Step 1: Adjust your expectations
Going organic isn’t difficult, but it does take some
effort, especially if you’re
making the switch from chemical fertilizers. And although an organic lawn
eventually looks great, it can take two or three years for it to look as thick
and deep green each spring as a lawn on a chemical diet. If that sounds OK, then
going organic is really about continuing the basic lawn maintenance you’ve
been doing all along, with a few important differences. This article will tell you
the five most important things you need to do
to have a healthy and attractive organic lawn.
You can have a beautiful lawn without chemicals, but it’s
not going to be as weed-free. Going organic with your
lawn means following good basic lawn care practices and
using organic fertilizers and natural weed control methods.
It also means accepting the reality of a chemical-free
lawn—a slower green-up each spring and a lawn with a
few more weeds.
Step 2: Find out what nutrients your soil needs
Testing your soil is crucial, especially if you’ve been
using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can
destroy soil nutrients and beneficial microbes. Store-bought
testing kits aren’t very accurate. Instead, contact
your local Cooperative Extension Service lab (to find
yours, visit csrees.usda.gov). For $10 to $20, most labs
will provide detailed soil collection instructions and
pre-addressed soil-testing bags that you can use to send
in your soil sample. After testing, the lab will send you
specific information about your lawn’s soil type, nutrient
levels and pH. Most important, the lab will make
suggestions for improving your soil.
Step 3: Use organic fertilizers
Grass clippings provide about half the nutrients your
lawn needs. For the other half, use organic fertilizer,
which is made from composted plant waste, manure and
other natural materials.
Use your soil test as a guide to selecting the right kind
and amount of fertilizer. Organic fertilizers cost about a
third more per pound than chemical fertilizers, and you
need to use more of them at a time. But since they feed
the grass over a longer period of time, you apply
them less often and the price difference
generally equals out. The main drawback
of organic fertilizers is that they
release nutrients more slowly, so
grass doesn’t green up as quickly
in the spring.
Step 4: Fight weeds naturally
Over time, a healthy chemical-free lawn will discourage
most weeds on its own. But if weeds start to take over,
try these options:
- Pull them manually.
- Spot-spray with a vinegar or orange oil–based weed
killer (about $7 for 32-oz. concentrate at garden centers).
- Spread new grass seed over your existing lawn.
- Sprinkle corn gluten over your lawn
in early spring or in fall ($30 for
25 lbs. at garden centers). Corn
gluten will prevent crabgrass
and other annual weeds,
but it takes a few
years to become
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Step 5: Top dress with compost
Add microbes back into your soil by top-dressing your
lawn with a 1/2-in. layer of compost once a year. That’s
about 1 cu. yd. of compost per 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn.
Spread it around your yard, and use a push broom to
sweep it off the grass blades so you don’t smother the
lawn. Then water it into the soil. This is most effective if
you aerate your lawn first.
Wean Your Lawn From Chemicals Gradually
If you’ve had your lawn on a chemical diet and you want to
“go green” gradually, here are two things that will help your
lawn look better while you make the switch.
Use a “bridge” fertilizer that contains both organic and
synthetic nitrogen to wean your lawn from chemicals
over two to four years. These are typically labeled
“organic-based” and the label will list different types of
nitrogen. The synthetic nitrogen produces a quicker
spring green-up while the organic nitrogen releases
slowly and encourages soil microbes.
Reseed your lawn with grass varieties that will work with
your existing turf, climate and soil. Talk to your extension
service about varieties that require the least fertilizing
and watering. Use a mixture of grass species when over-seeding
to make the lawn less susceptible to drought,
disease, weed and insect problems.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Visit eartheasy.com, ohioline.osu.edu/lines/hygs.html and safelawns.org. Also check out The Organic
Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey (This book is available through our affiliation with amazon.com for about $18.)