The upside and downside of having a lawn
There will always be some who hate lawns and some who love them. Once a lawn is established, it gets better. The first year is always the hardest when trying to grow a lawn. Long stretches of lawn invite bats and bluebirds, both of which are voracious eaters of mosquitoes and other bugs. Lawns can keep bare ground from eroding and they provide a nice environment for kids and pets to play.
Lawns can be costly to maintain. The sheer volume of water it takes just to get grass started is unbelievable. Then there’s the mowing, weeding, fixing holes, overseeding, and the possibility of dealing with diseases or pests. Mosquitoes can lay eggs and hatch in long grass. All of these and other problems are time consuming and some can be dangerous to the environment as well as kids and pets.
How to have a beautiful chemical-free lawn
A natural lawn can also be beautiful, even by conventional standards, In fact, well-established natural lawns are healthier and stronger than conventionally maintained ones, especially in times of stress like drought. Furthermore, as sustainable landscapes require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, they are more cost effective.
Natural lawn care health and the environment
Natural lawn care (NLC) practices rely on naturally occurring processes and organic amendments to create a sustainable lawn and garden. By cultivating healthy soil without synthetic chemicals, you can grow and maintain a healthy landscape with less impact on the environment and the health of your family. Organic lawn care uses fewer resources and most are sustainable. It is non-toxic to the environment, animals & food chain and supports a healthy & diverse ecosystem. Lawn maintenance costs become lower over time as the natural health and ecology of the soil and the grass is restored.
What is the minimumsize lawn you need?
Consider filling some of your current lawn area with organically maintained decorative plants, shrubs, edible plants and native plants. Take care of your lawn naturally using the following steps.
Take a soil test
Healthy lawns require healthy soil. Grass thrives with properly balanced nutrients. Perform a soil test every three to five years to help determine exactly what you need to maintain your soil’s health. Testing is inexpensive and reduces unnecessary fertilizer applications.
Switch to an organic fertilizer made from plant or animal materials. Most commercial fertilizers have too much “fast release” nitrogen. Fast release nitrogen is like junk food for plants, creating a cycle of dependency between your yard and synthetic
chemicals. Grass can’t use all those nutrients at once, so a portion of them washes away, polluting nearby water resources. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, allow the grass to absorb nutrients as needed as the excess nutrients bind to soil. Grass cycling, or leaving grass clippings on the lawn, is another great natural alternative to synthetic fertilizers.
Reseed and top dress annually
Reseed at least once a year, in the spring or fall, with a mix of grass seed and compost. Select a variety of grass that is well suited to your region. Use hardy grasses such as fescues and ryes when possible. To establish the seed, water slightly each day for
at least two weeks. Top dressing with compost will naturally replenish your lawn, providing nutrients and microbes that keep your soil healthy. Three applications of freshly brewed compost tea containing essential soil microbes will restore the soil ecology and is strongly recommended.
Get rid of weeds naturally
Keeping weeds out of your lawn can be tough when you’re trying to go organic. You can use a salt and vinegar solution to kill the weeds, but then you might kill some grass with it and either way, you’ll have to overseed the bare spots. One of the easiest ways to keep weeds out of your lawn is to cut it as long as you can. There was a study that was done many years ago at a university that determined the longer you keep your grass, the fewer weeds you’ll have. If you can keep your lawn at 4 inches tall, you won’t have to worry as much about weeds.
Stop using synthetic pesticides on your lawn and garden. Consider using corn gluten (an organic, corn by-product that is a natural preventative weed control) to reduce weeds. Apply it early in the spring, usually before the forsythia bloom. Over the course of a few growing seasons, you will see how it reduces weeds naturally. Invest in a sturdy weeding tool and go after weeds as they appear, rather than all at once. Remember that a thick, healthy, dense turf is your best defense against weeds.
Pests in lawns can range anywhere from moles, to bugs, to even armadillos! Each one has its specific solutions. For insects try Diatomaceous Earth, or DE. Sprinkle some around your lawn and work it in well. This will not harm the beneficial earthworms, but will kill the bugs. Unfortunately, it will kill good bugs too, so be careful how and where you use it. You can also use granules with cedar wood essential oil or clove essential oil on them. Make your own by adding the oils to clay kitty litter and sprinkling it around. This should chase off most bugs like ants and spiders. For moles, castor oil based products work well for a while, but you have to reapply them every few months. Milky Spore, which is a bacteria that targets grubs, one of the staples in a mole’s diet, is very effective. It’s not cheap, and you don’t get full results for 3 years. But when it’s fully colonized it will remain effective for up to 30 years. Other pests like armadillos and ground hogs may need to be relocated. Use a live trap to catch them and take them to an approved location.
Watering correctly is not about watering your lawn a fixed number of times each week. Instead, you want to water deeply and infrequently early in the morning to minimize evaporation and safeguard against fungus. Ideally, you want one inch of water
delivered once a week. Use a tuna can to measure when you have reached one inch. Daily, brief watering discourages deep root growth, one of the essentials of healthy turf grass.
Mow your lawn to at least three inches high. Correct mowing will increase the strength of the root system and naturally shade out weeds. Don’t mow your lawn every week out of habit if it doesn’t need it. Mow with sharp blades that make a clean cut. Dull blades will rip the grass and weaken your lawn’s defenses.
New lawns can be mowed when the grass is about 6 inches high. Established lawns can be mowed whenever you think they need it. A reel mower has blades that curve around and clip off the grass. These are fairly inexpensive and will last for years.
Diversify your yard
The reason turf grass takes so much work to maintain is that it is not native to our region. We recommend that you diversify your yard to include native grasses, trees, bushes, and perennials. These plants will enhance the beauty of your home, attract birds and beneficial insects, and give you more time to get out and enjoy the summer!
(Source: Midwest Pesticide Action Center “Activist’s Toolkit”)