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Natural Lawn Care

Here is a link to this talk, which was videotaped, thanks to the support of the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment: 

1. Eco-Turf

Right here on Vashon Island, the new Senior High School put in eco-lawn instead of traditional monoculture grass, to reduce water use. Besides lower water use, it also eliminates the use of herbicides, because herbicides would kill some of the plants in the eco-lawn mix. Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the school's Eco Lawn:

FAQ on Vashon High School’s Eco-Lawn

September 14, 2016

Q: Why did you choose to put in Eco Lawn?

A: Primarily to reduce water usage, as required by the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP).

Q: How long ago was it put in?

A: 2014

Q: What was in the seed mix?

A: 45% perennial ryegrass

45% fine fescue grass

5% dwarf white yarrow

2% wild English Daisies (Bellis perennis)

2% Baby Blue Eyes: Nemophila menziesii

1% other (probably microclover, Trifolium repens var Microclover for nitrogen fixation)

Q: Where did you buy the seed?

A: Sunmark Seeds International,

Q: Who put it in for you?

A: Specialized Landscaping out of Tacoma: (253) 536-9393

Q: How was the soil prepared?

A: The on-site topsoil had been removed for construction, and saved. The subsoil had 2 ½ inches of organic Cedar Grove compost mixed into it. This was then capped with the existing topsoil. Then lime was blended into the top ½ inch of topsoil. Finally, the seed mix was applied, along with 10-20-20 fertilizer in the water of the hydroseeder.

Q: How about watering?

A: It was important to keep the seed and new seedlings moist, so both temporary and permanent irrigation methods were used. As the plants developed, the temporary irrigation was removed. For the first couple of years, the permanent underground irrigation provided about ¾ of an inch per week during the dry summer months. This dropped down to around half an inch per week beginning in the third year. A typical lawn requires around 1 inch per week during the summer, so this is a significant reduction in water use. We water more right before schools starts, to have it looking good and be strong for the extra foot traffic it will receive once the students return.

Q: How often do you fertilize?

A: Between the compost soil amendment, the initial fertilizing with the hydroseeding, and the nitrogen supplied by the clover in the mix, we don’t need to fertilize much at all.

Q: How often do you mow?

A: We mow it during the growing season approximately every 10-14 days, which is about a third less than a conventional lawn. This has reduced our fossil fuel consumption and staff time. We let it go to flowering height before we mow, to enjoy the flowers. That way when we do mow, we are deadheading the flowers, which encourages them to bloom more.

Q: Do you use Pesticides (insect, disease, weed control)?

A: No pesticides have been applied. With a good mix of plants, insects and disease are much less of an issue than a typical grass lawn. And, use of a product like Weed and Feed would kill the flowers in the mix.

Q: Do the students like it?

A: The students love it. It is much more inviting to sit on than a typical grass lawn. They will pick some of the flowers, and even make daisy chains out of the English daisies.

Q: What does Vashon High School think about it?

A: At this point, we are all huge fans. It took a while at first to get rid of the expectation that is should look like a golf course fairway. But once it filled in, and the daisies started to bloom, we liked it more every year.

Q: What kinds of comments have you gotten from the parents and the public?

A: Every comment has been positive.

Thanks to Diane Emerson and the Vashon-Maury Island Groundwater Protection Committee for some of the background research and preparation of this FAQ.

2. School Playing Fields

Prior to 1950, all school playing fields were maintained organically. Let's return to those practices, with the additional benefit of all the knowledge we have gained since then about soil, turf grass, and watering practices. It's cheaper, too, as this report proves.

Here is the website of the author: Chip Osborne:

3. MeadowScaping

Turning your lawn into a meadow - now that is a way to increase sustainability, support pollinators, and give yourself more free time.

Here is a guide on how to do it:

The Meadowscaping Handbook: Designing, Planting and Managing an Urban Meadow was produced as part of a collective effort by the Pacific Northwest Urban Meadowscaping (PNUM) working group. The experiences of regional ecologists, landscape professionals and regional prairie research also informed this handbook. Handbook written and edited by Mary Logalbo, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District and Mark Griswold Wilson, Ecologist.

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