Organic Lawn Care: Make the Switch to a Greener Lawn!
written by: AngelaC•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 7/2/2013
Organic lawn care includes less mowing, less watering, no pesticides, no pollution and having a beautiful, green, healthy lawn. A full organic program will cost less and you will be doing your part to enhance the environment and the natural lifecycle of your lawn.
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You can grow a beautiful lawn without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. The best part of being an organic gardener, is that all you need to do is feed the beneficial microbes and then let them do their work. Therefore, in order to start your new lawn care program, you must stop the use of all chemical lawn care products.
Begin by testing your soil’s pH. You are looking for a number that is between 6.5 and 7.0. There are many types of pH testers that are now easily available. If your soil is too acidic add lime, and if your soil is too alkaline add gardener's sulfur. Also, make sure your soil has a good mix of clay, silt and sand. Organic matter, such as grass clippings and compost will help lighten soil that is heavy in clay, and build humus in overly sandy soils. Aim for 4 to 8 inches of top soil.
Using compost will help to replenish nutrients and microbes that were previously added through the use of chemicals. Healthy soil requires biological activity such as earthworms and microorganisms, and biological activity requires adequate organic matter to develop properly. Compost tumblers are becoming the way of the future, as they can easily convert your lawn clippings to compost. If possible, include finished compost in your prepared soil before laying seed or sod as a great way for your lawn to get a complete amount of these highly beneficial microbes. If you are converting your existing lawn to organic, add compost to your lawn by dropping compost on the top and then sweeping it off the grass and onto the soil. Immediately water it so the microbes will be activated and absorbed into the soil.
The type of grass you choose should be based upon your climate. The amount of water, nutrients, shade tolerance, and wear and tear you lawn requires varies by each type of grass. To be the most eco-friendly, it is important to plant grass that is most adaptable to your area.
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There are more eco-friendly lawn mowers available then ever before. Reel mowers which require no power are becoming lighter, easy to push, and much more effective than older push mowers. Reel mowers also shear the grass blades instead of tearing them, which results in a greener lawn, and is actually the preferred method by lawn care professionals. Sharp blades are important to maintaining an organic lawn because clean cuts leave fewer openings for disease and insect infestation. Newer models of reel mowers have blades that are made of hardened steel, which do not require sharpening, and can last up to 10 years before being replaced. Reel mowers are also quiet, which means no disturbing the neighbors or the wildlife.
If your lawn is too big for a reel mower, your next best option is an electric lawn mower. Electric mowers have actually come a long way as well. You can choose a mower that either plugs into a wall outlet or uses batteries charged up from the grid. Electric lawn mowers create no exhaust emissions, require less maintenance, are easy to use, and usually start with just the push of button. In addition, electric lawn mowers are cheap to run as they only use about as much power as an ordinary toaster.
When cutting your lawn, you want to keep it about 2.5" to 3.5" tall, and never cut off more than 1/3 of the total length at a time. Cutting high benefits your organic lawn because many weeds are choked out and root systems are able to become more developed, thereby allowing a hardier more drought-resistance lawn to grow, and minimizing insect and disease problems.
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In order to be eco-friendly when watering your lawn, it is important to figure out exactly what your lawn requires. Thorough watering, just like proper mowing, helps your lawn to develop the deep root systems it needs. If your lawn is lackluster or holds your footprints after you walk on it, then it’s time to water. When watering, keep in mind healthy lawns generally only require an inch of water per week. To get an idea of how much you are watering, put a cup in the sprinkler area.
Water early in the morning when less water will be lost to evaporation. If possible, water the first half-inch, wait 1 to 2 hours, and then do the second half. This allows time for the soil to soak up the water. If puddles form, stop watering and wait for the water to be absorbed. Try to avoid watering after dark because this may encourage a pathogenic fungus disease. Using a water timer can help to ensure you are watering correctly. Soaker hoses are a great alternative to sprinklers and can conserve up to 50% more water. Also, try to take advantage of the rain and aim run-off from gutters onto your lawn.
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Use a protein-based fertilizer like alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, corn meal, sorghum meal, and soy meal. Organic dry fertilizers are protein based and must be digested by soil microbes before the nitrogen becomes available to the roots. Any ground seed or bean is a great organic fertilizer. You can usually find these in bulk at farm or feed stores. Organic fertilizer can be applied any day, any time of day, and in any amount without having to fear you are going to hurt your lawn. The recommended application is generally about 10 to 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. After applying, you will need to wait about 3 weeks for the microbes to process the protein before you can see the benefit to your lawn.
The microbes in organic fertilizer are amazing and will provide numerous benefits to your soil and lawn, including decomposing dead plant and animal residues, combining nitrogen and carbon to prevent nutrient loss, suppressing diseases, cleaning up any chemical residues, shifting your soil towards a neutral pH and controlling the nitrogen supply. It is also extremely important to apply a winterizing fertilizer because it concentrates below the soil strengthening the roots, developing plant hardiness and prepares your lawn for the spring growing season.
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The biggest concern many people have when choosing organic lawn care is controlling the weeds. Mowing high and watering deeply and infrequently in and of itself will help encourage deeper rooted grass and less weeds. In addition, prevention is the best solution; mow weeds, hand pick them and never let them go to seed. For the necessary spot treatment of weeds, a 20% vinegar spray will help. Purchase the vinegar at an organic garden shop or feed store. Mix 1 gallon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap and 2 tablespoons of molasses. Apply directly to the weeds from a small hand sprayer. If this does not work, as a second option you may try a pre-emergent organic herbicide that is made from corn gluten meal.
Before long, your organically cared for lawn will be a healthy and thriving naturally based environment, full of good soil organisms that play a vital role in recycling nutrients in order to keep your lawn happy, hearty and green in the future.
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United States Environmental Protection Agency – www.epa.gov
Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons – Green Grass - MarcusObal