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Loving Your Lawn

Russ Henry of Minnehaha Falls Lanscaping Shares How Healthy Soil is Key

Organic Lawncare has become a hot topic as of late.  More and more are turning away from the chemicals that keep children and pets off lawns, and moving to something more natural.  For Russ Henry, the President of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping, organic lawncare is so much more.  “We think about lawns as an opportunity to reestablish the forest,” says Russ, walking me through not only what his company does, but the larger ideology that guides it, as well as the smaller microbiology at the heart of organics lawncare. 

Russ has been working with his hands in the dirt for decades.  In 2005 he started Giving Tree Gardens, an organic gardening company, and in 2017 purchased Minnehaha Falls Landscaping.  But even before that, Russ worked in his own garden, ruefully admitting, “I even used Roundup,” during that time.  And it was only after he wrecked the soil of his own garden that, “Put me on a learning path,” says Russ. 

And since then, through Minnehaha Falls Landscaping, Russ has been showing just what organic lawncare can do across the Twin Cities and beyond.  And their secret to success: maintaining soil health.  Minnehaha Falls Landscaping has worked to “Develop a soil health protocol that ensures the soil microbiology is healthy beneath our feet.  And once the soil microbiology is healthy, that leads to healthy plants and healthy ecosystems,” says Russ.  Restoring and maintaining soil health is key to understanding organic lawncare.  Russ goes as far as to say, “In order to really do organics correctly you have to focus on soil health.

Enriching soil health is more than good for the environment.  The long-term strategy of creating a healthy ecosystem requires less care than using harsh chemicals, saving homeowners money: “Convectional systems rely on adding the conventional fertilizers and herbicides forever, whereas our system relies on rejuvenating the soil health.  Once we get it to a healthy place, it’s a minimum intervention that is needed yearly,” says Russ.  Minnehaha Falls works to create healthy soil a couple of different ways.  First, they use OMRI certified products as well as make their own high-quality compost.  Second, Minnehaha Falls Landscaping works to create a healthy environment by releasing nematodes, praying mantids, ladybugs and various types of fungi into lawns to create ecosystems.  Through enriching soil health and creating sustainable ecosystems, “After a property is under our management for a few years, we don’t have pest problems because we invite so many beneficial insects with our lawn practices,” says Russ. 

But, when it comes to weeds and Minnehaha Falls Landscaping’s tactics for them, we have to get microscopic for a moment.  Because what types of plants grow in a lawn has everything to do with two concepts: the ratio of bacteria to fungi and how that ratio changes through ecosystem succession.  In short, or as Russ put it, “To not get too far into the weeds,” as ecosystems move from bare dirt towards a prairie, the ratio of bacteria to fungi in the soil switches from a majority of bacteria to majority of fungi.  And once you reach a microecosystem similar to a prairie, weeds struggle to grow in highly fungal soil. 

That ratio is the key difference between pesticides and organic lawncare.  Pesticides decimate the soil’s ecosystem, keeping the ratio of bacteria and fungi an overwhelming majority of bacteria, ensuring weeds will continue to grow and necessitating continued use of harmful chemicals.  On the other hand, organic lawncare creates ecosystems that naturally stop weeds from growing through microbiology and an understanding ecosystem succession. 

Another issue dear to Russ and Minnehaha Falls Landscaping is bee lawns.  “Bees and other pollinators are responsible for producing about 70% of the food that we eat and about 90% of the wild flowers that we love,” says Russ.  And using only our lawns, we can protect them in two major ways.  First is a growing movement called ‘No Mo May,’ in which homeowners are encouraged to not mow their lawns for the entirely of the month of May.  May is key to Minnesota native pollinators because, “That’s when our pollinators are finding some diverse food sources in your lawn,” says Russ.  And by not mowing you both allow those food sources to grow, and not endanger pollinators as they find it.  The second way is to grow some of pollinators favorite food sources in your own lawn like clover, white clover, purple self heal, and creeping thyme.  This mix is readily available at local vendors and “helps provide forage” for local pollinators, says Russ. 

Minnehaha Falls offers not only organic lawncare and landscapes with a focus on bee lawns and natural practices, but also snow removal, and remodeling.  And when it comes to their other services, sustainability is still at the heart of what they do.  For remodeling, the company strive to use sustainable materials as well as avoid plastics when possible.  But on a macroscale, Russ’s focus is also on sustainability: “The number one way to be sustainable in housing is to reuse existing housing stock.  All these things we do to upgrade houses is keeping them in the housing market for the next few decades.”

When asked about the future of lawncare, Russ said simply, “It’s going to be a much different industry in 20-30 years,” later continuing, “I think the future might be a little lawn-less.”  Between the shifting culture around mowing, the reforesting of urban environments, and the necessity to reintroduce and care for ecosystems within our own lawns and beyond: “Things are going to have to change.”  Says Russ.  And Minnehaha Falls Lawncare continues to work towards that change, one lawn at a time. 

For more information, please visit www.minnehahafallslandscape.com.

4549 41st Ave S., Minneapolis. (612) 724-5454.

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