Want a beautiful, green, healthy organic lawn? Then here are twelve ways to achieve just that…
Do A Soil Test
Before you do anything, test your soil. You can buy a DIY kit at your local garden store or from this page on Amazon, or you can call your local Cooperative Extension office. The test results will tell you the pH of your soil, along with your levels of Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K) and Phosphorus (P). Once you know what you’re working with, you can make an informed decision about what type of organic fertilizers you’ll be using on your lawn.
You can help your lawn and the environment by starting your own compost system at home. There are several ways to set it up, and with a little research you can find the best method for you. You can put food scraps, garden waste, lawn trimmings and so much more (see 35 Unexpected Things to Add to Your Compost Pile) in your pile. Once the compost is ready it can be mixed in with your native soil or used to make compost tea. If you don’t have the space or the energy to make your own, buy compost that was produced locally.
Plant Native Grasses
Though many of them look similar, different varieties of grass are just that, different. They grow differently and require different levels of sun, water and soil nutrients. And like most plants they are best suited to their native environment. Once native grass is established it will need less watering, mulching, protection from frost, and mowing than introduced varieties.
Try an Alternative Ground Cover
In tight spaces, those with a lot of foot (or tire) traffic, less than awesome soil quality or a serious lack of sunshine – it’s often hard to grow healthy grass. If you have a spot like this on your property, you may want to consider other methods of ground cover, like creeping vines and succulents. Many of these plants need less watering and maintenance than traditional lawns, and visitors will be less likely to walk all over this type of ground cover. If you visit a nursery in your area you can find ground covering plants that like sun or shade, sandy or rocky soil, or even some that can go months without watering.
Pick the Right Fertilizers & Soil Amendments
In addition to compost, your organic lawn might need other nutrients (as determined by your soil test). Always use organic fertilizers, and if you can find one that was made locally that’s even better. Lawns generally prefer fertilizers lower in nitrogen.
Below are some common soil amendments that might be helpful in your lawn or garden:
Builder’s sand is natural, large grain sand that is great for soil with drainage problems.
Humus is decayed, organic matter that adds fertility, holds moisture and provides aeration
Limestone lowers soil acidity
Sphagnum Peat Moss can lighten heavy, clay soils and add mass to sandy soils, which keeps the existing nutrients in.
Kelp Meal contains over 70 vitamins and minerals beneficial to plants and helps beneficial micro-organisms to thrive
Earthworm Castings repel pests that feed on plant juices, like aphids and spider mites. They also get rid of any remnants of heavy metals from organic waste and can be used to protect plants from pH levels that are too high OR too low.
Bat Guano can hold together loose soil AND make dense soil longer. It contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium along with several micronutrients that benefit your soil and lawn.
…But Don’t Overdo It
Once you start learning about all the amazing organic soil amendments that will support your luscious new lawn, you may be tempted to add a lot of them, often. However, too much fertilizer can be more harmful than too little – especially if you’ve gone with native grass. Over-fertilizing can make grass grow too fast, and it will be more susceptible to disease and bugs. Fertilize just once a year, in October if you live in the north and November if you live down south.
Avoid All Poisons
An organic lawn can’t be organic if you use any pesticides or weed killer. Even the so-called ‘organic herbicides’ aren’t good for your grass and can damage plants growing nearby. If you plant local grass and shrubs and use organic fertilizers, the natural eco-system you’ve created will likely not need these dangerous poisons anyway.
Don’t Mow too Short, or too often
Your lawn will be healthiest when you let it grow. Set your mower blades to about 4” (or the highest setting) and only mow when rain is expected in the next few days. Grass that is allowed to grow naturally has stronger roots and absorbs more nutrients; longer periods without mowing will also help grass spread into any bare spots.
Water well, but only when needed
Moist soil encourages the roots of your lawn to grow deep and strong. When your soil seems moist after a brief watering, it’s actually dry underneath and the roots can’t dig down into the soil. It’s much better to run the sprinklers for an hour once a week, than for 15 minutes every day. If having a lawn that is green year round isn’t so important to you, or you live in an area that is prone to drought, you can let your grass go brown in the summer without damaging it. Even if it looks dead in the hottest times of the year, it will come back lush and green in the spring – think about how brown natural prairie looks during August, the same rules apply to the grass in your backyard.
Don’t Freak Out over Good Bugs
An organic lawn won’t, and shouldn’t be, bug free. Products designed to kill all the bugs in your lawn can also be dangerous for your lawn, pets and children. Some creepy-crawlers are very good for your lawn. Earthworms are a sign of healthy soil. Spiders, ladybugs, wasps and beetles eat the insects that are actually doing damage to your plants. Insects and other bugs are a sign of a healthy eco-system.
Aerate your lawn for natural healing
Like all living things, your lawn needs to eat, drink and breathe. Once you have a healthy, organic lawn going, including natural fertilizers and lots of earthworms, your lawn will breathe all by itself. If you’re just starting out and want to help your lawn heal itself, you can rent a core aerator from a local equipment rental store and get it done in no time. Just like fertilizing, fall is the best time to aerate your grass.
If you have concerns about insects and other bugs in your grass, you can take some steps to attract one of the best exterminators around – birds. Planting native shrubs, vines and trees will bring them in, and create a bit more diversity in your mini-eco-system (which will help eliminate pests). Hanging feeders filled with seeds, or growing your own birdseed, will also attract finches, sparrows, wrens and other insect loving birds.