Our Healthy Virginia Lawns Program has re-opened for site visits…practicing COVID-19 precautions

The Healthy Virginia Lawns program is a partnership between the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), designed to provide science- based lawn fertilization recommendations and other best management practices to homeowners. This video covers the overview of this program and what you can expect at a site visit done by a trained Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

According to Virginia Tech and DCR, every Virginia lawn matters when it comes to helping to protect the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (CBW), which is where our area’s waterways feed.  A primary goal of turf and landscape nutrient management is water quality protection. Appropriate product selection, delivery rate, timing, and method of application are among of variables in water quality protection in urban landscape management. While people would never indiscriminately give family members prescription drugs, many will indiscriminately apply fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to their lawns without a soil test or site evaluation. About 40% of homeowners use a lawn care service regularly or intermittently  that unfortunately, often applies these chemicals without any soil testing.

Lawn health is dependent on soil health; thus, pH and nutrient testing is an important component of diagnosing lawn issues and avoiding unnecessary or excessive fertilization that leads to increased nutrient pollution in waterways and dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay. At our site visit, we measure your lawn area, take soil samples, chat with you about your goals, and work to answer any questions you may have. After receiving your soil test results, you will be given a customized nutrient management plan. Download and complete our brochure application to schedule a visit.

Late summer to mid-fall is a great time to consider fall lawn care. Do you know if your lawn is compacted? Any soil that is heavily trafficked is likely to have some degree of compaction which physically restricts root penetration and reduces soil oxygen required for root development.  Now is a great time to perform core aeration and consider overseeding problem areas.  Adding ¼ inch of compost as a “top dressing” provides organic matter and improves the overall health of the soil. If you have cool season grass, now is the time to think about fall lawn fertilization.

Having a lawn was a status symbol for the wealthy dates back to the 18th century, and the average homeowner today still clings to the notion of a perfect green lawn.  We have over 46 million acres of lawn in the US.  In 2018, homeowners spent about $48 billion on lawn and garden products. And lawns are the most “irrigated crop” in the country according to a 2005 NASA study.  In the past decade, we are seeing a positive shift in the way we look at chemical treatments in our gardens, at our impacts on wildlife, and at our moral obligations to conserve the many fragile ecosystems around us.

Douglas Tallamy, in his latest book, Natures Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard (Timber Press), notes that a typical homeowner east of the Mississippi River, maintains about 90 percent of the home landscape in lawn, and our yards contains only 10 percent of the tree biomass that was present prior to houses being built.  He proposes that we all consider “shrinking” our lawns and transform vast expanses of turfgrass lawns into conservation corridors that stitch together fragmented natural habitats. This will require adding native plants to our neighborhoods, corporate grounds, and other private and public lands across the country.

Lawns meet different needs for all of us.  The Healthy Virginia Lawns program helps people to realize that we can have healthy inviting lawns without wasting money on unnecessary chemicals and treatments. By making small changes in the way we mow, fertilize, prevent weeds, and plan our landscapes (with ecology and the environment in mind), we will become better stewards of our environment.