Grow an Organic Lawn

James MerrellJames Merrell

Each year Americans use more than three million tons of synthetic fertilizer and 70 million pounds of pesticides in the quest for the perfect lawn. These chemicals may make your lawn look good initially, but they come with a hefty price. Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and founder of safelawns.org, wants to educate homeowners about the importance of going organic. "It's a matter of health and the environment," he says. While it can take a few years for the transition, the results are well worth the wait. Healthy organic soil soaks up nutrients and water like a sponge, making the grass growing in it less vulnerable to drought and disease--and less dependent on you.

Here are some ways that you can grow your own perfect, organic lawn:

1. The Way to Water
Water infrequently but deeply and in the early morning hours. Paul recommends letting the sprinkler run until the soil is moist six to seven inches down. Test a patch with a shovel. By giving your lawn a good soak about once a week, you encourage its root system to grow deeper. On the contrary, when you water superficially every day, the roots remain near the surface, making them more susceptible to disease and drought.

Conserve water by adding a rain sensor to your automatic sprinkler. Thanks to new technology, there are now weather-smart systems that receive information from local meteorology centers to optimize effectiveness and reduce waste.

Rain Bird's ET Manager weather-smart irrigation system; rainbird.com.


2. Grass Choices for Your Organic Lawn

Not all grasses are the same. Select the type of grass that is best suited to your climate and the conditions of your site.

COOL SEASON
These grasses thrive in temperatures from 50 to 80 degrees and will go dormant during winter. Try planting a blend of the seeds below in late summer to early fall for optimum results. Kentucky Bluegrass is one of the most common landscape grasses. A high-maintenance grass, it prefers well-drained, fertile soil. Perennial Rye Grass wears well and prefers full sun. It is quick to establish itself. Fescues are versatile, shade-tolerant, and drought-resistant grasses.

TRANSITIONAL
Select grasses that will withstand a variety of climate conditions. Little Bluestem is salt-tolerant and does best in sandy, well-drained soil. Buffalo Grass is almost maintenance-free. This gray-green foliage grass doesn't need a lot of water or fertilizer.

WARM SEASON

Look for varieties that can handle heat and drought. Centipede is a coarse grass that requires very little maintenance. It doesn't hold up to heavy foot traffic. Zoysia is drought-, shade-, and salt-tolerant. It is also more resistant to disease and insects.


3. How to Mow
Mow at the correct height. Most grasses are best kept at three to four inches long. "Never mow more than one-third of the grass blade at a time," says Paul. "And never mow in drought." This will put unnecessary stress on the lawn.

Use the mulching option on your mower. Mulching returns finely chopped grass clippings back to the lawn. It does not cause thatch. Clippings are high in nutrients and will reduce the need for additional fertilizer by 25 percent.

Each year Americans use more than 800 million gallons of gas to mow and trim lawns. Save 87 pounds of carbon dioxide annually--not to mention money at the pump--by replacing your gas mower with a reel or electric one.

To keep reading, go to Grown an Organic Lawn.


Related Links
How to Make Compost Tea
Organic Resource Restaurant Guide
How to Buy Local at the Grocery Store
Organic Coffee Options

Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.