10 Tips to Keep Your Organic Lawn Healthy
1. Mow high.
Set the mowing height at 3 to 3 1/2 inches. You will mow less often. Lawns cut short need to grow leaf surface quickly to perform photosynthesis and survive. The plant has to use up stored food in the roots to do this, causing stress and shallow roots. The taller grass will shade out sun-loving annual weeds and conserve water.
2. Leave the clippings.
They contain a third of the nitrogen the lawn requires over the season. They contribute precious organic matter, which is in short supply in our depleted soils. Clippings also act as a mulch to prevent weed seeds from germinating, and they conserve moisture.
3. Spread seed twice a year.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Where you don¹t have grass, you will probably have weeds. Scratch the surface of any bare spots, seed and top dress with compost. Always use a top-quality seed. A mix is best for most areas unless conditions are particularly shady. Early fall is the best time as the grass will not have to compete with annual weeds, rainfall is usually dependable and the days are cooler. I¹ve had pretty good luck sprinkling seed on the ground, just before the first snowfall. The seed stays dormant over the winter but works its way into the soil to germinate in the spring. A consistent snow cover is helpful.
4. Water deeply and infrequently.
If you have decent roots, water once a week for an hour or use one inch of water. You can use a tuna can to measure the inch. If you have shallow roots, water three times a week for fifteen minutes. You can water a little more when it is particularly hot. A mid-day stress reliever gives the grass a welcome respite. Only water when the weather dictates. Or don¹t water at all. The grass will naturally go dormant in the summer and, if you have good roots, bounce back nicely in the fall.
5. Use organic fertilizers for a non-soluble, long term source of nitrogen.
Anything you add to the lawn should complement the soil and the biology. Organic fertilizers contain nutrients that have to be broken down by biology. They do not acidify the soil or runoff. The soil food web will store them until the plant needs them. There is a good selection of products at most garden centers. Don¹t look for an immediate, dramatic green-up, but sustained good health and hardiness.
6. Top dress with compost whenever possible.
This is the best thing you can do for your soil. Good, tested compost is full of beneficial biology and organic matter. If your soil is poor and compacted, core aerate first, spread seed, and top dress with compost. Compost is difficult to spread, but the results are phenomenal. Compost tea is easier to apply and is full of biology, but it is not readily available to the homeowner at the present time.
7. Do not use pesticides to kill grubs.
Pesticides are not particularly selective, and you may be killing beneficial microbial life that feeds on the grubs. A healthy lawn should be able to support up to twelve grubs per square foot. In most cases, simply reseed the area. Compost and compost tea are helpful. If the problem persists, use beneficial nematodes, natural predators of the soil that feed on grubs.
8. A few dandelions add a nice color contrast.
Learn to live with a few weeds or wild herbs. Monocultures are not generally a natural state of affairs in the landscape. Trying to maintain such an unnatural environment invites problems. It requires a great deal of management to achieve the golf course look. Improving the soil, particularly adding calcium, will diminish the presence of most weeds. Dandelions are not annual and last several years. However, they fade in the hot weather. You can pull them by hand, kill them with vinegar, or use a specialized propane heater to kill the roots.
9. Check the pH before applying lime.
Some people apply lime every year, whether the soil needs it or not. In our soils, application of limestone is often helpful but not always required. Do a soil test, or check the pH to see how much, if any is needed. If the pH is too high, soil biology and roots have a hard time surviving.
10. Accept a few imperfections.
An organic lawn is not going to look like a green carpet all summer. The cool-season grasses we have will look better in the spring and fall. They want to go dormant in the summer. They don’t need watering. One customer who doesn’t water told me, “My lawn looks great in the spring and the fall, but it kind of craps out in the summer. I tell my neighbors, ‘Hey, I’m out of the lawn competition for a few weeks. I’ll be back’. Everyone’s on vacation, anyway.”
Give us a call
Even if you are not going to use our services, we want to encourage organic lawn care. We are happy to answer any questions or send you in the right direction.