You can have an organic lawn that is lush and lovely, and there are so many reasons to go natural. Pesticides and herbicides are linked to neurotoxicity, birth defects, cancers, organ damage and more.
Find out five easy steps to maintaining a gorgeous, healthy lawn without resorting to harmful chemicals:
1. Kick the fertilizer habit. Turf needs less nitrogen than people think. Try an organic lawn food blend such as Concern or Espoma, cottonseed meal, or dried poultry waste. Most of the nitrogen in these is water-insoluble; it stays put and is released over a month or more, providing nutrition to the plants in small doses.
2. Add clover and other grasses. If you are lucky, you already have some clover in your lawn. If not, it is easy to add it by overseeding, or planting on top of what is already there. Rough up the surface with a metal garden rake. Mix the clover seed with sand or finely screened compost. Sow 2 ounces clover seed per 1,000 square feet for moderate clover cover, or up to 8 ounces if you want clover to dominate the turf. After sowing, water your lawn deeply and keep the soil moist until clover germinates.
3. Water, but not too much. Watering, like fertilizing, calls for restraint. Deep watering every 2 weeks or so is preferable to shallow daily watering. If you grow the proper turf-grass for your area, you can probably get by without any watering.
4. Banish weeds and insects naturally. Mowing, feeding, and watering practices will reduce the weed population, and there are effective organic weed-control strategies. One of the best is corn gluten meal, which prevents crabgrass and other weeds from germinating, Apply it early in the season, before the soil reaches 55 degrees, at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Do it again in late summer.
To eradicate grubs, try Milky Spore, a bacteria that is poisonous to grubs and only grubs, a favorite of organic gardeners for over 50 years. Apply only 4 ounces to 1,000 square feet in spring or summer.
5. Enhance your soil. Use a spreader to apply a quarter-inch deep (or less) of finely screened compost to the turf. Compost invigorates the soil and stirs up a slew of microorganisms as it sifts below the surface, improving drainage and reducing compaction along the way.
Adapted from Organic Style magazine (Rodale Press, April 2004).