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From Re-wilding to Synthetic Grass, the Perfect Lawn May Not Look Like What You Expect

Looking outside at winter’s drab and dreary leftovers, everyone starts wistfully thinking of spring—a time for green grass, colorful wildflowers and leaves back on the trees where they belong. For homeowners faced with sad-looking lawns, a few tips can help to brighten up that property.

“When spring arrives, we want the grass to green-up as fast as possible. The first step is to get out in the yard and look for any damage incurred over the winter,” said Eric French, president, Eisler Landscapes.

Snow mold, a fungus that lives under the snow eating grass throughout the winter, often leaves sections of the lawn looking gray and slimy. This is typically caused from the grass being too high when the first snowfall arrives. “If you have damage, you want to rake it out and get all of the dead grass off of the lawn,” said French.

Step two is a soil test. French suggested obtaining a simple standard test kit that can be purchased for about $9 from the Penn State County Extension Office or from garden centers that stock kits. For more information on testing kits, visit the Penn State Agricultural extension webpage at

“The goal is to determine the nutrient balance and PH in the soil,” said French. “In our area, the PH tends to get lower over time, and the soil gets more acidic. It should be around seven; if it’s lower, you’ll want to add some lime to raise the PH, which releases nutrients into the soil.”

Next up is fertilizing. French recommends a high-water insoluble nitrogen fertilizer. “Be sure to look for a slow-release fertilizer,” he said. “You don’t want a hard impact. Season-long feeding is the goal.”

Common Mistakes

French believes that too much lawn love can be a bad thing.

“We see this with water—a lot of folks install irrigation systems but don’t manage them properly. They set it and forget it, and if you don’t adjust irrigation settings throughout the season, you’ll overdo it,” he explained.

We’ve all seen those houses where the sprinklers are on while the rain pours down. “If you’re going to install an irrigation system, invest in rain sensors and moisture block controls to manage it,” French advised, adding that there are ways to connect these sensors to your iPhone for ease of control.

The ‘too much lawn love’ philosophy extends to the amount of grass that homeowners choose to maintain. Homeowners with significant property can spend their spring and summer mowing acre upon acre.

“Turf grass is a green desert,” said French. “There’s nothing out there aside from the occasional bunny rabbit.” For biodiversity, he says that it’s much better to eliminate some of the grass.

“Let things get a little wild and wooly,” he added. “Plant wildflowers and help create an environment where all native creatures can thrive.”

Utilizing an approach known as re-wilding, people are reducing the amount of grass and adding shrub borders, planting wildflowers and eliminating the wall-to-wall lawn tradition. “The less grass you have, the more nature you have,” said French.

It’s also a money-saving tactic, eliminating the need to spend thousands of dollars on lime seed fertilizer, irrigation and lawn mowing companies for when you don’t have the time or energy to mow it yourself.

An Emerging Trend

French has noted a new trend at the complete opposite end of the spectrum—synthetic grass.

“We don’t really see it in our area yet, but it has taken hold in places like Arizona, New Mexico and California due to limited water supplies,” he explained. “Even in the Northeast, you’ll occasionally see a putting green in someone’s backyard.”

As for the environmental impact of synthetic grass, French believes that it’s actually greener in the long run. “Besides the appealing benefits of no headaches and no maintenance, it also eliminates the use of irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fuel and money,” he said.

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