The nonprofit SafeLawns.org has planted a patch of lawn using organic growing techniques in that most public of spots – the National Mall.  So if you’re planning a visit in 2008 or ’09, be sure to include the 4rd to 7th Street section of the Mall on your must-see list.  Take lots of photos and spread the word back home because if organic lawn care can survive in this challenging spot, it’s a good bet for yards across America, where it can replace the tons of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides we’re instructed by certain corporations to dump on our property throughout the season.  Imagine: No more little flags warning neighbors that our lawns are toxic to them.  (Animals, not versed in flag-reading, are just out of luck.)

How It’s Done

According to SafeLawns’ partnership agreement with the Park Service, the two lawn panels comprising the 4.3-acre test area have been either aerated or tilled to 8″, had compost applied, then were seeded and watered in.  Next, a “liquid compost mulch” is applied.  I’m assuming that mean compost tea because the plan is to apply compost tea throughout the duration of the test, which ends in September of ’09.  SafeLawns is doing all this at no cost to the government.

Findings to be Fully Reported

Oh, and this is research, not a quick PR gimmick.  The EPA will be compiling and reporting findings on “soil compaction, moisture, organisms, fertility, as well as hours worked and type and amount of all machinery and products used.”  Excellent!

The compaction findings will be particularly revealing because you can’t imagine how much heavy traffic this strip of land gets.  All those demonstrations for or against every known cause really add up.  Then there’s the huge 4th
of July event, the yearly Folklife Festival, amateur sports, and even large, rowdy commercial events (a very controversial new policy of the National Park Service, you’d better believe).  So the folks at SafeLawns are really putting their talk to the test here.

Do we Really have to be Brown to be Green?

After completing this turf-redo, the folks from Safe Lawns didn’t just hung up their gardening clothes and go home; they stayed in town to teach us locals all about safe lawn care and the training they offered is described here.  According to that, public officials (including the governor of North Carolina) are pleading with residents to let their lawns turn brown, trying to convince the public that brown lawns are a badge of honor, but Paul Tukey claims that brown isn’t necessary:

The founder of SafeLawns.org, however, said that in most cases lawns  and gardens could remain green and lush if homeowners and landscape professionals utilize organic methods. He’ll offer specifics when his organization participates in the DC Environmental Conference at the University of District of Columbia on Saturday, Oct. 20.

“If you avoid synthetic chemical fertilizers and switch to compost and organic fertilizers, you’ll reduce the need for watering by up to 75 percent,” said Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual.
“These natural soil amendments help the soil store water and, therefore, help the grass stay green.”

Now truth to tell, I didn’t attend the training but then I’m already a convert.  I did pay a quick visit to the Mall this week and took this photo of the new lawn, which is looking darn good.  Kudos to Paul, Shep, and the whole gang at Safe Lawns!