Organic Lawn Care 101

well mowed lawn at parkWhy Organic Lawn Care?

People choose to maintain their lawns organically for different reasons. For some, it is a commitment to the environment—pesticides and herbicides used on traditional lawns leach into the water table contaminating it for people, animals and plants.

Others are concerned with how pesticides and herbicides affect the pets and kids that play on their lawns. And some people just don’t want to handle chemicals designed to kill living things.

There’s also the cost—both in time and money. Lawn chemicals can get expensive, and who wants to spend every weekend mowing the lawn? Organic lawns tend to require less mowing, which means more leisure time for you!

Whatever your reason, organic lawn care is easiest if you take the time to create a healthy environment that grasses thrive in.


See our reviews for the best lawn mower!


Selecting Grass

Many people already have a lawn they are working with, but if you don’t, spend some time thinking about what type of grass will best suit your needs. Take a trip outside and ask yourself these questions:

  • How much active use does the lawn get?
  • How much sun exposure is there? Is it different in various parts of the yard?
  • How much water do I want to use?
  • What aesthetic am I looking for?
  • What kind of winter color do I want?

Native species of grass often produce the healthiest and lowest maintenance lawns. Why go native?

  • Native grasses need minimal attention.
  • Less soil amendments are required.
  • Less water is used.
  • Native grasses require less time from you.
  • Because these grasses are adapted to your area, they tend to be hardier.

Consider planting a diverse array of cultivars rather than one or two. This way your lawn will be more able to withstand difficult environmental conditions.

For more on selecting the right grass ask at your local nursery.

reel lawnmowerMowing

Mowing Height

When it is time to mow the lawn, the height you cut each blade impacts its future growth.

  • Plants that are mowed too short become stressed.
  • A short mowing height discourages deep root growth, which means you’ll need to water more frequently.
  • If grass is too short, there is less of it to shade the soil, leading to more rapid moisture loss.
  • If grass is left too tall the excess grass clippings (when you do mow it) can smother the turf.

So what’s the perfect mowing height? Check out the table below to find out.

Grass Mowing Height
Kentucky Bluegrass 1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″
Rye grass 1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″
Fescue 1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″
Tall Fescue 1 1/2″ to 3″
Bermuda 1/2″ to 1″
St. Augustine 1″ to 3″
Bentgrass 1/4″ to 3/4″
Centipede grass 1″ to 2″
Zoysia 1/2″ to 1″
Buffalo grass 2 to 3 inches, or leave it completely unmowed

Grasscycling

By leaving the grass clippings on the lawn—or grasscycling—you can help the plants take care of themselves. Make sure to disperse them evenly (use a rake to spread them around) then be prepared for a greener and hardier lawn.

How grasscycling improves turf:

  • Helps prevent common lawn diseases
  • Reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizer
  • Provides about 2 lbs of nitrogen/1,000 square feet of lawn/year
  • Reduces the amount of watering needed
  • No more throwing away grass clippings!

Mowing Tools

Gas powered lawn mowers have more power than most electric mowers, but they also spew more emissions into the air. According to the EPA:

The replacement of every 500 gas mowers with non-motorized mowers would spare the air:

  • 212 pounds of hydrocarbons (smog ingredient)
  • 7 pounds of nitrogen oxide (smog ingredient)
  • 6 pounds of irritating particles
  • 1,724 pounds of carbon dioxide

Reel lawn mowers, on the other hand, produce no pollution, give the user a little exercise and leave lawn clippings on the ground for grasscycling. Learn how to choose a reel mower here.

See my complete guide to choosing the best lawn mower.

water your lawnWatering

The goals of watering are to keep the lawn alive and looking good. To do that, you want to make sure the grass is absorbing as much of the water as possible.

  • Water infrequently, but thoroughly (soak to a depth of 8-10 inches). This will create deeper roots and minimize water loss.
  • Water early—while it is still cool—to minimize the loss of water to evaporation. By watering in the morning, the lawn will have time to dry out during the day, thus preventing mildew and other diseases.

When to water more often:

  • If you have clay soils you’ll need to water more often, but less thoroughly since they don’t drain well and the soil may become waterlogged.
  • Sandy soils don’t hold water well and will need more frequent waterings (add compost or humus to the soil to increase water holding capacity).
  • All landscapes need more water in the first three years as they are developing their root systems.

Fertilizing

First, find out what your soil needs.

  • Take a sample (with a clean tool) of the first five or inches of your soil.
  • Send it to a soil lab for testing. Call your local extension service if you need help locating a soil lab.

Inorganic fertilizers are salt based. These salts can cause a build up of nitrates and an imbalance in the pH of your soil. Additionally, they are known to destroy microorganisms that benefit the soil and the plants that grow in it.

If you find your lawn needs fertilizing try an organic fertilizer that benefits both the soil and the lawn.

Aeration and De-Thatching

In a healthy soil, microbes, earthworms, and microorganisms break down organic materials and aerate the soil for you. So, take a break, and let the critters work for you.

If your yard is new to organic lawn care, you may need to aerate the soil and add compost to get started.

Pest Management

The most important step in pest management is maintaining healthy soil—that way your lawn will thrive and be less open to attack by weeds and insects. If you’ve followed all the other tips on this page and still have a pest problem, keep reading.

Weeds

It is unrealistic to expect that you will not have any weeds at all, but it is possible to keep them under control by following the tips below.

  • Plant a diverse crop of turf grasses. If a situation comes up that one or two cultivars cannot tolerate, weeds will begin to overrun the lawn. However, with a more varied array of grasses there is likely to be a species or two that can overcome any adverse conditions.
  • Try the age-old practice of hand weeding. It can be time consuming, but with the right tools it’s not too bad. Then, plant grass seeds in the holes left by the removed weeds.
  • Lawns that are cut high will overshadow many weeds.
  • Corn gluten mealcan be applied as a pre-emergent weed killer. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass and many other annual weeds.

Disease

  • Plant pests usually show up when there is too much pesticide residue and not enough organic material and oxygen in the soil causing healthy bacteria to die. Remedy this by adding compost and liquid seaweed extract.

Insects

  • Again, organically grown lawns are less likely to have insect problems, but if you have lawn grubs, fungus larvae, weevils and borers or some other pests you may be able to control them with nematodes. If all else fails, plant tall fescue, which is resistant to grubs. Find out more about natural products for controlling lawn pests here.
  • Some insects can be killed with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water.
  • Hang a bird feeder nearby to utilize avian bug control.

Troubleshooting

Grass a little yellow? Are brown spots taking over? Can’t get rid of the weeds? Check out these sites to find out what’s wrong and what you can do about it.

Organic Lawn Problem Solver 

Organic Lawn Care FAQs

 

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