I spend A LOT of time rolling around on our back lawn. It seems to be in a mom’s job description, somewhere between wiping snotty noses and pulling Lego out of vacuum bags. So, if my family’s going to roll, tumble and goodness-knows-what-else out there, it needs to be a safe place, which means all natural lawn care.
Lawn care, for the most part, is about fertilizing and battling weeds.
Many herbicides contain toxic chemicals that you don’t want your children rolling in and that you don’t really want leaching into the groundwater and ultimately our streams.
In fact, the health and environmental concerns around pesticide use have caused many municipalities to ban their cosmetic use not only on municipal lands, but also in residential areas.
However, if you’re lucky enough to have a patch of grass to call your own, you also don’t want it to be a yellowed oasis for weeds. You want to maintain it.
Luckily, you can! Follow these basic all-natural maintenance tips and you will no doubt have a lawn your neighbors will get green over!
Sow well-adapted species: If it’s a new lawn or a complete lawn overhaul, consider planting a species that is well adapted for your area. Some species are more drought resistant for instance. Choosing the right species will reduce maintenance in the long run.
Top-dress in fall: Spread some grass seed in the fall to help muscle out any weeds that might be thinking of germinating.
Don’t cut too short: The single most important thing you can do to maintain a healthy lawn is mow it as high as you can. First of all, it reduces the amount of watering you have to do as longer blades mean more shade for the soil, which means less evaporation. Second, the blade is where the grass does its photosynthesizing so cutting too much off is like doing an extreme stomach staple. Too much and it can’t make the energy it needs to stay healthy. Third, longer grass can shade out weeds and give grass the advantage in the daily lawn battles.
Do it often: This is particularly important if you have a lot of weeds. If you keep the blade high, frequent mowing can help your grass beat out the weeds. Whereas grass will thrive with having a frequent short trim, weeds won’t do as well with the constant cuts.
Leave the clippings: This is hard for some people to do, but it really is better for the lawn. It’s a natural mulch to help reduce water loss and it also returns the organic matter back into the soil.
Give it a good soak: You want to encourage the roots of the grass to grow deep rather than shallow as this will help the grass in times of drought and reduce your water consumption. The best way to do this is to water deeply but not too often. Rather than sticking to a schedule, water when the grass blades start to curl but before they brown. When it’s time, give them about an inch of water. You can measure this by placing a cup somewhere in the sprinkler’s range.
It’s even more effective if you can water half an inch and then wait 90 minutes and water another half inch. Often water will just run off the top dry layer of ground, so soaking it a little first and then applying first will increase the amount of water the soil absorbs.
A feast in spring and fall: Grass loves nitrogen, so you want to give it some fertilizer in the spring and fall that’s high in nitrogen and slow release. You can spread your own sifted compost over the lawn and then rake it in so that it gets down between the blades. If you don’t have your own compost, you can look for an all-natural or organic fertilizer for lawns – there’s a number available. Ringer lawn restore is an all-natural product and although I haven’t used it, it has over a dozen top-rated reviews on Amazon – so it must be doing something right.
Corn gluten: This is something a number of organic gardeners are using because it’s a natural weed deterrent as well as a natural fertilizer. If you spread the gluten just before you know a particularly troublesome weed is about to emerge, it will suppress the seed germination by drying out the seeds. It then breaks down and feeds the soil – all without harming your grass!
If your lawn is still looking sad after following these tips, there might be some other issues at play. Here are a few things to check:
Soil pH: You want your soil to be somewhere between pH 6 and 7. Add lime if it’s below 6 and add gardener’s sulphur if it’s above 7. You can buy a pH meter, but it will run you around $75 for one that’s remotely reliable. Alternately, all counties in the US have a county extension office that can test the pH for you. Often it’s free, but sometimes there will be a minimal charge. You can look up your local extension office here.
Soil depth: If you dig a shovel into your lawn you should be able to get an idea of soil depth. Eighteen inches of soil is ideal, though you will often find it is far less than this. Shallow soil will mean the grass roots won’t be able to penetrate deeply and you will spend a huge amount of time watering. It also means there is less habitat for earthworms and other important soil fauna that keep your lawn a healthy functioning ecosystem. If you’re at your wits end with your lawn and soil depth is at the root of the problem, then perhaps it’s time to fork out some cash for some good rich top soil and then you can reseed and start over.
Persistent weeds: If you mow high and keep your soil in the right pH range, this should help with weed control. However, sometimes weeds are persistent and more is needed. I did write an article previously on natural weed killers, so have a look there for some ideas around spot weed killers. If you are attacking the job manually, always begin your weeding session with a portion that you’ve already weeded. Sounds counter-intuitive, but if you do this, the weeds you removed won’t have time to recover, which is exactly what you want.
Follow these natural lawn care tips and you should have a healthy looking lawn your neighbors will envy. Best of all, you’ll have a lawn that’s a safe environment for your family, including pets as well as the environment. The key is that you want your lawn to be a vibrant ecosystem, full of earthworms and microbes. Compost, natural fertilizers, and organic weed killers will promote this rather than create a sterile environment. The following video shows that a lawn can be healthy and organic!