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Organic Lawn Care Guide: For a Vital, Healthy, Safe, and Living Yard

by Evan L Petee
April 1998

Organic lawn and garden care is a safe, effective and responsible alternative to the use of pesticides, herbicides and commercial fertilizers, all which may pose a threat to human and environmental well-being. Advanced organic products can be combined with traditional techniques to support truly healthy, vibrantly green, lawns. Organic lawn care isnt perfect, but can be very effective against weeds and pests. And really, do you want to have a chemicalized "golf-course" lawn, or a living, healthy and safe yard where you and your family or pets, and the neighborhood birds and squirrels, can safely play, lie or walk on?

  1. Use a High Quality Organic Fertilizer: Slow-release organic fertilizers provide vital nutrients to grasses without risk of burning or harming the grasses. These natural products help support the health and vitality of the grass and soil, lengthening and strengthening grass roots, and helping the grass fight off pests and disease. Commercial fertilizers may harm grass and environmental health, leach soil nutrients, and foster persistent lawn diseases like brown spot and snow mold. Most lawns only require a spring and fall feeding, though stressed lawns can benefit from additional applications. Organic fertilizers are cost-effective in the long-run, since they promote better growing conditions, decrease need for pest controls, and require fewer applications. Two recommended brands are Erth-Rite and WOW Plus. (See Sources, below)

  2. Apply Seaweed: Bathing your lawn and gardens with a liquid seaweed is one of the best things you can do for them. Seaweed is loaded with trace elements like iron, magnesium and zinc which support plant health and root development, and help fight off fungal diseases. Whats more, seaweed is dirt cheap! Monthly applications are recommended, but even fewer sprayings will provide strong benefits. (See Sources, below)

  3. Water Deeply and Early in the Day: Lawns require about one inch of water once per week. Light, frequent sprinklings encourage shallow roots. The best time to water the lawn is early in the day. Watering late in the day may encourage fungal invasion due to insufficient evaporation.

  4. Control Weeds Naturally: Improving lawn health will greatly reduce weeds as grass can better compete against aggressive weeds. Weeds can be removed by hand, or there are quality organic products which can control crabgrass, dandelions, lambs quarters, purslane and other weeds, by way of preventing the spread of feeder roots. (See Sources, below)

  5. Thatch or Rake and Aerate: Use a thatcher or iron rake to remove thatch, which is compacted dead grass and grass clippings which interfere with water reaching the roots. Ideally, this should be done in the spring or early summer. Aeration, which removes plugs of dirt, helps increase water retention and supports air circulation to grass roots. Once a year aeration in the spring or very early summer or the fall is sufficient. Aerators can be rented at rental stores and some garden centers, or alternatively hand aerifiers are available. Walking in the yard while wearing golf shoes may provide some mild benefits.

  6. Mow High: This is one of the most crucial steps you can take to improve the health of your lawn, as a lawn mowed high supports grass health, through shading the roots and preventing the drying out of soil, and leads to lengthening of grass roots, strengthening the lawn. Perhaps most importantly, longer grass blades discourage invasion by weeds and insects. Set mower cutting height at 2.5 to 3 inches. Also, keep mower blade sharp and avoid mowing wet grass. Leave clippings on lawn, unless they are very long, to reduce fertilizer needs.

  7. Control Bugs Naturally: There are many safe ways to control lawn and garden pests. Simply mixing dishwasher soap (try Seventh Generation or other "natural" brands) with water and spraying on plants will take care of many bugs. Grubs, fungus larvae, weevils and borers and other pests can be eliminated with nematodes, a natural, biological control (See sources, below). Put in a birdfeeder and birdbath as birds also eat up bugs. Vinegar (3 tbsp. per gallon of water) can help control fungus.

  8. Overseed: Sprinkle grass seed throughout your lawn in the spring and fall. This will help fill in bare spots and help choke out weeds. If filling in bare areas, first loosen soil and spread peat moss, compost or top soil. Walk over lawn to help push seeds into soil, then water.

  9. Check Soil pH and Add Lime (if needed): Soil pH may be contributing to weed problems or poor grass health. Checking soil pH (once every four years)--inexpensive testing by the county extension office is available--may be worthwhile. Many Ohio soils (about 70%) could benefit by adding lime to counter excess acidity. (Note: Elsewhere, if soil is too alkaline, sulphur is usually recommended). Your county extension service wll usually make suggestions based on testing. Having at least 10 earthworms per square foot of soil is an indicator of soil health.

  10. Topdress: Adding compost to your lawn will greatly supports its health. If you dont have your own compost, buy cow, sheep or chicken manure and spread at a rate of about 100 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Should be done once or twice a year, June through August.

Product Sources

  • Erth-Rite fertilizer and Maxicrop liquid seaweed are available at many natural foods stores.

  • For organic fertilizers like WOW Plus, natural weed and pest control products (including biological controls like nematodes) by mail order contact Gardens Alive! at (812) 537-8650.

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    Cyndi Norwitz / webmaster@immuneweb.org / Last Modified: 4/27/98