Organic Lawn Care

Whether or not you intend to use organic methods these tips will help you to have a better looking, healthier lawn.

First of all: Do you really need all that lawn? Utah Rivers Council – Rip Your Strip.  Check local ordinances before replacing or installing parking strip or front yard landscapes.

Lawn areas can be replaced with edibles or lower maintenance plants. I would not recommend growing edibles in parking strips due to contamination from cars (fuel, exhaust, etc)

Why tend your lawn organically? Save money and time, safer for you, your family, and your pets, your lawn, and the environment.

The following lawn care tips can reduce costs while keeping your lawn looking great.

Mowing

  • Mow when grass is dry and after 6 p.m. – lawn will be cooler then.I prefer to mow the evening before the morning when sprinklers are scheduled to come on.
  • Remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blade.
  • Alternate mowing direction. For example: one week mow North to South, the next week mow East to West.
  • Cool season grasses such as Kentucky Blue Grass should be allowed to grow 2 1/2 – 3” in summer but can be cut to 2” in spring and fall (first and last mowings of the season only). This length helps the lawn to be healthier and can shade out many weeds.
  • Be sure mower blades are sharp and free of chips.
  • Leave clippings on the lawn. If the lawn is healthy and is mowed properly clippings should break down quickly. Clippings provide nitrogen and organic matter for the lawn. Clippings do not contribute to thatch. If you have clippings in piles on your lawn or coming into the house on shoes then your lawn is either too wet or too long when you mow.

Watering

  • Water before 10 a.m. to avoid evaporation of water before it reaches the soil. I prefer to water before 8 a.m.
  • Early morning watering is preferable to evening – evening watering contributes to fungus.
  • Water 1-2” per week – measure sprinkler output by placing similar sized containers such as tuna cans in various places around the yard and measuring the amount of water after running sprinklers for 5 minutes then multiply that amount by the length of time per cycle and then by the number of cycles per day.
  • Water no more than three times per week. Two is preferable. If you have a sprinkler system you may need to let it cycle two or three times each watering day to prevent runoff and get good penetration. For sandy soils 3 times per week may be necessary.
  • Avoid watering if there has been at least 1” of rain on or close to the normal watering day.
  • If possible avoid watering on windy days.
  • Decide when you want the sprinklers to shut off (by 9 a.m. is best) and count back to figure a start time for your sprinkler system.  For a flat yard with popup sprinklers about 15 minutes per zone cycling through 2 or 3 times. For impact sprinklers usually 30 – 45 minutes per zone is best. For a sloped yard a shorter time is usually required to prevent runoff – more cycles will be required.
  • Sprinklers should spray from head to head for best coverage.
  • Periodically check sprinklers for clogging, damage, and other problems. Turn them on for just 5 minutes and watch their spray and coverage.

Fertilizing

  • Corn gluten meal if there are any weed problems (see under “weed and pest control”)
  • Use organic lawn fertilizers to improve lawn and soil health without harming soil organisms. Ringer, Dr. Earth, Bradfords, Concern are some brands of organic lawn fertilizers.
  • If clippings have been removed more nitrogen fertilizer will need to be applied.
  • Kelp and fish emulsion sprayed on lawn every two to four weeks during the growing season provides macro and micro nutrients and helps the lawn to be drought and disease resistant. Turboganic is another option.
  • It is normal for Kentucky Blue Grass to look less green during hot weather.
  • If your lawn is less green than you would like is is probably a nitrogen, iron, or water issue.

Aerating

  • It is best to aerate clay soils once per year. Aerating in fall allows water and melting snow to penetrate better.
  • After aerating, compost (ideally your homemade compost) or composted manure can be spread and allowed to fill the holes and improve clay or sandy soils. A drop spreader may not work for spreading these items. Compost is best because it will provide some nutrients but peat moss and coir will not. Compost will moderate the pH of soils. Compost will also cover weed seeds which can prevent germination.


Weed and pest control

  • Proper watering, mowing, and fertilizing will take care of most insect, disease and weed problems.

Weeds in a lawn can provide clues to problems which when corrected reduce those specific weeds. http://oregonbd.org/Class/weeds.htm

  • Pre-emergent (prevents germination of seeds): corn gluten meal sold under various brand names. From corn syrup processing, this product has been shown to prevent seed germination. It is safe and will also provide some nitrogen for your lawn.
  • For best control use in Fall and in Spring. Avoid using on newly seeded lawns.
  • The best way to remove most remaining weeds is by digging.
  • Synthetic weed killers and fertilizers can damage soil structure and kill earthworms and soil organisms. This contributes to problems with lawn and soil health and can cause thatch problems.
  • A new herbicide for lawns containing iron shows promise as a safer weedkiller. Sold by Garden’s Alive as IronX.  IronX will only kill broadleaf weeds – not grasses.
  • Crabgrass can usually be prevented by raising the mower blade.   Other types of grass will need to removed by digging.
organic lawn care

Crabgrass – note the seed heads and how it lies flat to the ground

Crabgrass – note the seed heads and that it lies flat to the ground instead of upright.

Insects and Fungus

Correct lawn care usually prevents insect and disease problems.

  • Dead grass or grass you can pull up does not always mean lawn insects.
  • Check sprinklers for problems – clogging, broken, over or under shooting.
  • Is it caused by dog urine?
  • Did someone pour something on the lawn?
  • Signs of insect problems: White moths flying just above the lawn at dusk = sod webworm. Cut into the sod and see small, white, fat caterpillars curled in a “c” shape = grubs. If it is neither of these and not a sprinkler or other issue then it is most likely a fungus.
  • Two main lawn insects are grubs and sod webworm. For control mix up insecticidal soap in a 5 gallon bucket and pour into the spot. Walk on  your lawn  with spiked shoes – golf shoes or spiked sandals.
  • Change your watering schedule to mornings to reduce the chance of fungus problems. Liquid kelp can prevent and possibly cure fungus.

Lawns on which chemicals fertilizers and pesticides have been used may require some recovery time before looking their best although that has not been my experience.

Installing or Repairing a Lawn

  • Be sure you want lawn in that spot. It will be more difficult to remove all the grass later.
  • Identify weeds if possible and then mow any existing weeds as short as possible.
  • Correct any possible conditions which encouraged existing weeds  http://oregonbd.org/Class/weeds.htm)
  • Add 3 or more inches of compost – Do Not Till
  • Seed or sod on top of the compost. Compost provides nutrients, soil improvement, covers weed seeds, and holds moisture.
  • If filling spots in your yard just add compost then seed or sod.
  • Newly seeded areas must be kept damp until seeds germinate. Then slowly reduce the amount of water. New sod should be watered more frequently than an established lawn until the first mowing. Follow the recommendations above for future care of your lawn.

For more information visit SafeLawns.org and see Safe Lawns documentary trailer on YouTube: A Chemical Reaction documentary trailer.

General Organic Weed Control tips

  • Join this site for free weekly garden tips sent to your inbox
  • information about pesticides and herbicides (check the Garden Resources on this website)

Copyright 2012 Beuna Tomalino, Garden Inspire

Subscribe to Garden Inspire Blog

Join for more gardening information

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Add an Optin Title Here

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Add an Optin Title Here

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Add an Optin Title Here

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Landing Page Popup Headline

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Webinar Landing Page Popup Headline

Join our mailing list to download your freebie now!

You have successfully registered!