Eco Lawn – How to Have a Beautiful Lawn Without Toxic Chemicals

Organic lawn care is all about the soil. If you concentrate on protecting, and improving your soil you will be creating a foundation for a healthy natural lawn.

 

eco lawn

Eco-Lawn Grass Seed Mix

I have discovered a low maintenance lawn seed product trade marked ‘Eco-Lawn’ created by Wildflower Farm. I just bought a bag from my favorite garden center Pemberton Gardens in Cambridge, Ma, and will start experimenting with it this season. I’ll keep you posted here! http://www.wildflowerfarm.com

Tips for Maintaining an Eco Friendly Organic Lawn (Eco Lawn) in Zones 5-6

New England has weather that is colder than that of many regions in North America. Therefore, special care applies to maintaining a healthy lawn and plants in an eco friendly, organic fashion. It’s not hard, though, once you learn what works in your hardiness zone.

A hardiness zone is based upon the lowest temperature expected each year in a region. The lower the number is, the colder the region will be in the winter. For example, hardiness zone 10 will only get down to 30 or 40 degrees F., while hardiness zone 2 will get as cold as 50 degrees below zero — a temperature only Santa could love.

New England is in hardiness zones 5 and 6, which means the region will range from 0 to 20 degrees below zero during the cool season. This zone extends across the middle of the United States, and it includes a region that spans south from Michigan to Tennessee, and it moves westward to include parts of Nebraska south to northern Oklahoma, southern Wyoming to northern Arizona, and the Washington/Canada border south into Northern California and Nevada.

Cool Weather Grasses For Zones 5-6

Emission-free Organic Lawn Care Tools

Tools that are not powered by fossil fuels reduce pollution. Gas mowers emit toxins that living creatures breath. And fossil fuels are not a renewable source of energy. Also, gasoline engines are noisy, and while that may not bother you, it may bother someone else.

Other lawn care tools that are gas powered include hedge trimmers, sidewalk edgers and leaf blowers. All of these have electric versions that are just as effective. They do not emit pollutants, they are not as noisy as their counterparts are, and the energy costs a fraction of what gas costs.

If you really want to conserve energy, use only manual tools. Back in the days when you had to walk to the TV to change the channel, there were mowers that were not powered by gas—you had to push them to turn the blades that cut the grass.

Manufacturers make push mowers even better and easier to use today. They don’t require money for gas, oil, air filters and spark plugs, and you can get a little more exercise while grooming your yard. Try a Brill brand push mower. Brill mowers have super sharp blades and make mowing your lawn a joy!

For lawn maintenance there are electric blowers, clippers, edgers, and trimmers, too, but if you really want to go natural, all you need in addition to the mower is a broom, a rake and some hand-operated grass clippers.

Before discussing how to have an organic lawn, please read this great post by Lakis Polycarpou in Columbia University’s Earth Institute State of the Planet Blog. It will remind you just how important it is for us to begin phasing out chemical lawns and eventually lawns completely.

The Problem with Lawns

The Chemical-free Organic Lawn – another name for Eco Lawn!

Organic gardening and lawn care is all about the soil. If you concentrate on feeding, protecting, and improving your soil you will be creating a foundation for healthy garden plants and lawn grasses. It works in that order. Nurture the soil and the soil will nurture your plants. Dealing with this is easy once you lose the mindset that chemicals work best. Using harmful chemicals and pollutants that enter the air and the water table also cost money that you don’t necessarily need to spend.

Eco Lawn

Healthy Eco Lawn for Pets

Another important aspect of an environmentally friendly lawn is water conservation. Lawns in America use between 30 -60 percent of urban fresh water! How wasteful is that? Municipalities are getting smarter about this and starting to severely regulate lawn watering in the summer. Time to change to an eco lawn now rather than later!

The most natural thing you can use to fertilize and mulch your lawn while controlling weeds and insects is the clippings from the lawn itself. You can let them drop on the lawn and easily and naturally provide nutrition and moisture retention, or use the grass clippings to make compost.

Composting is easy and only requires a few steps. Do more research before starting, but it is basically as easy as putting clippings, trimmings, rakings and plant based kitchen scraps into a compost heap. You keep it damp but not soggy, and you turn it occasionally. When the matter is decomposed, you feed it to your grass and plants. Learning how to make a compost heap or composter is just a search engine click away.

Compost works to improve soil because it stimulates beneficial microbes and microorganisms in the soil. These tiny soil dwellers fight off bad bacteria that can cause lawn disease such as fungus. Microorganisms and enzymes stimulate the growth of the grass. Healthy grass is more resistant to disease and insects, and it is better able to choke out weeds.

Other good natural fertilizers are covered in the seasonal preparations outlined below.

Organically Preparing Your Lawn for the Growing Season

April

As the cool season passes and the warm season approaches, you should prepare your lawn for the coming months. The first step is in early April. When the forsythia unveils its bright yellow flowers this is the time to apply your pre-emergent weed killer, which in this case will be corn gluten.

Corn gluten meal is a natural herbicide that inhibits the growth of roots on germinating seeds. It is not harmful to established plants, but if planting new grass seed, wait three weeks after applying corn gluten before spreading grass seed. Too much corn gluten may cause thatch because it contains nitrogen and nitrogen makes the grass grow super fast, so only use it at a ratio of 20 pounds per 1000 square feet.

Corn gluten meal is a good natural fertilizer for established vegetation because it is high in nitrogen. It keeps grass green for three to four months. Do not purchase corn gluten feed or distiller’s grain; they are not the same thing. It should be labeled as an organic pre-emergent herbicide and be found in garden centers and possibly some hardware stores.

April is also the time to feed your lawn. Compost is best, so if you make your own, start making it in advance. You can also purchase it at a lawn and garden center that carries organic lawn care supplies.

Compost provides the grass with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (also called the N-P-K ratio, as well as important trace elements not found in most commercially prepared fertilizers. It should have a fine texture so you can rake it evenly over the yard at about 1/4 inch thick. After applied, it should not be applied so thickly that it hides the grass.

Add compost up to three times per year. As an alternative to regular old compost, you can apply a liquid compost tea. Water the grass as usual after apply either one of these eco-friendly fertilizers, but wait a week or more before mowing.

It is not always easy to find, but organic granular fertilizer is also good for your grass. You can find it most often in a 4-2-3 formula. The 4-2-3 displays the nitrogen, phosphorus and potash levels. Potash is water-soluble potassium. Examples of this product include Epsoma fertilizers, Medina Organic Granular and Avenger Organics Granular fertilizers. However, for best results, try to find a ratio of 10-10-10. Organicare Pure Granular Grow Formula comes closest to this ideal balanced N-P-K ratio at 6-6-5.

April is also the time for over-seeding thin spots or patch seeding bare spots on your lawn. Keeping the grass thick will help to choke out weeds. On the other hand, if the grass is too thick, it may develop thatch. To avoid thatch, rake out some of it with a wire rake and then aerate the lawn.

Lawn Aeration

Healthy microorganisms and worms help to keep a lawn naturally aerated by breaking up compacted soil and eating organic matter that falls on the lawn.

A well-aerated lawn will have better penetration and accessibility of water and nutrients. A lawn on compacted soil will resist water and nutrient penetration. Some lawns may need extra help with breaking up compaction especially if you are transitioning from a chemical lawn to an organic lawn, or if your lawn was sodded originally.

Plug Aeration versus Spike Aeration

The least expensive and most environmentally friendly way to aerate is manually using a plug-aerating tool. It will be the size of a spade and have 2-3 pluggers at the bottom and a bar for you to step on. Move across the lawn plugging every 10-12 inches. The plugs are about the size of goose poops, or those of small dogs. You may have seen them on the golf course. Leave the plugs to decompose naturally. They will break down quickly as long as the lawn is receiving water. For big lawns consider hiring a contractor to do it with a tractor pulling a rolling plugger, like they use on golf courses.

Don’t’ use spike aerators, they only further compact your soil since they don’t remove a plug; they just force a hole into the soil. I know there are those nifty spike sandals you can strap on your shoes and walk about on the lawn, but these are not the correct way to aerate your lawn.

Aerate before you add the compost. You will want to plug aerate at least once a year until your organic lawn becomes self-maintaining. Then once every two or three years should suffice. A sodded lawn is thicker and was originally installed with a clay base (which makes it easy to harvest the sod and roll it up) and usually needs annual or bi-annual plugging until it becomes un-compacted.

Organic Lawn Maintenance for Late Spring, Summer, and Early Autumn

Soon after you do the April work and your lawn is being watered consistently (hopefully by spring rains) your lawn should be beautiful and thriving. During the summer all you will need to do is keep it properly cut, watered and weed free. Still a lot of work compared to a low maintenance bed of perennial groundcover plantings . . .

Watering your Eco Lawn

Many people make three mistakes when watering their lawns: they water too often, too lightly, and at the wrong time of the day. One watering method will solve all three problems, but first, let’s address these issues one at a time.

Although lawn and irrigation companies like to set your lawn sprinklers to go off each and every morning for 5 minutes or so, this method is not conducive for an eco lawn. The only exception is if you have a newly seeded or sodded lawn, and it is crucial that the soil stay evenly moist, not wet, for at least three weeks for seeded lawns, and possibly longer for sodded lawns. It takes up to three weeks for Kentucky bluegrass seed to germinate, and at least three weeks for new sod to establish roots in your soil.

Watering too lightly and too often means you are only wetting the first inch or two of the soil, and the sun dries that out quickly. Under watering like this causes the grass to grow shallow roots, which promotes disease and weak plants that dry out at as soon as the water is missing. Watering deeper produces deeper roots that are able to search for water further down in the soil. Your grass will be tougher and less water if you apply one inch of water once a week.

Watering at the wrong time of day is another problem. Water drops in the middle of the day magnify the sun and burn your grass and lawn plants. Watering in the evening causes pooling and stays on the grass blades all night long often leading to fungus or mildew growth. The best time to water is early in the morning. This gives the water time to soak in before the sun is too hot, and it allows the soil and grass blades to dry during the day and helps to keep the grass and soil free of disease.

Perhaps you have seen your local golf course watering their greens in the evening. That timing is fine for them for several reasons. One reason is that golf greens tend to be mostly out in the open where they can dry faster. The other reasons are not horticultural really; the golf course doesn’t want the greens to be wet when those early bird golfers come out at 6 in the morning. And unfortunately most golf courses are maintained with lots of chemicals including fungicides that prevent mildew and fungus from growing.

The best way to water an established lawn is an inch once a week. It is healthier for the lawn and good for water conservation. To avoid fungus and mildew, always try and wait until the lawn is completely dry before mowing.

Mowing

You can also save water and prevent weeds and disease by mowing properly. Taller grass holds more water, thus requires less watering. Cutting grass to an inch or less is not eco-friendly. You should not mow your grass to less than two inches, and three or four is better. This also keeps weeds out because they cannot get any sunlight to help them flourish.

The more often you mow, the shorter the clippings will be. You can leave short clippings on the lawn to put nutrients back into the soil. However, collect long clippings so they don’t accumulate and cause thatch. Hint: they make good compost when balanced properly with dry, brown organic matter like dry leaves, twigs, and hay for example.

Feeding the Eco Friendly Lawn

Compost is always a good fertilizer for your organic lawn, but you should also feed it liquid seaweed or a combination of seaweed and fish emulsion during the growing season. This provides micronutrients that help aerate the soil, retain moisture and stimulate grass roots. Neptune Harvest Organic Fish/Seaweed Blend Fertilizer is one such product. You can easily apply the organic fertilizer with a pump sprayer.

Weeding Your Eco Lawn

Eco Lawn

How About a Dandelion Lawn?

When it comes to weeds, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. White Clover is actually a very important part of an eco lawn and should not be removed. It has a symbiotic relationship with grass plants in the natural world and you will find it growing along with native grass in natural grasslands throughout North America and New Zealand. Clover holds nitrogen in its roots that naturally feeds the grass. Although White Clover, aka Dutch clover is labeled a lawn weed by chemical herbicide companies, it is not a lawn weed.

Violets are another beneficial and attractive plant with small leaves that can co-exist with lawn grasses. And violets look really lovely and pastoral in the spring lawn. An eco lawn is not a monoculture. Grasses and forbs (broadleaf plants) grow naturally in nature. It’s better to leave them in the lawn, and leave wildlife-threatening herbicides in the bottle. Weed-killing chemicals also get into the water supply and are a threat to all living things.

Weeds that don’t look so great in the lawn can be prevented using corn gluten, or weeded out by hand using a soil knife and weeding tool. Do not just mow these bigger unsightly weeds if you really don’t want them in your lawn. Mowing them down eventually spreads their seeds all over your lawn, and you will soon have a lot more of them. Pull weeds by hand being careful to remove the entire root.

Fall Lawn Care for Zones 5 and 6

Mid – Late September

With the exception of aerating, do in the fall what you did in the spring. There is no reason to aerate again in the fall unless your lawn is seriously compacted. If so, plug it again. Control weeds so they don’t take over during the cool season. Planting rye grass in the fall helps to keep them from growing in the fall and early spring, and provides a beautiful yard.

This organic lawn seasonal to-do list may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not. None of it takes a particularly long time, and you can do most of it in a few hours here and there. Less than a day or two of work periodically will keep you in step with your gardening.

Welcome to my website!

Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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