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Natural Lawn Care that Cares for People and Cares for the Neighborhood
If you are in doubt about the dangers of conventional lawn chemicals, see the factsheets at www.beyondpesticides.org and www.pesticide.org .
This pages offers positive suggestions for alternative lawn care methods that do not poison people, pets, wildlife, birds, or the bees.
Improve your soil. Taking care of your soil is the most important thing about natural lawn care. You can get a soil test done at your local county extension office. They will tell you how to collect a sample of the soil for testing. If it is too acidic, add lime. If it is not acidic enough, add sulphur. Weeds are an indicator of your lawns nutritional needs. If you have lots of dandelions, it is likely that your soil pH is above 7.5. Broadcast sulphur to lower the lawn pH. If you have too much clover, your lawn likely needs more nitrogen. Spread compost or a compost tea. It is always best to fertilize your lawn with compost or compost tea.
Don't cut the grass too short. Most turf grasses achieve best health at 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Wait until the grass is at least 3.5 inches tall and then set your mower to cut 1 inch. Giving your lawn a short hair cut damages the grass and creates an unhealthy environment. Make sure your lawn mower blades are sharp. The one exception is the last mowing of the fall. Cut the grass "that time only" to about 2 inches.
Do leave the grass clippings on the yard. These naturally decompose and help the lawn remain healthy. Clippings do not contribute to thatch. They give your soil nitrogen and phosphorus which it needs to remain healthy. They will quickly disappear from view.
Water carefully. Lawns benefit by deep watering. The lawn should dry out between waterings -- this does not mean "turns brown", but the color will be a bit dull and footprints will stay compressed for more than a few seconds. Give the lawn 1/2 inch of water. Put a tuna can in the watering area. When it is half full, the lawn has received one-half inch. Wait an hour or so and give the lawn another half inch. The tuna can will then be full. Water early in the morning to avoid evaporation problems. Frequent watering causes shallow roots and that's bad. Deep watering infrequently encourages deep roots and that is important to drought proof your lawn.
Lawns need fertilizer only once a year. If you have cool season grasses (like fescue), fertilize in the fall. Warm season grasses (Bermuda) need feeding in the spring. Use compost or compost tea for the most healthy impact for your lawn. If you must buy and use a commercial fertilizer, get an organic fertilizer or buy compost.
Use corn gluten to control spring weeds. Research indicates a 60% success rate in the first year of use that quickly climbs to 90% effective in a few years. It inhibits root formation at the time the seed germinates but it doesn't poison the environment and put you, your family, your pets, and the neighborhood at increased risks of negative health outcomes. See http://eartheasy.com/article_corn_gluten.htm for more info.
Don't use pesticides and herbicides on your lawn. Every time you do this you attack the natural ecology of your lawn. This creates a vicious cycle calling for ever more toxic doses of chemicals to resolve the problems caused by the initial use of toxic chemicals on your lawn's ecology.
Use vinegar to spot treat weed problems. Mix 5 parts white vinegar, 2 parts water, 1 part dish soap and apply with a hand pump sprayer. Only spray the weeds. Don't broadcast it over the lawn.
Lawn grubs? Use milky spore powder. It only impacts the grubs. It leaves beneficial organisms alone.
Don't send your dried leaves to the dump! Yard waste is an increasing problem at landfills. Shred your dried leaves in the fall. Use them for mulch in flower or vegetable gardens or around trees. Add them to compost piles. Make a special compost pile of only shredded leaves and next year mix it with your potting soil and your container plants will really love you. It is best to get a little aerobic exercise and hand rake your leaves. To shred, put them in a trash can and use a lawn trimmer to shred them (these are sometimes known as "string trimmers").
Control thatch buildup. The thatch layer (next to the soil) should be about a half inch. This is composed of the above-ground runners of the warm season grasses like Bermuda. If it gets much more than that, aerate the lawn. Rent a core aerator from a local business and run it over the yard once. See http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/how-to-aerate-a-lawn/index.html for more info.
More natural lawn care info:
Primer for Fall Natural Garden Tasks: http://www.safelawns.org/blog/index.php/2012/09/fall-lawn-tasks-heres-the-primer/
How to Compost: Scroll down at http://www.bettertimesinfo.org/26gardening.htm for info on how to compost.