It’s time to take the safe lawns pledge.
That lush green lawn that looks so natural is kept that way unnaturally because of a diet of synthetic chemical fertilizers and toxic herbicides.
This year, instead of taking care of the lawn in the conventional way, gardeners should challenge themselves to use fewer chemicals in their landscapes and take an organic approach to lawn care. Instead of feeding the grass, ask “What can I do to feed the soil?”
Building healthy soil is the goal of an organic lawn. Synthetic chemical fertilizers may make the lawn look green and healthy, but chemicals don’t help the soil or feed the beneficial organisms that live there.
Here are six ways to get started on an organic lawn care program:
1. Loosen the soil. Core aerate your lawn at least once a year. Aeration is the mechanical process of pulling small cores of soil out of the ground. Opening up the soil surface allows water and important nutrients to move into the root zone. Core aerate with equipment that pulls plugs three or four inches deep on four-inch centers.
Don’t fall for the liquid aeration products that are being promoted as an alternative to mechanical core cultivation. Spraying a liquid on the lawn isn’t a substitute for core aeration, no matter what the ads say. It might help turn the turf green, but it can’t loosen compacted soil.
If your turf is tired, you can apply grass seed just after aerating to provide the best conditions for sprouting.
2. Use organic fertilizers. Soil amendments that come from natural sources, like plant and animal by-products, are called organic fertilizers. Some of the newest organic fertilizers are made from feed grade nutrients like alfalfa and corn gluten.
Natural organic fertilizers, like corn gluten meal, build up nutrients and organisms in the soil. These fertilizers add nitrogen and perform best when applied in early spring and fall.
Corn gluten meal is safe to use around pets and people. It may be more expensive than synthetic fertilizers, but fewer applications are needed during the growing season.
Because corn gluten meal is a pre-emergent weed control, it shouldn’t be used when over seeding the lawn or the grass won’t germinate. Be sure to apply the fertilizer before weed seeds germinate or it will fertilize the weeds instead.
3. Top dress with compost. A thin layer of compost—about one-quarter to one-half inch—spread over the lawn after core aeration gives the soil added nutrients and helps hold moisture. Compost will also help reduce the need for weed killers, because a thick healthy lawn is the best deterrent to weed seeds looking for a place to land.
4. Use earth-friendly weed control. If weeds are a problem, pulling them by hand or pouring vinegar on them are natural weed control methods. There are many non-toxic herbicides now on the market that can be as effective as those containing glyphosate, but they contain ingredients like clove oil, vinegar and citric acid.
Natural foliar sprays can kill most grassy and broadleaf weeds with a single application and won’t affect soil biology. Earth-friendly herbicidal soaps can also take the place of synthetic herbicides. They’re effective, but they aren’t selective. They should be used only for spot treatments.
5. Leave clippings on the lawn. Grasscycling is another step toward natural lawn care. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing reduces the need for extra fertilizer because clippings quickly decompose and add nutrients into the soil. It also means fewer bags of yard waste headed to the landfill.
6. Push for a greener lawn. If you want to go organic all the way, switch to a reel push mower to eliminate the need for a gas-guzzling mower. The new push mowers are lightweight, heavy-duty and easy to push. These mowers provide a quieter, emission-free alternative and they make mowing fun.