My longtime friend in Folsom has been working to improve her small backyard turf grass lawn (maybe eight hundred square feet) nearly as long as I’ve known her—more than twenty years. She still hasn’t got a handle on it and this is sad because she spends a lot of time there with her pet cat Spot. Weeds, including the dreaded crabgrass (imported in the 1850s as a forage crop and later actually farmed as an edible grain—yikes!), continues to choke out the turf. So she applies lawn care chemicals in the form of high nitrogen fertilizers, slow release fertilizers, pre-emergents and combinations of the three. For whatever reason she has resisted my poignant pleas to “go organic” or at least to try aeration and a top-dressing of compost applied (at least) spring and fall. These two actions could have solved at least three problems: Compacted soil, nutrient deficient soil and run-off, both from storm water and irrigation. Actually there is a fourth consequence that could have been prevented: A dead vegetable garden—read on for the grizzly details!
The incredible rains we had last winter and into June this year were welcome but caused problems in our saturated soil’s ability to absorb the rain. When the soil cannot take in any more water, it has to go somewhere—so it runs off, into storm drains and far beyond, carrying with it precious topsoil and most any of the chemical substances applied topically to a turf grass lawn which cannot absorb one more drop!
This is what can happen when these products are applied to compacted, supersaturated turf at the “normal” time of year that has really not been normal at all or to over-irrigated, compacted turf anytime chemical products are applied. No one anticipated the last round of heavy soaking rains—especially my Folsom friend. She awoke one night in early May to the pitiful sound of many one foot tall tomato plants begging for their lives, as a flood of very strong chemicals that belong nowhere near an edible garden, washed over them and sealed their fate. Alas, poor Early Girl, I knew her well. They put up a good fight, but began to show signs of herbicide toxicity within days and were dead in a couple weeks. There are a couple hanging on, but would you eat them if they ever got a tomato?? They look worse than dead with hard brown shriveled leaves and no fruit.
Since the product she used lasts for an entire year and often longer, she’ll have to wait it out before trying a garden of any kind in that spot again. Still, I believe she now has a healthy respect for the toxic nature of these products as well as a new understanding of what “storm water run-off” really means and the extreme damage it can do to the quality of our water.
We spent the next couple hours under her magnificent— giant—Japanese maple going over the benefits of preventing run-off of any kind and planning the next step—finding the phone number of a good lawn service that does aeration. Check out http://www.sactostormwater.org for much more information on what you can do to prevent run-off in your garden.
When my friend can tell me what steps she will take to prevent run-off, both storm water and irrigation and has taken the Blue Thumb Pledge online at http://bewatersmart.info
, I will personally present her pair of Blue Thumb gloves.