LiveGreen: Lawn order

by Anne Rivas, LiveGreen | June 10, 2014

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For years, I used my grandfather's old reel mower. Since moving to Omaha, though, I've used the mower that came with our house -- a huge, hulking, self-propelled, gas-burning, walk-behind jobber. The self-propelled feature is lever-activated, so I mostly use it when I'm mowing uphill.

I noticed after mowing the lawn recently that I couldn't talk without choking. I put it down to spring allergies that I don't have. After reading Tom Mason's article, I wonder how much stuff I inhaled walking behind the mower, and whether I still have enough stamina to use a push reel. It's comforting to know that the new ones are much lighter than Grandpa Max's -- and maybe there's a way to mow the whole lawn downhill.

Embarrassing Green Confession: Last summer, patches of my front lawn were dying. I rolled back the grass and was so horrified by the fat white grubs I found that I immediately drove -- less than half a mile -- to the nearest garden store for poison. After I had watered it in, I researched what I had murdered. They were larvae of the beautiful Japanese beetles I had been entranced with the autumn before, and now I know why people don't want them around.

I had planned to plant extensive gardens in the back and side yards this year, leaving the front alone, but this spring we have more dead grass in front, and I've been watching the starlings line up like football players at kick-off, eating their way across the lawn in formation. Reluctant to put out more poison because of birds, dogs and adorable baby bunnies (no, I'm not a native Nebraskan), I'm thinking I should replace the grass with something the grubs won't enjoy. By the way, I do have a vole, but it seems to understand its ecosystem, taking enough grubs to survive without wiping out its food supply. We should be so smart.

Turf has its value, particularly in my neighborhood where taking care of it keeps many people busy. It sucks in carbon dioxide, exhales oxygen, holds the soil in place, provides food and habitat for bugs, which in turn feed the birds. But another type of ground cover could be less work once it's established. Any suggestions on what to plant in part-sun, part-deep shade? I look forward to your comments.

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Virgie Powers
June 23, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Try applying Milky Spore (Paenibacillus popilliae). It is natural, specific to grubs, not harmful to any other being, and once applied usually lasts about 20 years. When I get dead spots in my lawn I plug in creeping thyme, birdsfoot trefoil, or dutch clover in the sunnier spots, and ajuga in the shade to part shade. They eventually spread out and create a patchwork of color- who says a lawn should be all green? The thyme smells great when mowed.