Trying a Natural, Low-Maintenance Lawn

Lawn care may seem like a strange thing to discuss in relation to self sufficiency, but it’s more related than you might imagine.

To maintain a traditional lawn requires a lot of fertilizer, water, herbicides (for weed control), work, and equipment (lawn mowers, edgers, aerators, etc., plus the related costs of fuel and maintenance).  These costs all add up, and so do their impact on the ecosystem.  This article about water quality in streams improving after a fertilizer ban is a perfect example.  Another good read is American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, which details the history of lawns, and the development of the lawn care industry.

We decided to start looking at alternatives to the traditional lawn.  This came from desires for a lawn that is lower maintenance, less expensive, and natural and organic for our chickens to forage on (while still looking nice).

I took a trip to the local feed and garden supply store and looked at their seed mix offerings.  Most of them were pasture and animal forage oriented, but one looked promising.  It was labeled as a low-maintenance lawn mix, comprised of hard fescue, a creeping fescue, and perennial rye.  It advertised itself as being drought tolerant and slow growing, ideal for orchards or places that are inconvenient to maintain.  This seemed like a good start, but still seemed lacking.

As a legume, which fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, clover seemed like an avenue worth pursuing for its fertilizing qualities.  Nitrogen is the number one nutrient need of a lawn, especially if you leave lawn clippings on the lawn to decompose and serve as fertilizer, replenishing the nutrients contained in the cut grass.

A quick search for clover lawns turned up fairly polarized results, sites either promoting clover in lawns, or giving instruction on how to extinguish it.  From among those promoting it, cloverlawn.org seemed one of the more useful and straightforward.  This site advertises a product called Earth Turf, along with a similar version Earth Turf Overseed.  It should be noted that cloverlawn.org appears to be owned by the same company as earthturfco.com, so it would certainly make sense that they advertise that product.

Earth Turf is a blend of fescues, rye, and MicroClover, a proprietary variety of clover that apparently grows much shorter than more common varieties.  This seemed like a good sign, as it appears to be a very similar mix to what the feed store offers, plus the addition of this special clover.

The overseed mix is intended to be sown into an existing lawn without having to till the whole thing under.  You just mow short, remove cuttings, aerate if convenient, and spread the seed.  This is what we plan to do.

We have ordered our Earth Turf Overseed mix, and plan to sow it in the back yard just after we’ve got some new fruit trees planted in a few days.  If we like the results, we’ll sow it in the front yard too.  We’ll report back in the fall with our results.

We’ve already avoided using fertilizers, weed killers, or other chemicals on the yard, but are making this move to try to do so with an improvement in the lawn’s appearance, while also reducing water usage.  The clover in the lawn should help attract bees and other pollinators, which will help with our fruit tree and garden yields.  The low or slow growth of the new mix should reduce our mowing frequency.  We are also hoping this mix can improve the forage quality of the lawn for our chickens.

One caveat worth mentioning: these lawn mixes may not do as well in high-traffic areas.  They are less likely to stand up to the abuse of frequently walked areas, vehicles, or children playing on the lawn.  While they are apparently less durable than more traditional lawns, they may still be just fine.  We will be finding out, for sure.

Does anyone else have experience with the Earth Turf mixes, or with other low-maintenance or clover rich lawn seed mixes?

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