An Organic Way to Look at Your Lawn

Ahh, the neat, rich green texture of your turf! A well-kept front lawn is synonymous with the picture of the peaceful suburban life, and home-owners pour over ten billion dollars a year into lawn care. For years, nobody really cared about the impact of massive doses of fertilizers and herbicides, as long as that little square oasis of green looked good in the end.

However, with increasing concerns over the environment, the general public is focusing its attention on this fixture of the urban landscape, and most of it is not good. Fertilizer runoff poisoning rivers and lakes, pesticides and herbicides harming birds, animals and children, and long-term degradation of the environment are leading many to question the cost of keeping lawns looking perfect and orderly. You yourself may be questioning it.

Kicking the Chemical Addiction

Fortunately, it is not too difficult to reduce your lawn’s reliance on chemicals and herbicides. In fact, with a small change in how you look at your lawn and garden, you will realize that many weeds, pests and plant diseases are actually caused by all these chemicals in the first place.

It all has to do with your soil. Organic gardening is all about the soil. If it is poor, plants will be weaker and susceptible to disease and weed infestation. Your lawn, full of synthetic fertilizers, is slowly becoming poorer and poorer. It is time to change that!

Understand that healthy soil is due to microorganisms that feed on organic matter. Rich, dark earth is a great indication of these active microorganisms. These tiny critters help create the nutrients that your lawn uses to stay healthy. One of the richest sources of food for them is actually all those grass clippings you previously threw out!

Grasscycling

Grasscycling is a word that’s slowly coming into common usage. Basically, it’s the practice of leaving your grass trimmings on your lawn. Gasp!, I hear many of you say. That’ll cause unsightly thatch build-up! Actually, this is not true. Thatch is the roots and stems of grass and other plants.

Your grass trimmings are actually a valuable organic fertilizer for your lawn, the equivalent in nutrients to a bag of 4-1-3. After you mow, the trimmings quickly lose their nitrogen content into the soil. Because grass is over 75% water, it will quickly shrink into your lawn and decompose into the soil.

There, a lazy way to cut your lawn! No changing bags, and less unnecessary garbage in the landfill. Whoever thought that doing less actually did more?

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your lawn mower blade sharp – a dull blade shreds the grass, damaging the plant in the long run.
  • Cut your lawn at a higher setting – your grass will be thicker, crowding out weeds and helping the soil retain moisture better.
  • Grasscycling is not good if you have long grass – It will take a lot longer to decompose, and it’ll form ugly clumps. Have no fear, recycle this longer grass using a composting bin.
  • Use a mulcher, for greatest effect – A mulcher has a special blade that will cut the clippings further, allowing them to decompose and disappear into your lawn even faster.

Other Tips For a Healthy, Organic Lawn

You now know that organic lawn care is simply a combination of grasscycling, keeping your grass higher, and of course not using chemical fertilizers or herbicides. Weeds will come, but they will find it harder to take root, because your grass will now be thicker and healthier. There are organic herbicides available to help you out.

Here’s a couple other tips:

  • Fertilizer – Along with grass clippings acting as a constant source of soil renewal, in the spring and fall you will want to use an organic protein-based fertilizer such as seaweed, plant meal, crushed beans, or even dry dog food! Commercial organic fertilizer is now widely available, and the price is nearing the level of traditional chemical fertilizer
  • Soil conditioner – Every spring or fall, work in a 1/4 inch layer of finished compost, composted manure or other fine organic matter. This will help enrich and loosen your soil.
  • Check your soil pH (ask your local garden center or agricultural extension service) – If you find that dandelions are overrunning your lawn, it’s likely because the soil pH is out of whack. Many weeds thrive in different pH levels, while grass thrives in a more neutral 6.0 to 7.0. This is also why grass often dies near pine trees – the falling needles decompose and change the acidity of the soil.
  • Water deeply and infrequently – this encourages your grass to develop deeper and stronger roots, and conserves water.
  • Aerate – If you see puddles remaining on the ground, there is too much thatch. Use a garden fork to punch four-inch deep holes to loosen and break up the soil. Also, rent an aerating machine or hire a professional to aerate your entire lawn once every couple years.

Enjoy a chemical-free, healthier, less expensive and environmentally friendly way to care for your lawn. Now go convince your neighbors!

Contributed by GoOrganicGardening.com, a blog on home gardening tips and techniques. Learn more about healthy organic gardening, composting, and how to learn and properly use organic fertilizers.

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