Organic Lawn Care Basics
These eco-friendly lawn care tips will keep your yard looking green and healthy. Learn how to make a natural weed killer, practice pet-safe lawn care, and more.
Everyone loves a green lawn, but a healthy lawn made possible with organic practices? Now that's something to brag about. Organic lawn care doesn't have to mean buying expensive materials, fertilizers, and seeds. True organic customs can be created by simply tweaking some of the current lawn care habits you may have; keep reading to find out the basics you should know.
Choose the Right Grasses
Organic yard care starts with what you plant. Focus on a mixture of grasses adapted to your region. A mix of grasses ensures that a disease problem won't affect every blade of turf in your lawn. And pay attention to growing conditions: Almost all grasses prefer full sun, but a few, including fine fescues, tolerate some shade.
Remember that sometimes, the best lawn doesn't include grass. Ground covers or planting beds might make more sense depending on growing conditions.
Don't Cut Your Lawn Too Short
Tall grass is usually healthier grass. It grows longer roots, which access more water and nutrients. And because it has more leaf area, tall grass is also more vigorous than closely mowed grass. The taller leaves also shade out weeds. To engage in eco-friendly lawn care, note that grasses grow best when kept at least 2 inches tall.
Hint: No matter what height you let your grass grow, remove no more than one-third of the grass blade in a single mowing. Removing too much at one time causes stress.
Keep a Sharp Lawn Mower Blade
The condition of your mower blade impacts natural lawn care. A dull lawn mower blade tears grass intead of cutting it, resulting in frayed grass that's susceptible to disease. Sharpen mower blades at least once at the beginning of the season. Sharpen again during the season if your grass looks ragged after you mow.
Leave Clippings on Your Lawn
Create organic lawn feed without any extra work: Clippings left on the lawn decompose and add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. (Plus, you don't have to rake as often.) Contrary to popular belief, clippings do not contribue to thatch buildup. Clippings are also a pet safe lawn fertilizer, since they're just pieces of your grass!
Editor's Note: Use a mulching mower to finely mince blades, so they decompose and benefit your soil more quickly.
Thatch is an impenetrable mat made of grass blades, roots, and rhizomes that forms over the soil. Too much thatch is a barrier to organic lawn fungus control. A thick layer of thatch prevents water from reaching roots, and serves as a welcome mat for disease and insect pests. If thatch isn't severe, aeration may solve the problem. Thick thatch requires a vertical mower or mechanical dethachers to break it up.
If your ground is hard, if it has dry spots where grass fails to grow, or if you can't poke a pencil 4-6 inches into a moist lawn, it needs aeration. Aeration is an essential part of organic lawn care, as it improves drainage, breaks up thatch, stimulates lawn growth, and improves lawn health—all without pesticides or fertilizers. Aerate when the lawn is actively growing (spring or fall for cool-season lawns; summer for warm-season lawns).
Overwatering is antithetical to eco-friendly lawn care, and it's not good for your lawn, either. Water your lawn when grass takes on a dull green or bluish color, when leaf blades begin to fold or roll, or when footprints remain in the grass after you've walked on it. Water deeply and infrequently: You want roots to grow deep into the soil—healthy roots extend 6 inches deep or more. Take weekly rainfall into account before setting out the sprinkler. Water based on the weather rather than your weekly planner. Use a rain barrel to collect rainwater to use on your lawn.
Organic Weed Control
The best thing about healthy, organic lawns is that they naturally defeat most weeds without help from you. If your lawn has weeds, it may indicate a different problem. Use a natural weed killer, such as corn gluten meal (CGM), when necessary. CGM prevents weeds from going to seed. If you have pets, be sure to use a pet-safe lawn treatment. CGM works, as does good old-fashion hand pulling if weeds are sparse.
Make a pet-safe, homemade weed killer by carefully applying boiling water or a pure vinegar spray to weeds. Of course, let hot water cool before allowing kids or pets to step back on the lawn. For particularly stubborn patches, you may need several applications of vinegar.
Organic Lawn Fertilizer
Use a balanced, natural fertilizer for grass to feed your lawn. Most natural fertilizers are slow-acting, remain available over time in the soil, and rarely damage the lawn by burning grass.
Apply organic grass fertilizer once or twice each year. Be careful not to use too much: Even natural fertilizers can damage plants when used in extreme. Always follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging. With fertilizers, less is better!
Top Dress With Compost
Organic yard care should include compost, whether made in your own compost bin or store-bought. Compost works miracles in the soil for gardens and lawns. Spread up to a quarter of an inch of compost over your entire lawn each spring or fall.