Organic Lawn Care
We all love lush green grass and landscaping that is the envy of our neighbors. Unfortunately, using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is harmful to our waterway (not to mention our beloved pets!). Here are some tips to help you maintain a beautiful, safe yard that you can be proud of.
- Set your mower as high as it will go (3 to 4 inches). Keep the mower operating properly and blades sharp. Remember to leave grass clippings on your lawn so grass will receive about 40% of the nutrients it needs. And it’s okay to cut the grass shorter in the late fall for easier cleanup.
- Water only when your grass shows signs of drought stress and then water deeply (put a cup in your sprinkler zone and make sure it gets at least an inch of water).
- Use soaker hoses or a well-timed sprinkler to supplement what nature provides. Once a healthy lawn is established, it will need watering only after seeding or during a drought.
- An established organic lawn has a more extensive root system, enabling it to find food and water even when it is dry. This enhanced root system enables the lawn to survive a dry spell.
- Fertilize with an organic fertilizer in the fall and spring (most good garden centers can make recommendations)
- Have the pH of your soil professionally tested. The ideal soil pH for a lawn is 6.3 – 6.8. Add lime if it is below 6.0 and gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0. Use no more than 125 lbs. of lime per every 1000 square feet every six months. If your soil shows high magnesium levels, use only calcific lime or gypsum. These are high in calcium and low in magnesium. Gypsum improves the texture of soil and adds sulfur and other minerals as well, but will not change soil pH.
- How much top soil do you have? See how deep a shovel will go into the soil. How deep can you dig a hole in one minute? Four inches of topsoil will make for an okay lawn. Eight or more inches of topsoil will make for a great lawn.
SOIL & FERTILIZING
- Test your soil every two to three years. UMass offers soil analysis for a small fee. Request the percentage of organic matter in the sample; it should read 3.5% or more.
- Fertilize with compost, which is the best source of minerals, nutrients and beneficial organisms. Compost is sold in many different forms, including liquid or you can make your own. Compost can be applied any time, but spring and late summer applications are preferred
- Rock minerals should be applied every four years, based on the soil test. These include: Blackrock phosphate, colloidal phosphate, greensand, sulfate of potash-magnesia, borax, bone meal. More organic fertilizers include these.
- If you use mixed organic fertilizer, read the list of ingredients in the brochure to determine the real content to ensure there’s no super-phosphate or natural nitrite of soda, which can cause a buildup of salt.
TREES, SHRUBS & BEDS
- Choose native plants in well-grown and insect-disease resistant varieties.
- Consider sunlight, soil and water requirements of any species you plant.
- Grass isn’t suitable for many situations. Grass requires a lot of sun, water and good soil. It’s one of the highest maintenance plants we can grow.
- Give some thought to groundcovers and what will work for your property; look for the ones that don’t require a lot of maintenance.
- MULCH!! Mulch protects the roots and trunk from damage from mowing. Mulch the entire bed with 1 to 2 inches of leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, buckwheat or cocoa hulls. Around trees and shrubs, mulch to a depth of 2 to 4 inches, but don’t let the mulch touch the bark.
There are many companies that now specialize in organic lawn care. If you decide to use a professional ASK:
- ...for an organic program with no chemical pesticides.
- ...what chemicals are applied?
- ...if they apply pesticides, ask if they have a pesticide applicator’s license. Then ask to see it!
- ...to see the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS,) for every chemical they use.