Homeowners spend quite a bit of time and money in the quest for a beautiful, lush green lawn. While chemical fertilizers and pesticides are often the go-to products for greener pastures, using them too much can be detrimental to your soil and the surrounding environment.
A natural, organic approach can yield the same results, along with environmental benefits. While it may take a little more time, organic lawn care lets nature do its thing and helps the grass grow just as green. Keep reading to find out how the way you fertilize, water and even mow can have health benefits for your lawn.
Step 1: Understand Your Soil
Find out what kind of soil you have so you know what you'll be working with. There are clay soils, loam soils and sand soils. Loam is usually ideal because of its moisture retention and efficient drainage. Clay contains a lot of nutrients but doesn't drain as quickly as loam. Sand drains quickly but doesn't retain as many nutrients or as much water.
Pick up a handful of your soil and squeeze it. If it crumbles when you open your hand, you have loam soil. If it doesn't crumble, you have clay soil. Sand soil will fall apart immediately. Knowing what kind of soil you have will help you figure out how much organic fertilizer and soil amendments you'll need for a naturally successful lawn.
Do a pH test. Your soil's acidity plays a big part in achieving a healthy grass. For the most part, grass grows best in soil with neutral pH. You can pick up a pH test kit at your local True Value hardware store.
To organically grow a lush lawn, you need to start with healthy, fertile soil. Decaying organic matter is a must for fertile soil because it fights erosion and provides a favorable habitat for beneficial organisms like earthworms. It also creates carbon dioxide as it decays, which helps grass absorb minerals from the soil. Without this, the soil cannot support healthy, thriving grass. Organic fertilizers and soil amendments such as compost are essential to create a natural, nutrient-rich environment in which your lawn can flourish. See Step 3.
Step 2: Mow and Maintain Organically
Decrease stress on your grass by letting your lawn grow out a bit during the summer before cutting it each time. Your mowing and maintenance methods can play a part in a naturally thriving yard. Try to cut it every two weeks instead of one or mow it at a higher blade setting (around 3” or 4”, depending on the type of grass). A lawn with taller grass keeps weed growth to a minimum (without heavy chemical herbicide use) and aids in drought resistance. Remember to keep the mower’s blade sharp and only mow when the grass is dry. Consider using a mulching mower that leaves chopped up grass on the lawn. These clippings can complement your eco-friendly methods by supplying a natural mulch and fertilizer layer that keeps your lawn healthy.
Try mowing with an electric lawnmower or reel mower to cut back on fossil fuel use. Gas-powered tools consume fuel and can contaminate soil or water due to spills.
Choosing a grass type that is native to your region goes a long way toward organically helping your lawn thrive.
Another aspect of maintaining an eco-friendly lawn can be aerating your soil to cut down on thatch and improve drainage, which makes watering more effective and efficient. Aerating your lawn in the fall will give you healthy grass in the spring. Aerating allows for greater movement of water, fertilizer and air. It also increases the speed of mulch decomposition and encourages deep root growth, so be sure to aerate before applying fertilizer. You can aerate your lawn with a hand cultivator or a mechanical aerator. Aeration holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. If you're dealing with a larger area or you want to make the task easier, there are several types of push spike aerators you can rent or purchase. Some models look like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. Others are designed as attachments that fit behind a power mower. For medium-to-large areas, you'll want to rent a gas-powered spiking aerator.
Avoid using chemical pesticides on your grass when combating insect infestations. Excessive use of these chemicals may lead to the contamination of runoff water that feeds sewers and drains. Many insects are beneficial for the small eco-system that is your yard.
Step 3: Use Organic Fertilizer
Use organic, natural fertilizers on your lawn. There are many bagged, commercial varieties available at your local True Value® store or you can create your own with compost. Compost is about as natural as you can get. It enhances soil by aiding the growth of useful microbes, neutralizing soil pH and supplying nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. And, you don’t necessarily have to purchase it—you can make it yourself.
Start a compost pile by collecting waste from inside and outside your home. You will add to the pile over time—it can take up to two to three months to fully process if you consistently maintain it. You can use things like grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds and plant trimmings. These are key composting ingredients because they provide nitrogen. Combine these types of items with a small amount of soil or a compost starter that contains enzymes and other stimulants to help the compost decompose as fast as possible. You will then need to add items such as dry leaves, finely chopped wood and bark chips, shredded newspaper or straw. These types of items provide carbon. Be sure the soil is mixed well with the other matter. You will need to regularly turn the compost with a pitchfork or shovel to move material from the edges to the inside, allowing necessary aeration, as well as water it.
When the pile has a dark brown, moist and earthy consistency and smell, it is ready for use. The compost particles should be fine or small and grainy in order to be spread on your lawn.
Do not add animal waste, meats, oils, dairy, diseased plants, weeds or plants treated with pesticides or herbicides to your compost.
Find or purchase earthworms and add them to your compost pile to accelerate decomposition.
Use a compost tumbler. It will provide a place to store your compost as well as aerate it. The tumbler rolls, tossing the compost around on the inside, letting air in and out, which is beneficial to the decomposition process.
Fertilize your lawn at the very least once a year. Ideally though, you should fertilize at least twice—once in the fall, at the end of the growing season and once in the spring before growing season. Some lawns may require an application in the middle of the growing season.
Fill a wheelbarrow with compost and shovel the compost out onto your grass. Spread it out evenly across your yard using a rake. Then water your lawn thoroughly. Wait for a few days to a week before you mow.
When using a package organic fertilizer, read the label for proper application times, amounts and conditions. Apply only as directed. Use a broadcast spreader to apply your fertilizer since it will cover the most area—evenly and quickly. Pour the recommended amount of fertilizer into the spreader hopper. Apply the fertilizer in the same way you would mow. Using a sidewalk, driveway or other non-grass surface as a guide and starting point, begin pushing the spreader parallel to the surface and work your way across the lawn. Turn at each end of the lawn and direct the spreader alongside the row you just completed so that coverage almost overlaps. The fertilizer drops from the hopper and is dispersed as you move. Keep a slow, steady pace. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for exact directions on how to use your spreader. Many models allow you to set the amount that is dispersed. Check the fertilizer package to verify the recommended spreader setting to ensure that you don’t over-fertilize your grass.
After applying the fertilizer, water the lawn immediately with a garden hose, unless directed otherwise by the package instructions. Clean out fertilizer residue from your spreader with a garden hose, taking care to prevent the runoff from flowing into nearby soil or drains.
Step 4: Water Correctly
Learn how to water your yard correctly. Watering your lawn correctly has environmental benefits and obvious health benefits for your grass. As a general rule, most lawns require about 1" of water, once a week from rain or irrigation to penetrate down to the roots. Consistent watering prevents the root structure of the grass from rising toward the surface in a desperate search for water, which makes the roots vulnerable and can harm or even kill the grass. At the same time, you don’t want to overwater—it is wasteful and can lead to fungus growth if humidity is high and persistent. So you should only water when necessary. Check the weather to determine how much rain you will be getting each week. If it’s raining, you won’t need to water, obviously. Try to water in the morning, rather than the afternoon or evenings. Watering in the morning when the sun is low and is cooler allows for better water intake. The afternoon sun can dry up the water before it has time to soak into the ground to the roots. Evening watering sometimes can encourage the spread of fungus and disease from the overly wet conditions.
Sprinklers are the most convenient and efficient way to water your lawn, but do your research to determine the best type of sprinkler for your needs. Different types of sprinklers saturate the ground slower or faster than others, which could result in covering too small or too large an area of your yard.
That’s it! Organic lawn care will naturally boost your lawn’s health and appearance, making your grass the envy of the block.
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.