You don’t need synthetic fertilizers and toxic insecticides to have a lush and happy lawn. What is important is to get to the root of problems and to encourage healthy and productive root systems. The stronger your grass, the less chance weeds and pests have to invade and do damage.
What you need to keep in the forefront of your mind moving forward is that building a healthy lawn takes time. Few natural and organic solutions are going to provide the instant gratification many of us have come to expect from our store bought cure-alls, but as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Here are a few ways that you can (and cannot) keep your lawn green and growing without resorting to toxic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides:
Stop drowning your grass.
Stop watering your lawn! According to my buddy Steve Bender, Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener, most grasses don’t need any more than an inch of water per week. Warm weather grasses need even less than that. Unless you are going for a week without rain, your lawn doesn’t need the sprinkler and you may be doing more harm than good. If you do water, do it once a week and not for short intervals every day. Your lawn will thank you.
Healthy lawns start with healthy soil.
To get a healthy lawn you must start with the soil. When the soil is healthy, your grass will thrive. The healthier and thicker the grass, the less you will have to deal with weed infestations. Pests have a harder time doing extensive damage when the grass has all of the tools it needs to keep them at bay.
One of the many services offered by your local Cooperative Extension office is inexpensive soil testing. These tests are important because they can help you to better understand your soil and its needs. That’s right folks, just as it is with any relationship, you need to understand the soil’s needs and what its missing. Meeting those needs will result in a healthier and more productive relationship between you and your lawn.
Another important point to be made here is that even some ideas that may on the surface seem to be good for the lawn can end up causing more problems than they solve. Case in point: the mulching lawn mower. Periodic mulching of your lawn waste can be a good thing, adding as much as 30% of the lawn’s nitrogen to the soil. During the height of the season though, this can contribute to thatch buildup so keep an eye on your lawn and never cut the grass any shorter than 1/3 of the blade height at one time. If you notice that the mulched grass from previous cuttings is not yet decomposed, consider bagging and composting the grass for future use.
Don’t treat your lawn, feed it.
Many of us are careful about the products we will use in our gardens because we know the potential dangers that exist when using toxic herbicides and pesticides on the food we feed our families. Take that concept a step further and look at your lawn as an extension of your food gardens. Why? Because the same soil runs underneath both, and anything you use in one area can leech its way to another.
I laugh every time I see a so-called lawn service company spraying a bright green fertilizer on lawns in early spring. It’s like applying makeup to acne instead of treating the acne itself. Stop applying cover-ups to your lawn and nourish it to keep it healthy. It won’t happen overnight, but over time the efforts will reward you.
The single best way to feed your lawn is to top dress it with compost once a year. You can use composted manure, worm castings or you can make your own compost. The beauty of homemade compost is that it costs you nothing and it brings so many benefits to the soil that your lawn will reap the benefits all season long.
To top dress your lawn with compost, spread a light layer over the entire lawn area. If you can see piles of compost then you should spread it more evenly. Think of this as a fertilizer addition; while you can see the fertilizer after it is spread, it should disappear into the lawn after a good rain.
Use Natural Options for Fertilizer, Weed Prevention and Pest Control.
Before you can make the switch to natural fertilizers and organic weed prevention and pest control, you have to know what options are available.
- Corn Gluten Meal (CGM) is an effective natural pre-emergent herbicide that works well against crabgrass and dandelions. It has the added benefit of adding Nitrogen to the soil and killing weed seed before they can germinate. It is available in both powder and pellet form. Choose pellets that are labeled for herbicidal use as they contain a higher protein content. Apply with a standard spreader and water in immediately for best results. Find more info on using corn gluten meal on the City of Ottawa website.
- Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilized remains of a single-celled organism called a diatom. Though it is a powder, the fine particles are razor sharp and can pierce through the hard armor-like bodies of ants, earwigs and other common garden pests. Once the outer layer is compromised, these pests will dehydrate and die and you will be pest free once more.
- Vinegar (Acetic Acid) can be used as a weed killer, but you will need to apply it selectively as it can also kill grass and nearly any other plant that it comes in contact with. Standard kitchen vinegar has 5% acetic acid and while it is effective, try to find pickling vinegar. Its 9% acidity will handle the job much easier. Spray full strength directly on weeds on a sunny day when there is no threat of rain. A Tablespoon of liquid dish detergent will help the vinegar stick to the weeds and speed up the process.
- Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) can do several things for your lawn. It helps to decrease soil compaction, helping to aerate the soil and roots, resulting in a stronger root system and healthier grass. It is also a big boost for chlorophyll production in your plants (magnesium and sulfur) and helps the soil to absorb Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Apply using a spreader, 3 pounds per 1,500 square feet of lawn.
- Compost Tea brings the benefits of nutrient-dense compost to your lawn in a liquid form. The tea can be “brewed” in a 5 gallon bucket for a few days, then distributed to your lawn with a water hose sprayer attachment.
- Instant Grits are said to be an effective method for eradicating ants in the lawn, but don’t buy into the hype. It does not work reliably and is a waste of good grits. Boiling water can help to relocate them to other areas, and coffee grounds are an effective deterrent as well.
Do you have a natural fertilizer, weed prevention or pest control tip to share or a question that isn’t addressed here? Leave a comment below!