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If you’ve ever wondered about how to start an organic lawn care routine, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of an organic lawn and what you can do to get there, using the best organic products and nature-friendly techniques. We’ll even discuss our top recommendation for organic and natural lawn care, Sunday—a subscriptions service that delivers naturally derived lawn care products to your door.
In this article
- The benefits or organic lawn care
- Build the foundation
- Nourish your grass
- Fight weeds naturally
- Why you shouldn’t use chemicals for lawn care
- Integrated pest management
- Our recommendation for organic lawn care: Sunday
The benefits of organic lawn care
Organic lawn care isn’t just about your lawn. It’s about the whole ecosystem of your yard. When you support your lawn with organic nutrients and eco-friendly maintenance techniques, you nourish many other living organisms at the same time. Of course, you might put in a few more hours weeding by hand, but that’s part of the fun.
Organic lawn care isn’t just about your lawn. It’s about the whole ecosystem of your yard.
Traditional, chemical-based lawn care products focus on feeding your lawn, often to the detriment of the microbiome beneath it. Concentrated nutrients can kill off beneficial organisms like earthworms that you want to have around. Over time, salt can also build up from synthetic fertilizers. When you practice organic lawn care, you can avoid the risks that come with using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Achieving a lush, natural lawn starts with building the right foundation. Then, you’ll need to nourish your grass and fight off weeds naturally. Let’s see how you can accomplish all of this without resorting to synthetic fertilizer or herbicides.
1. Build the foundation
If you want to switch to organic lawn care, the first thing to do is to analyze your lawn’s foundation—and modify it if you need to.
Amount of topsoil
A healthy lawn needs to send roots deep into the soil, so you should have at least six inches of topsoil in your yard to see the best results. You can get away with two or three inches of topsoil, but if you only have an inch, you might consider adding soil to your yard and starting over with new grass seed.
The pH balance of the soil
You’ll also want to do a soil test to check its pH balance, which will tell you how acidic or alkaline it is. Before proceeding with your organic lawn care routine, you can test your soil in the following ways:
- Find a reliable do-it-yourself test.
- Consult with a professional lawn care service.
- Request a soil test from your local Cooperative Extension Services office, which connects university agriculture programs with local communities around the country. You can also get scientific information on pest control, agriculture and gardening.
In general, the ideal pH for lawn grass should be 6.5, but don’t worry if your test results show a different number. If the pH is below 6.0, you can use lime or wood ash as soil amendments to bring down the acidity. If the pH is above 7, you can add sulfur to make the soil more acidic.
Type of grass
It’s important to understand what variety of grass you are growing. Synthetic products let certain grass varieties thrive in areas where they normally wouldn’t, but with organic lawn care, grass relies more on Mother Nature.
Generally speaking, you should look for tall and durable grasses with deep roots. In contrast, some softer grasses don’t stand up to weeds as well and aren’t as easy to grow organically.
Nourish your grass
Once you have the right grass growing in the right soil, you can concentrate on nourishing your lawn. It’s fully possible to keep your lawn green naturally, without the use of concentrated synthetic fertilizers.
You might have heard of the NPK ratio, which is how fertilizer companies label the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in their products. Organic lawn care fertilizers can still carry these nutrients, but they are lower in concentration, which make the fertilizers safe for pets and people. Read the instructions on your organic fertilizer to learn when and how to apply it.
Your lawn is part of an ecosystem—and a healthy lawn needs healthy soil to thrive. Organic fertilizers often provide additional nutrients that help other organisms create a strong local habitat under your lawn. Common natural fertilizer ingredients include bone meal, feather meal and seaweed.
You can also add some compost to give your lawn extra nutrients. Make sure to use a half-inch layer or less at a time, and use compost that doesn’t already contain weeds or weed seeds.
You should water your lawn deeply, but infrequently, when trying to grow grass that will thrive through the practice of organic lawn care. Water your lawn only when you see signs of drought—when grass blades start to curl, or when the hue shifts to silver just slightly. At that point, water your lawn with an inch of water. Set a cup outside, and wait until it has an inch of water before you stop watering. Infrequent watering encourages grass roots to grow deep, and shallow weeds die out between waterings. The water will seep down and stay below the surface, providing water for your lawn longer.
It’s also good to use less water for the environment in general—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that outdoor water use accounts for 30 to 60 percent of household water depending on the region. The EPA also estimates that one week of daily lawn irrigation can use as much water as 800 showers. That’s a lot.
Finally, you might have to change the way you mow to grow a strong organic lawn. That’s because your grass is actually the first defense against weeds. You want your grass to be tall and thick to minimize the sunlight and soil available to weeds.
Mowing high is the way to go. Set your mower to three inches or higher. Doing this will cast more shade onto the soil, meaning you need to water less often, and create deeper roots and thicker turf, which means fewer weeds. Leaving your grass clippings on your lawn to decompose, or “grass-cycling,” will reintroduce organic matter for earthworms and microorganisms to add back into the soil.
Mow your lawn often. That way, you’ll regularly clip off the tops of any weeds that make it through the grass.
3. Fight weeds naturally
You might come to enjoy the look of certain weeds in your yard. However, there are probably others you could do without. When it comes to organic lawn care, weed control requires a bit more work than pointing a nozzle and spraying chemicals.
Your first line of defense should be your healthy lawn. Then, you should focus on manually pulling up weeds in different problem areas. Put in some elbow grease, and try to dig out the root system of each weed that you see. Every time you weed, go over the areas that you’ve already done to make sure new plants haven’t sprouted up.
Natural weed prevention
You can also use corn gluten meal for natural weed prevention. The corn milling byproduct is a natural pre-emergent herbicide, and it can prevent crabgrass seeds from germinating if you use it in the early spring.
Balancing soil pH
Additionally, you can take care of some weeds by balancing the pH of the soil. Certain weeds grow in an acidic environment and will die off when you bring the acidity back down. Different weeds can indicate certain things about the health of your soil. For example, birdsfoot trefoil grows in low-nitrogen soil, while hop clover grows in alkaline soil. Taking the time to identify weeds can teach you a lot about your yard when using an organic lawn care approach.
Why you shouldn't use chemicals for lawn care
Chemicals used in lawn care products can pose a danger both to humans and the environment, which is why so many homeowners are turning to organic lawn care.
The results of a recent study have shed more light on the risks associated with herbicides. In this study, researchers looked at the link between glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Roundup is the most common herbicide that uses GBHs, but there are many others on the market. The populations in the study were made up of people who spray pesticides for a living, and who have high exposure to GBHs. The researchers found a “compelling link between exposures to GBHs and increased risk for NHL.” That means even if you take all the necessary precautions, you still take a risk when handling GBHs.
You might have thought about installing artificial turf to save on water costs and avoid weeds. However, that has its own risks, too. According to the Food and Drug Administration, artificial turf can leak poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals, into the groundwater and surrounding environment. As the name suggests, forever chemicals don’t go away.
Integrated pest management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest control that is good to know if you’re unsure about diving fully into organic lawn care. The basic idea is to first follow the steps we outlined above. If you are still having major problems with weeds, you can use small amounts of a synthetic herbicide for extra help. This isn’t an organic method, but it’s better than using chemicals as your first line of defense.
Our recommendation for organic lawn care: Sunday
For the best organic lawn care, we recommend Sunday, a subscriptions service start-up that delivers naturally derived lawn care products straight to your door. Sunday, our recommendation For Best DIY Lawn Company, uses all-natural ingredients like molasses, kelp, and seaweed instead of chemically laced, traditional lawn care products to give you a lush, green lawn the natural way. They are not certified organic, but customer service representatives note that many of their products are organic.
To get a free quote from Sunday, fill out a form on their website today.