Organic Lawn Care
Organic lawn care can help the environment and give you a healthy green lawn: perfect for lounging, great for ball games and cookouts, a real asset to your home.
Your lawn care program should be tailored to local conditions--the amount of rainfall you get, for example, and the type of soil you have. The sources listed at the back of this brochure can help you design a lawn care program that suits both local conditions and your own particular needs. But no matter where you live, you can use the program outlined in this brochure as a general guide to growing a healthy lawn.
A preventive health care program for your lawn should have the following steps:
1. Develop healthy soil
2. Choose a grass type that thrives in your climate
3. Mow high, often, and with sharp blades
1. Develop Healthy Soil
Good soil is the foundation of a healthy lawn. To grow well, your lawn needs soil with good texture, some key nutrients, and the right pH, or acidity/alkalinity balance.
Start by checking the texture of your soil to see whether it's heavy with clay, light and sandy, or somewhere in between. Lawns grow best in soil with intermediate or "loamy" soils that have a mix of clay, silt, and sand. Whatever soil type you have, you can probably improve it by periodically adding organic matter like compost, manure, or grass clippings. Organic matter helps to lighten a predominantly clay soil and it helps sandy soil retain water and nutrients.
Also check to see if your soil is packed down from lots of use or heavy clay content. This makes it harder for air and water to penetrate, and for grass roots to grow. To loosen compacted soil, some lawns may need to be aerated several times a year. This process involves pulling out plugs of soil to create air spaces, so water and nutrients can again penetrate to the grass roots.
Most lawns need to be fertilized every year, because they need more nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium than soils usually contain. These three elements are the primary ingredients found in most lawn fertilizers. It's important not
to over-fertilize--you could do more harm to your lawn than good--and it's best to use a slow-release fertilizer that feeds the lawn slowly. It's also important to check the soil's pH. Grass is best able to absorb nutrients in a slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Soil that is too acidic can be "sweetened" with lime; soil that's not acid enough can be made more sour by adding sulfur.
Have your soil tested periodically to see whether it needs more organic matter or the pH needs adjusting. Your county extension agent (listed in your phone book under county government) or local nursery should be able to tell you how to do this. These experts can also help you choose the right fertilizer, compost, and other "soil amendments," and they can advise you about aerating if your soil is compacted. If a professional service takes care of your lawn, make sure it takes these same steps to develop good soil. There's no getting around it: your lawn's health is only as good as the soil it grows in.
2. Choose A Grass Type That Thrives In Your Climate
The right type of grass--one that suits your needs and likes the local weather--will always give better results. Grasses vary in the type of climate they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they need, their resistance to pests, their tolerance for shade, and the degree of wear they can withstand.
If you are putting in a new lawn, it will be worth your while to do some research to identify the best grass type for your needs.
If you're working with an established lawn that fails to thrive despite proper care, you might consider replanting with a different type of grass.
Why struggle to grow grass that's susceptible to fungal disease if you live in a humid climate? Or a water-loving species if you live in an area with water shortages? Grass that is well-adapted to your area will grow better and resist local pests and diseases better.
New grass varieties and mixtures come out on the market every year.
Ask your county extension agent or another one of the sources listed in this brochure for recommendations.
3. Mow High, Often and With Sharp Blades
Mowing high--that is, keeping your lawn a bit long--will produce stronger, healthier grass with fewer pest problems.
Longer grass has more leaf surface to take in sunlight. This enables it to grow thicker and develop a deeper root system, which in turn helps the grass survive drought, tolerate insect damage, and fend off diseases. Longer grass also shades the soil surface keeping it cooler, helping it retain moisture,and making it difficult for weeds to germinate and grow.
A lawn's ideal length will vary with the type of grass, but many turf grass species are healthiest when kept between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 inches. The ruler at the back of this brochure will help the best mowing height for your grass variety. You may have to readjust your mower--most are set too low.
It's also important to mow with sharp blades to prevent tearing and injuring the grass. And it's best to mow often, because grass adjusts better to frequent than infrequent mowing. The rule of thumb is to mow often enough that you never cut more than one-third of the height of the grass blades. Save some time and help your lawn and the environment by leaving short clippings on the grass--where they recycle nitrogen--rather than sending them in bags to the landfill.
You don't have to grow a foot-high meadow to get good results. Just adding an inch will give most lawns a real boost.
Also realize that grass just can't grow well in certain spots. Why fight a losing battle with your lawn, when you have other options? At the base of a tree, for example, you might
have better luck with wood chips or shade-loving ornamental plants like ivy, periwinkle, or pachysandra. If your climate is very dry, consider converting some of your lawn to dry-garden landscaping. It could save time, money, and water resources.
Tips For Using Pesticides
Sometimes, even with good lawn care practices, weather conditions or other factors can cause pest problems to develop. Pesticides can help control many lawn pests. But pesticides have risks as well as benefits, and it's important to use them properly.
The chemicals we call pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These products are designed to kill or control pest insects, weeds, and fungal diseases. Pesticides can be very effective. But don't be tempted to rely solely on pesticides as a quick-fix solution to any lawn problem. Serious, ongoing pest problems are often a sign that your lawn is not getting everything it needs. In other words, the pests may be a symptom of an underlying problem. You need to correct the underlying problem to reduce the chance that the pest will reappear.
All pesticides are toxic to some degree. This means they can pose some risk to you, to your children and pets, and to any wildlife that venture onto your lawn--especially if these chemicals are overused or carelessly applied. Pesticides can also kill earthworms and other beneficial organisms, disrupting the ecological balance of your lawn.
Store pesticides out of children's reach in a locked cabinet or garden shed.