There are three clear benefits that answer the question — why organic? Your lawn will be healthier, the environment will be healthier, and you will be healthier. On top of these, there’s the distinct possibility that you’ll save time or money — maybe both. This is a “maybe” that depends largely on how much time and money you’ve already been spending on your lawn, but the first three are certainties.
Your Lawn will be Healthier
Many lawns are “addicted” to massive infusions of fertilizers and to frequent watering. These common practices lead to lawns that are not able to defend themselves against pests, as well as lawns with shallow roots that are vulnerable to drought. A well-planned organic lawn has healthy soil and deep-rooted healthy grass able to withstand most local conditions and robust enough to crowd out weeds and to shrug off the occasional pest (see The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns).
The Environment will be Healthier
Your lawn may be small, but the cumulative impact of pesticide, fertilizer, and water use on all the lawns across North America is huge. If you don’t use chemicals on your lawn, they can’t run off and hurt the wild lands or water sources near you, nor can they harm you, your family, or your neighbors.
Yours may be one small yard, but your efforts to take care of it in an organic fashion — by growing native plants and grasses, watering properly, shunning industrial pesticides and fertilizer — will make a difference.
You’ll be Healthier
The stuff that’s toxic to earthworms and soil microbes is not recommended for humans, either. Organophosphates, the chemical compounds that are the basis for most modern insecticides, are neurotoxins designed to be lethal to living organisms, and they work on people as well as on insects. Some of the most common herbicides that make up the “weed” part of common “weed n’ feed” products can be dangerous as well. Even 2,4-D, the most widely used herbicide in the world, can cause serious skin irritation and permanent eye damage, and is often combined with other, more toxic herbicides or with unnamed inert ingredients that can be more dangerous than the ones listed on the label (see Unidentified Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Implications for Human and Environmental Health – PDF). More on this in the section on Pesticides and Health.
You’ll (probably) Save Time and/or Money
If your lawn care is confined to mowing once a week during spring and summer, then going organic isn’t going to save you time, but then neither will anything else except perhaps replacing the lawn with something that doesn’t require mowing. So if you hire out fertilizing and weed control, and if you have an automatic sprinkling system that takes care of the watering, you’ve already got this one covered.
However, if you handle any of these tasks yourself, then organic lawn care may indeed save you both time and money. Not at first, perhaps, but over the long-term, because instead of battling nature, you’ll be working with her. (More important, she’ll be working with you.) For instance, most synthetic insecticides kill off not just problem insects but beneficial ones too, so if you do get some unwelcome visitors, you are on your own. In addition, the petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides used most commonly can harm earthworms as well as the myriad of micro-organisms that keep soil and all that grows in it healthy (see Pesticide Effects on Nontarget Organisms). Homeowners must therefore spend time and money replacing the nutrients lost and repairing the soil damaged by these products.
With organics, you will have natural allies that will often fight your battles for you, so you will need fewer herbicides and pesticides. Ladybugs and lacewings will eat all kinds of troublesome insects, but not if your yard is a toxic zone for all insects. Many beetles and other lawn pests can be controlled with diatomaceous earth or Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), a bacterial agent that will take out many garden pests but doesn’t harm earthworms or the helpful insects mentioned above. (Some forms are effective against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.) If you switch to a regionally appropriate grass, you’re likely to use less water and fertilizer, as well. This is very much a “results may differ” sort of situation, but for some people at least, organic care is easier than synthetic. For just about everyone, it is easier than they thought it would be.