4 Ways to Grow a Green Lawn Without Using Harsh Chemicals
A fortunate few are blessed with a green thumb that allows them to sense exactly what lawn care tips their green spaces need to maintain their vibrancy; others need to rely on guides, tips, tricks, and more for providing standard lawn care, much less chemical-free lawn care. The lawn care market offers some quick-fix weed killers and fertilizers, but they can contain chemicals that aren’t ideal for children, pets, or the environment. Providing standard lawn care is simple with these kinds of products, but lawn care without chemicals is another story—though not necessarily a difficult one, thanks to eco-friendly lawn care products, a trusty recipe for a natural weed-killer, and other green lawn care helpers.
“By following best practices, you can maximize the health of your lawn, which can drastically reduce or eliminate the need to even apply products,” says agronomist Bob Mann of The National Association of Landscape Professionals. (NALP’s online resource provides tips on establishing a new lawn, proper mowing and watering, and recommended fertilization and maintenance.)
“That being said, lawn care products do play an important role in enabling healthy lawns, which in turn, help protect our waterways, clean our air, as well as many other important environmental benefits,” he says.
To figure out the best path to lawn care that is free of chemicals, we asked gardening and landscaping pros for their advice on caring for your lawn in an eco-friendly way. Just remember: If your lawn care efforts don’t work out, there are always grass alternatives and clever landscape design ideas to disguise a less-than-stellar lawn.
Tend to Your Soil
Healthy grass grows best in healthy soil, so the optimal way to practice organic lawn care for a lush yard—without harsh chemicals—is to create a nutrient-rich, robust foundation.
“Aerate your lawn annually, top-dressing with a thin layer of fine compost,” says Savvy Gardening’s Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener. “If the lawn looks a bit thin, overseed with a high-quality seed mixture—thick grass leaves little room for weeds.” (You can learn how to compost for a homemade top-dressing.)
Choose the Right Grass
Nothing protects your green spaces better than the turf itself.
“The very best defense for lawns is to maintain healthy, vigorous turf, which shades the soil, making it difficult for weeds to grow,” Mann says. “A well-maintained lawn can withstand moderate infestations of insects or disease, often without our even noticing or needing to intervene.”
Jabbour recommends picking a turfgrass mixture suited to your climate that incorporates several different species like perennial ryegrass, fescues, and bluegrass. Your local garden store should be able to help you choose a mix based on your local climate. She also suggests mowing at the proper height.
“Too-short grass is stressed out and prone to insect and disease problems, while a longer grass is less susceptible to drought, especially in the summer,” she says. “When mowing, use a mulching mower that leaves clipping on the lawn. They’ll break down quickly and help improve the soil.”
When choosing a fertilizer, you can either go with natural fertilizers or synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers can be from natural sources, such as animal or plant by-products. Typically, they contain ingredients like bone meal, kelp meal, fish meal, and alfalfa meal, although it varies. They also contain carbon.
“Slow- or controlled-release fertilizers are a good option because they enable the plants to absorb more of the nutrients,” Mann says. Apply organic lawn food in spring and again in autumn. Jabbour also suggests using corn gluten meal to prevent weed seeds (which can fly in from neighboring grasses) from taking root in your lawn.
Read the Labels
Just as you would peruse the ingredients in your food, check what’s in a fertilizer or weed control before buying it.
“Some non-organic products contain synthetic pesticides, so look for words like ‘hazardous’ or ‘toxic’ on the product label—that would signal harmful ingredients,” Jabbour says.
Mann says that all pesticides are approved for use by federal and state regulators, but if you want to keep your green spaces clean, stick to the natural stuff. Again, though, experts agree that the very best method of maintaining a gorgeous lawn happens well before you even need to apply products, with proper care of the soil and grass. With the right organic lawn care regimen, deciding between synthetic and organic fertilizers or weed killers won’t be necessary at all.