Organic Lawn Care Tips
Your family, friends and pets are just too precious not to protect them. Moving to more natural, organic lawn care and fertilization methods is one way to help keep them safe.
Unfortunately, many people believe that organic lawn care practices must be labor intensive and expensive. To be sure that CAN be the case, but often it is not nearly so much effort, nor is it nearly as expensive as people tend to think. Here are some natural lawn maintenance tips that should come in handy.
Within two weeks, nitrogen from the clippings can be found in new grass. Grass clippings can also reduce water evaporation from the lawn and keep the soil temperature cooler. Don’t turn your lawn into a chemical “junkie” waiting for it’s next nitrogen fix. Only fertilize with natural fertilizers to maintain growth – not create an advertising agency’s version of a perfect landscape!
Good soil grows good grass. Improve your soil, then add clover and other nitrogen fixing plants to your lawn seed mix to make the lawn self-fertilizing. Other organic fertilization options include dehydrated cow manure, dried poultry manure, fish emulsion, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal and mixed organic natural fertilizers, all widely available. Fall fertilizing is important, primarily in northern and transitional climate, so that grass can build up its carbohydrate reserves and get off to a good start in the Spring.
When you use natural fertilizers your lawn doesn’t grow as fast. Eliot Roberts, director of the Lawn Institute says “Once you get heavily involved with chemical fertilizers, you’re increasing the growth rate of the plant and growing it to death.” This lush growth caused by excessive fertilization makes grass an easy prey to disease.
Pesticides and Herbicides:
$1.5 billion is spent on chemical pesticides annually. Yet, nearly all of the popular lawn pesticides are suspected of causing long-term health problems. Broad-spectrum weed killers are poisonous to many kinds of life besides weeds – like you, your kids, your pets, your trees and shrubs, your garden plants, as well as birds and other wildlife. Pesticides may remain active for a month to a year or more. Even after drying, pesticides release toxic vapors. And you can have a good looking lawn without these dangerous looking chemicals!
Mr. Roberts says “The more chemicals you use, the more you disturb the natural biological processes that convert organic matter into nutrients to keep the lawn going. Insects shouldn’t be a big problem in a natural lawn. The soil is alive with natural “predators” – the good bacteria and fungi that work to keep disease-causing fungi in check by competing with them for food. Don’t attack the insects that aren’t doing damage to your lawn. Correct any problems at the source, instead of using a “quick-fix” chemical.
Water during daylight hours. Often watering in the morning or early in the afternoon, shortly after the sun reaches it’s highest point, gives the lawn time to dry out so that it doesn’t remain wet overnight. The more often grass is wet (and the longer it stays that way) the greater the chance for disease. In fact, in most cases, you’re better off not watering the lawn until it actually NEEDS water. This encourages the lawn to grow deeper roots in search of water, which will help sustain it longer without water.
Liquid seaweed, like our AGGRAND Kelp and Sulfate of Potash, is a good natural disease fighter. Naturally occurring hormones in seaweed act as fungal inhibitors. In addition, the sulphur contained in our product is also a good natural fungicide.
Dandelions and other weeds should be pulled out the old fashioned way – by hand! Or, burn them out with a weed torch. Despite the ads, most won’t grow back if you cut them out several inches below ground at their root. As for Crabgrass: Studies at the University of Rhode Island have shown that high mowing alone reduced crabgrass on a test plot to virtually nothing in 5 years. High mowing combined with heavy fertilization eliminated crabgrass in just one year.
Proper mowing is the most important thing you can do for your lawn! Mowing correctly can kill weeds, save water, cure diseases and provide natural fertilizer to the lawn. For Kentucky Bluegrass in northern climates, leave grass at 2 1/2″ tall during spring and until summer droughts and hot weather arrive. Then reduce the frequency of mowing and let grass grow to 3″ before cutting. In late summer as temperatures drop and rainfall increases, go back to 2 1/2″ and mow more frequently during this growth spurt. A final mowing of the season could be a 1 1/2″.
By mowing high, you’re reducing stress on the grass. The longer the top growth, the deeper the root. The longer the root, the healthier the grass. It will compete better against weeds. There is a larger volume of roots to store food, withstand droughts and fight diseases. Make sure your mower’s blade is sharp. And mow often enough so that you cut off no more than 30% of the grass blade at any one cutting.
While a weed-free lawn is not practical, you CAN get very close without chemicals. Weeds are a symptom of other problems. Unless those conditions are changed, the weeds will return. Weeds love compacted soil, improperly fertilized plots, areas that are too wet or too dry, shady spots, areas mowed too closely during the grass’s dormant season, heavy use areas and accumulated thatch (over 3/8″).
Thatch is a tightly-packed layer of organic debris that develops between the soil surface and the green growth. If it is under 3/8″ thick, it is beneficial, as it keeps the soil from drying out to quickly. However, if it becomes too thick, it can keep water and nutrients from penetrating to the roots. It tends to be dark brown and almost carpet-like. If left for too long, it will choke out the roots entirely.
A regular program of aeration reduces thatch and improves soil tilth. Use an aerator with spring-loaded hollow tines which remove plugs of soil and deposit them on the soil surface (allow the plugs to decompose naturally). Soil should be moist, but not wet, so do not aerate in hot, dry weather or immediately following heavy rain or irrigation.
Damaging turf insects prefer a protective layer of thatch. Reducing thatch controls these pests.
Brief Lawn Tips:
Mowing – Let it grow! Close frequent cutting stresses grass plants and exposes weed seedlings to the life-giving sun.
Fertilizer – Chemical fertilizers add salt to the soil, kill soil-building microorganisms, promote soil compaction, shallow roots, thatch and fungus growth. Substitute grass clippings, compost and manure as well as other natural fertilizers to return needed bacteria and enzymes to the soil with nutrients.
Plant Earthworms – They’ll eat the cut grass, aerate the soil and provide castings for free fertilizer.
Water – During dry periods, allow your lawn to enter a natural dormancy. Or, plant a tall fescue, some of which are adapted to drought conditions and do not require summer irrigation.
Pesticides and Herbicides – Healthy lawns don’t have insect problems. Weed killers can harm gardens, trees, shrubs and breed resistant weeds. Pesticides kill or push out worms and beneficial insects.
Dandelions – Cut out by hand at the root, several inches below ground. If you can learn to tolerate them, they only look “bad” twice a year, and a quick mow fixes that.
Fungus – A problem only in wet, thatchy, over-fertilized lawns. Drain, dry-out, de-thatch, re-add soil bacteria with compost or manure.
Aerate – Compacted soil promotes weeds. Aerate twice a year and add a soil loosener like gypsum or compost. Reseed bare spots.
Test – Compacted soil’s ph, composition and nutrient level to determine its condition.
Species – Choose the proper grass to plant for your area. Pick varieties that resist drought, disease, need little mowing or fertilizer, choke out weeds and are suited to foot traffic. Switch to groundcovers in hard to maintain areas
Think! – Make America a safer to place to live by beginning in your own back yard.
Presented by the Education Committee of the McHenry County Defenders.