Organic Lawn Care

Organic Lawn Care

Garden how-to 6 Steps To A Healthy Organic Lawn It can be beautiful and pesticide-free. By Beth Huxtra July 16, 2015 Growing a healthy, strong, beautiful organic lawn requires not just a change in fertilizers but also a change in mindset. “With an organic lawn, you’re not simply putting down fertilizers four times a year; you’re initiating cultural practices to nurture life in the soil, and in turn, the soil sustains the grass,” explains Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and spokesperson for SafeLawns.org. Transitioning your lawn to organic takes an initial investment of time, effort, and money, because you will need to restore the lawn’s soil and the health of the grass. But in the long run, you’ll save money and effort as your grass grows healthy and strong and fights off pests and weeds on its own. Whether you’ve managed your lawn organically for years or are just getting started, follow this step-by-step plan to get the best-looking, healthiest lawn you’ve ever had.
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Organic Lawn Care

We’re not gonna lie to you. Making the transition to organic lawn care might mean dealing with some weeds-at least for the first year or two as your soil and grass gain enough strength to control them naturally. One thing you can do to prevent weeds is spread corn gluten meal-an organic weed preventative-on your lawn in the spring. Just don’t do it when you’re overseeding, since it prevents germination of all seeds, including grass. While corn gluten meal works only 65 percent as well as chemical herbicides, it can still significantly reduce weed infestations. If a few isolated weeds show up, pull them by hand or try an organic weed killer, such as Nature’s Avenger, a spray containing citrus oil, which dehydrates weeds down to the roots. Some gardeners swear by vinegar to do the same. Weeds can be helpful indicators of specific problems with your soil, however. Got crabgrass? It can point to soil compaction, since it usually appears in highly trafficked areas, such as along driveways or walkways. Instead of zapping it with pesticides, get to the root of the problem by aerating the area where it’s growing. “You can kill the messenger all day long,” says Turkey, “but it doesn’t change the message that something is wrong with your soil.” And not all weeds are out to destroy your lawn; some can even help it. Clover, for example, is a common broadleaf weed that works as a natural fertilizer factory, transforming nitrogen in the air into a digestible form for your soil. Some organic-lawn-care experts actually recommend adding a pound of clover seed for every 1000 square feet of lawn. Insects and fungal diseases can also point to lawn problems. Chinch bugs are attracted to dry, drought-stressed lawns; and watering at night, especially in warm weather, can encourage fungal diseases like dollar spot or brown patch, since turf stays moist for longer. There are organic solutions in the battle of the bugs, too. For example, beneficial nematodes can take care of grub worms, which chew through grass roots. These spray-on microscopic organisms target-and devour-grubs and grubs only, never harming beneficial organisms, though the timing of their application is critical.
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Organic Lawn Care

Whacking Weeds and Pests We’re not gonna lie to you. Making the transition to organic lawn care might mean dealing with some weeds-at least for the first year or two as your soil and grass gain enough strength to control them naturally. One thing you can do to prevent weeds is spread corn gluten meal-an organic weed preventative-on your lawn in the spring. Just don’t do it when you’re overseeding, since it prevents germination of all seeds, including grass. While corn gluten meal works only 65 percent as well as chemical herbicides, it can still significantly reduce weed infestations. If a few isolated weeds show up, pull them by hand or try an organic weed killer, such as Nature’s Avenger, a spray containing citrus oil, which dehydrates weeds down to the roots. Some gardeners swear by vinegar to do the same. Weeds can be helpful indicators of specific problems with your soil, however. Got crabgrass? It can point to soil compaction, since it usually appears in highly trafficked areas, such as along driveways or walkways. Instead of zapping it with pesticides, get to the root of the problem by aerating the area where it’s growing. “You can kill the messenger all day long,” says Turkey, “but it doesn’t change the message that something is wrong with your soil.” And not all weeds are out to destroy your lawn; some can even help it. Clover, for example, is a common broadleaf weed that works as a natural fertilizer factory, transforming nitrogen in the air into a digestible form for your soil. Some organic-lawn-care experts actually recommend adding a pound of clover seed for every 1000 square feet of lawn. Insects and fungal diseases can also point to lawn problems. Chinch bugs are attracted to dry, drought-stressed lawns; and watering at night, especially in warm weather, can encourage fungal diseases like dollar spot or brown patch, since turf stays moist for longer. There are organic solutions in the battle of the bugs, too. For example, beneficial nematodes can take care of grub worms, which chew through grass roots. These spray-on microscopic organisms target-and devour-grubs and grubs only, never harming beneficial organisms, though the timing of their application is critical.
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Growing a healthy, strong, beautiful organic lawn requires not just a change in fertilizers but also a change in mindset. “With an organic lawn, you’re not simply putting down fertilizers four times a year; you’re initiating cultural practices to nurture life in the soil, and in turn, the soil sustains the grass,” explains Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and spokesperson for SafeLawns.org. Transitioning your lawn to organic takes an initial investment of time, effort, and money, because you will need to restore the lawn’s soil and the health of the grass. But in the long run, you’ll save money and effort as your grass grows healthy and strong and fights off pests and weeds on its own. Whether you’ve managed your lawn organically for years or are just getting started, follow this step-by-step plan to get the best-looking, healthiest lawn you’ve ever had.
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Whatever the test results, you’ll also want to spread a half-inch of compost on the lawn to add essential organic matter to the soil. Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, and founder of Safelawns.org, sees compost treatments as the basis for all organic lawn care. “It’s almost like a blood transfusion,” he says. “It improves soil structure—especially in clay or sand-heavy soil—and is full of beneficial organisms, including bacteria, algae, fungi, and nematodes, that keep your soil healthy.” Look for compost that is made up of decomposed organic plant material, similar to the stuff you find on the forest floor. You can buy it at nurseries, or collect your own yard waste in a backyard bin. Many municipalities have composting programs, which provide information on how to compost and, sometimes, discounted composting bins. Tukey also recommends speeding up your lawn’s transition to organic by brewing your own compost tea and spraying it on your lawn once a month with a backpack sprayer or a watering can.
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Start Composting Whatever the test results, you’ll also want to spread a half-inch of compost on the lawn to add essential organic matter to the soil. Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, and founder of Safelawns.org, sees compost treatments as the basis for all organic lawn care. “It’s almost like a blood transfusion,” he says. “It improves soil structure—especially in clay or sand-heavy soil—and is full of beneficial organisms, including bacteria, algae, fungi, and nematodes, that keep your soil healthy.” Look for compost that is made up of decomposed organic plant material, similar to the stuff you find on the forest floor. You can buy it at nurseries, or collect your own yard waste in a backyard bin. Many municipalities have composting programs, which provide information on how to compost and, sometimes, discounted composting bins. Tukey also recommends speeding up your lawn’s transition to organic by brewing your own compost tea and spraying it on your lawn once a month with a backpack sprayer or a watering can.
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Looking out her kitchen window one day, Libby Scancarello watched as her three kids, two dogs, and one cat all gamboled happily together on her lush, green lawn—and freaked out. “I just kept thinking that the chemicals we had sprayed on it every year probably weren’t the best thing for them to be playing in,” says Scancarello, who lives in Troy, Ohio. So she decided to do something about it. She fired her lawn-care company and hired PureLawn Organic Lawncare, a Cincinnati-based company that uses only chemical-free fertilizers and biological pest and disease control. “I haven’t looked back since,” says Scancarello, adding that her yard looks as lush as ever. If the numbers of natural lawn-care services and products hitting the market are any indication, a lot of homeowners would like to do the same. To many of them, a mere glance at the “Keep out of reach of children” labels on most pesticides and herbicides is reason enough. Keep reading to learn the benefits of going chemical-free and see how you can break your lawn’s addiction to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The underlying philosophy behind organic lawn care is this: Healthy, chemical-free soil begets robust lawns that can virtually take care of themselves. After years of being inundated by chemicals to fend off grubs, eradicate weeds, and green up the turf, the natural capacity of the soil to perform these tasks itself has ceased operation, practitioners say. Cut it off from the chemicals cold turkey, and you’ll get things running again—naturally. And once the soil’s healthy, you might never have to deal with pesticides, herbicides, even fertilizers again. “That’s the thing about going organic,” says Eileen Gunn of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group. “Not only do you get a nice, safe, healthy lawn, it is also a more sustainable one over the long term.”