Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Before applying lawn products, experts suggest getting soil tested every few years to find out what it needs.

Popular four-step programs aren’t necessary, said Suzanne Thompson with Save the Sound.

“It’s recommended commercially to apply fertilizer too early in Connecticut,” she said. “If we are applying it in April, then there’s heavy rainstorms that come [and] the fertilizer runs off the lawn."

That fertilizer can end up in Connecticut’s waterways and rivers.

2. Consider organic options.

Organic fertilizer provides two benefits, said Thomas Barry, grounds manager at Greens Farms Academy.

The first one is the way organic fertilizers break down. Synthetic fertilizers are water soluble, so they dissolve quickly; what isn't immediately taken up by the grass leaches into the groundwater. Organic fertilizers are released into the lawn much more slowly. Lawn organisms, like bacteria and fungi, need time to break it down and convert it into nitrogen, feeding the grass. Because it’s a much more controlled process, Barry says it’s less likely that groundwater is contaminated.

The second benefit of organic fertilizer is, unlike synthetic fertilizer, you are not just feeding the grass, but you are also feeding the soil. Barry says organic fertilizer “is actually food for the life in the soil, so it helps increase the population of the microbes. It improves soil structures.”

To make sure you're purchasing organic fertilizer, look on the back of the fertilizer bag and make sure the nitrogen is derived from something natural like poultry manure – not a synthetic like ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate or potassium sulfate. Barry recommends checking products for Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certification.

Thompson recommends waiting until August to feed lawns organically.

3. Avoid herbicides.

To keep weeds, like crabgrass, at bay, you don't need herbicides. Barry says the best defense against weeds is a dense turf canopy, which starves weeds of sunlight. Overseeding your lawn in spring or fall is key for a good organic lawn program.

4. A smaller lawn may be better.

If your lawn care demands are taking up too much of your free time, have a smaller lawn, Thompson says.

“The biggest problem is the American mindset that we are all supposed to have these mowed lawns from border to border,” she said. “That’s not nature.”

Thompson recommends replacing unused grassy areas with ground cover, like wild strawberries, bloodroot or Pennsylvania sedge.

Resources:
Consumer Reports: A guide to eco-friendly lawn helpers

Connecticut Garden Journal: Rehabilitate your lawn

Connecticut Garden Journal: Spring lawn maintenance

CT Insider: The incredibly shrinking lawn

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