HAT Tips for A Healthy, Happy Organic Lawn
Many homeowners believe that lawns require chemicals to survive – but this simply is not true! A traditional lawn can be lush, and pest and disease resistant, without chemicals.
Why organic lawn care? By making a few easy changes in how you take care of your yard, you can:
• save time through less raking and bagging;
• save money on water, waste disposal, and chemicals; and,
• save the environment by conserving water and protecting habitats, and ourselves, from potentially harmful chemicals.
Chemical lawn care focuses on feeding the grass. Organic lawn care’s guiding principle is nourish the soil. By restoring and protecting soil health, organic lawn care gives you a healthy lawn that is naturally resistant to weeds, diseases, and pests. It’s all about building vigorous, healthy grasses that crowd out weeds. Creating fertile soil and naturally resistant grass takes some time, but it is well worth the wait.
General Organic Lawn Care Strategies:
Air! Give me air!
Aerate your lawn in early spring. Removing small plugs of earth from the top soil layer reduces compaction and allows water and air to infiltrate, which helps your lawn develop roots. Use a rented mechanical aerator for best results, or hire a professional. The soil should be moist, and making 2 or more passes gives better results. Rake or mow to break up the cores - the soil left will help to decompose excess thatch layers in the lawn. Earthworms are fantastic aerators, and they do it for free. Attract and protect earthworms by top-dressing with finished compost, and by avoiding chemicals.
Tolerate some weeds
Over time, a healthy organic lawn will crowd out most weeds and become resistant to insect problems. Welcome birds and beneficial insects (e.g. ladybugs, spiders, dragonflies). A small and stable pest population is part of a healthy lawn, and is hardly noticeable. In fact, many plants we now consider ‘weeds’ were added to lawns for a reason – for example clover, which fixes nitrogen and improves the soil, and health of the lawn.
Crowd out or pull weeds
Weeding manually is a great way to ensure you extract the full taproot of hardy weeds such as dandelions; and wrenching out weeds can also be therapeutic! To kill an established dandelion, you have to remove at least 4 to 5 inches of the root. You can use a sharp trowel or knife to do the job, or one of those nifty weed-extraction tools. Keeping your grass a bit longer also helps to crowd out weeds – by having your grass at least 2.5 inches high, you will shade many dandelion and other weed seeds so they won't sprout.
Drop those clippings!
Leave grass clippings where they fall. They are free, convenient fertilizer, providing half of your lawn's nitrogen needs. And, they provide moisture and shade to your soil, helping the soil hold moisture and reducing your need to water. This natural mulch also keeps important beneficial microbes in the soil active and well-nourished.
Feed the Soil
Apply compost once or twice throughout the growing season (top-dressing). Finished compost provides nutrients to the soil, and also adds critical micro-organisms. Simply fan the compost onto the yard with a shovel and rake it out evenly.
Many people fertilize their lawn too much, too often. That makes the grass susceptible to disease. And, it makes the lawn grow faster, so you have to mow more often. Spread a quarter-inch layer of compost on the lawn. For many lawns, a layer of compost once or twice is enough fertilizing for the year, especially if you leave your grass clippings as mulch.
Feed right, when you do
Over-seed once a year to build dense turf that crowds out weeds like dandelions. Choose hardy, pest-resistant grass species (native, drought-tolerant species are best!). Plant early to allow time to germinate before the hot, dry summer, and keep seeded areas moist until grass is well-established. Remember to over-seed with multiple grass types to create a resilient lawn.
Leave the grass no shorter than 2.5 to 3 inches tall. Short grass doesn't compete well with weeds, has less surface area for taking in sunlight, and has weak roots. Longer grass = deeper roots = less watering! And tall grass looks thicker. Just be sure you never cut off more than a third of the grass blades at any one time, or your lawn will go into shock!
Dull lawn mower blades tear at grass, giving it a frayed look and making it more susceptible to disease. Sharpen the blade now to assure a neat, clean cut.
Drop that hose!
Water wisely! Frequent watering promotes shallow roots. Brown is best – let your lawn go dormant over the summer – don’t worry, the green will return with the fall rains. If you must water, give the lawn one good soaking per week. Even better, harvest rainwater to use for watering. Check with CRD Water about watering restrictions in your area.
Cover the bare spots
After you remove a dandelion or other weed, immediately sow grass seed onto bare spots to discourage other weeds from moving in. Rough up the soil with a rake, broadcast the seed, and cover it with sifted compost or topsoil. Keep the area moist until the grass sprouts. Best is to use a mix of grass species to make your lawn more resistant to disease and pests.
Push mowers are an excellent way to mulch your grass clippings. They also conserve power, reduce air and noise pollution, and provide great exercise. If you’re buying a new mower, consider a push mower, or an electric mulching mower, which is designed to cut grass into finer clippings that spread easily and break down into nutrients faster.
Take pride in having a lawn that is chemical-free, healthier for your family and the environment. An organic lawn takes less time, less maintenance, and less stress than a lawn addicted to chemicals. Through organic lawn care, you are demonstrating to neighbours that there are alternatives to chemical lawn care, and to the conventional lawn.