Growing a Natural Lawn
Homeowners choose to maintain an organic or natural lawn for different reasons. For some, it is a commitment to the environment — pesticides and herbicides used in traditional lawn care leach into the water table contaminating it for people, animals and plants.
Others are concerned with how pesticides and herbicides affect the pets and kids that play on their lawns. And some people just don’t want to handle chemicals designed to kill living things.
There’s also the cost — both in time and money. Lawn chemicals can get expensive, and who wants to spend every weekend mowing the lawn? Natural lawns tend to require less mowing, which means more leisure time for you!
Whatever your reason, natural lawn care is easiest if you take the time to create a healthy environment that grasses thrive in.
Many people already have a lawn they are working with, but if you don’t, spend some time thinking about what type of grass will best suit your needs. Take a trip outside and ask yourself these questions:
- How much active use does the lawn get?
- How much sun exposure is there? Is it different in various parts of the yard?
- How much water do I want to use?
- What aesthetic am I looking for?
- What kind of winter color do I want?
Native species of grass often produce the healthiest and lowest maintenance lawns. Why go native?
- Native grasses need minimal attention.
- Less soil amendments are required.
- Less water is used.
- Native grasses require less time from you.
- Because these grasses are adapted to your area, they tend to be hardier.
Consider planting a diverse array of cultivars rather than one or two. This way your lawn will be more able to withstand difficult environmental conditions.
When it is time to mow the lawn, the height you cut each blade impacts its future growth.
- Plants that are mowed too short become stressed.
- A short mowing height inhibits deep root growth, which means you’ll need to water more.
- If grass is too short, there is less of it to shade the soil, leading to more rapid moisture loss.
- If grass is left too tall the excess grass clippings (when you do mow it) can smother the turf.
So what’s the perfect mowing height? Check out the table below to find out.
|Kentucky Bluegrass||1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″|
|Rye Grass||1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″|
|Fescue||1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″|
|Tall Fescue||1 1/2″ to 3″|
|Bermuda||1/2″ to 1″|
|St. Augustine||1″ to 3″|
|Bentgrass||1/4″ to 3/4″|
|Centipede Grass||1″ to 2″|
|Zoysia||1/2″ to 1″|
|Buffalo Grass||2 to 3 inches, or leave it completely unmowed|
By leaving the grass clippings on the lawn — or grasscycling — you can help the plants take care of themselves. Make sure to disperse them evenly (use a rake to spread them around) then be prepared for a greener and hardier lawn.
How grasscycling improves turf:
- Helps prevent common lawn diseases
- Reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizer
- Provides about 2 lbs of nitrogen/1,000 square feet of lawn/year
- Reduces the amount of watering needed
- No more throwing away grass clippings!
Gas powered lawn mowers spew a lot of junk into the air. According to the EPA, the replacement of every 500 gas mowers with non-motorized reel mowers would spare the air:
- 212 pounds of hydrocarbons (smog ingredient)
- 1.7 pounds of nitrogen oxide (smog ingredient)
- 5.6 pounds of irritating particles
- 1,724 pounds of carbon dioxide
Reel mowers produce no pollution, give the user a little exercise and leave lawn clippings on the ground for grasscycling. Best of all, they don’t cost much. Even a top-of-the-line push mower, like the Scotts Reel Mower, will only set you back $200 or less, about where gas-powered mowers start in price.
The goals of watering are to keep the lawn alive and looking good. To do that, you want to make sure the grass is absorbing as much of the water as possible.
- Water infrequently, but thoroughly (soak to a depth of 8-10 inches). This will create deeper roots and minimize water loss.
- Water early — while it is still cool — to minimize the loss of water to evaporation. By watering in the morning, the lawn will have time to dry out during the day, thus preventing mildew and other diseases.
When to water more often:
- If you have clay soils you’ll need to water more often, but less thoroughly since they don’t drain well and the soil may become waterlogged.
- Sandy soils don’t hold water well and will need more frequent waterings (add compost or humus to the soil to increase water holding capacity).
- All landscapes need more water in the first three years as they are developing their root systems.
First, find out what your soil needs.
- Take a sample (with a clean tool) of the first five or six inches of your soil.
- Send it to a soil lab for testing. Call the local extension service if you need help locating a soil lab.
Inorganic fertilizers are salt based. These salts can cause a build up of nitrates and an imbalance in the pH of your soil. Additionally, they are known to destroy microorganisms that benefit the soil and the plants that grow in it.
If you find your lawn needs fertilizing try an organic turf fertilizer that benefits both the soil and the lawn.
Aeration and De-Thatching
In a healthy soil, microbes, earthworms and microorganisms break down organic materials and aerate the soil for you. So, take a break, and let the critters work for you.
If your yard is new to natural care, you may need to use a lawn aerating tool, which will help reduce soil compaction and thatch to allow water, air, and fertilizer to penetrate the root zone. Robust roots are imperative for a healthy lawn.
Tip: A 1/2 inch layer of organic compost spread over established lawns can also be used to help reduce compaction and improve soil conditions.
The most important step in pest management is maintaining healthy soil — that way your lawn will thrive and be less open to attack by weeds and insects. If you’ve followed all the other tips on this page and still have a pest problem, keep reading.
It is unrealistic to expect that you will not have any weeds at all, but it is possible to keep them under control by following the tips below.
- Plant a diverse crop of turf grasses. If a situation comes up that one or two cultivars cannot tolerate, weeds will begin to overrun the lawn. However, with a more varied array of grasses there is likely to be a species or two that can overcome any adverse conditions.
- Try the age-old practice of hand weeding. It can be time consuming, but with the right tool it’s not too bad. Then, plant grass seeds in the holes left by the removed weeds.
- Lawns that are cut high will overshadow many weeds.
- Corn gluten meal can be applied as a pre-emergent weed killer. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass and many other annual weeds.
- Plant pests usually show up when there is too much pesticide residue and not enough organic material and oxygen in the soil causing healthy bacteria to die. Remedy this by adding compost and liquid seaweed extract.
- Again, naturally grown lawns are less likely to have insect problems, but if you have lawn grubs, webworms or some other lawn pests you should consider organic solutions for pest control. If all else fails, plant tall fescue, which is resistant to grubs.
- Some insects can be killed with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water.
- Hang a birdfeeder nearby to utilize avian bug control.