We hear them all the time. Some of us are probably guilty of spreading them, while most of us probably believe one or two of them. They’re the myths, misconceptions or downright false ideas that seem to pop up in gardening conversations around the country. Maybe your neighbor heard it from a neighbor who heard it from a neighbor. Perhaps that online forum you were browsing wasn’t full of the experts you thought it was. Or maybe these ideas have been passed along for so long we’ve come to accept them as fact. Whatever the origin, it’s time to set the record straight when it comes to some of the most common lawn myths.
Lawn Myth #1: Fertilizer is the most important factor contributing to how green a lawn is.I hear this myth often, and it’s probably one of the most commonly believed ideas thanks to a constant push by fertilizer companies. It’s true that grass needs proper nutrition as well as moisture for optimum growth. But what most people don’t consider is the genetics of the grass plant. If you want the greenest lawn possible, start out with seed that has been bred to be darker green in the first place. Each year, organizations such as the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) evaluate hundreds of turfgrass cultivars based on factors such as color. Using standardized testing protocols, NTEP rates each cultivar and summarizes the data in annual reports. The information contained in these reports helps seed companies, like us, determine which cultivars go into their blends. By starting out with genetically superior seed varieties, it’s possible to achieve the darkest shade of green without much additional input.
Lawn Myth #2: Moles, ants and worms are pests in lawns and should be exterminated.Judging from the amount of products designed to rid lawns of these animals, it’s safe to assume many folks have fallen for this myth. In reality, these animals are actually beneficial. Contrary to popular belief moles and ants do not eat the roots of your lawn grass. Instead, they feed on insects such as grubs – the same grubs that feed on grass roots and cause extensive damage. And those tunnels they bore under the soil surface? They actually help with aeration; providing your lawn with improved drainage, reducing soil compaction and increasing the infiltration of nutrients to the roots. Worms provide these same aeration benefits, as well as providing natural fertilizer in the form of worm castings.
Lawn Myth #3: Artificial turf is more environmentally friendly than real grass.Many companies are promoting artificial turf as a more environmentally friendly substitute for real grass. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll soon find out this simply isn’t true. Many artificial turfs, especially older models, are made with rubber from recycled tires. These materials contain lead, heavy metals, and carcinogens that can leech into the water table or pose health concerns for young children. Newer artificial fields are made from polyethylene and polypropylene plastics that require large inputs of energy to produce and need to be replaced every five to ten years. Other issues include how artificial turfs impact the natural systems around them. Organic debris needs to be regularly removed and natural decomposition is hindered. Wildlife habitat is also destroyed as artificial turf does not support birds, animals or insects.
Lawn Myth #4: Annual lime application is part of routine lawn maintenance.Contrary to some ideas, lime is not a fertilizer. Its main purpose is to amend the pH of a soil. Soils can be either acidic or alkali, and plants such as grass prefer a certain range. Most grass species like the pH of a soil to be between 6.0 and 7.0 (slightly acidic). Sometimes the soil found in our yards can have a pH lower than 6, tipping it into the very acidic category. This is more common in the eastern portion of the United States than the West. When this happens, a number of nutrients necessary for proper lawn growth become less available for use. So, to increase pH back into the desirable range lime is added. How do we know if the soil in our lawns needs lime? The only sure way is by getting your soil tested by a state or commercial soil testing laboratory.
Lawn Myth #5: Clover is a weed and should be treated with an herbicide to remove it from a lawn.Prior to the 1950s, clover was a valued and accepted component of most grass seed mixes for lawns. It’s only been since the development of herbicides that society has thrown this beneficial legume under the bus. This is unfortunate. There are numerous benefits to adding clover in your lawn. Clover is a natural source of fertilizer and provides nutrients to the grass around it. In a process known as nitrogen fixation, clovers and other legumes are able to take unusable nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into a usable form of nitrogen called ammonium. As a result, grass intermixed with clover is healthier, greener and more vigorous than grass alone. Clover will also help your lawn look greener longer. It greens-up quicker than grass in the early spring, and stays greener longer into the fall and winter. What’s more, clover tolerates poor soils, out-competes weeds, is resistant to most diseases and pests, is unaffected by dog urine and provides pollinators with food.
Lawn Myth #6: You should be watering your lawn every day for best results.Remember that infrequent, deep watering is better for your lawn than frequent, shallow watering. Watering every day not only encourages weed growth, it can also lead to a shallow root system since the roots have no reason to grow deeply to find moisture. This leaves the grass more susceptible to drought if water suddenly becomes unavailable, like when water restrictions are put in place. Shallow roots are also more prone to pest problems, traffic damage and diseases. Instead, water deeply enough to saturate the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. Do this once or twice a week max. To find out if you’re watering deep enough, grab a shovel and start watering you lawn. Dig up a small section of your lawn every 15 minutes to find out how long it takes for water to seep 6-8 inches down. Once you know how long it takes, set your sprinkler system to water for that duration every time.