Organic Lawn Care Basics: It's Easier Than You Think Organic Lawn Care Basics: It's Easier Than You Think

An organic lawn can be just as striking, full and healthy as any lawn treated with commercial chemicals and fertilizers. Going ‘green’ and using organics for fertilizing and pest control creates a healthier environment for everyone enjoying your yard space. Yourself, guests, pets and especially your children will be healthier for not having had constant contact with potentially harmful chemicals and poisons applied to your organic lawn.

Keeping a lush, full, beautifully green organic lawn does not necessarily require any more effort than keeping a lawn using commercial pesticides and fertilizers, but it does require a little education on your part. Read up on ‘green’, environmentally friendly and organic landscaping practices. Learn what it is that will make your plants and grasses survive. Gain a basic understanding of the biology involved in organic lawn care, and you will find keeping a healthy, green lawn is as easy with organics as with any other materials.

Pests and weeds are the two major road blocks to growing a green and healthy lawn whether you are using chemical amendments or treating your lawn organically. The difficulty involved in dealing with these issues is often the reason people resist organic landscaping techniques. Often, the prevailing thought is that if these harsh chemicals and poisons cannot control weed, disease and insect invaders, there is no way an organic treatment can. What people fail to realize is that often it is the very methods employed to make a lawn full of chemicals survive that is causing it to fail by creating an environment that is friendly to invaders and weeds while failing to enhance the natural defenses of growing grasses.

"An ounce of prevention," as the old adage goes. Think of organic lawn care as a competition between the grass you want to flourish and the weeds and insects you hope to prevent. When your lawn is not adequately prepared for grass to grow strong, an ideal situation arises for the growth of weeds and disease.

Soil Depth

Grass roots are unable grow deeply in poor or shallow soil. Weeds thrive closer to the surface of soils than grass. If the soil in your lawn is less than four inches deep, grass roots cannot penetrate the deep ground to establish deep feeding roots. Four inches of soil is an absolute minimum for great growing organic grass. Eight inches (or even more) is preferred. Without deep soil, grass will dry out quickly and die off easily. When this happens, weeds have free reign over the area. Weed seeds germinate quickly and easily without the grass to compete for water and shade dropped seeds from the sun. As most weeds grow more towards the top of the soil anyway, it is of no consequence to them if they cannot send out deep roots.

Mow Grass High

Mowing grass at a height of three inches is quite possibly the best thing you can do for an organic lawn (or any other lawn, for that matter). If you were to choose only one lawn practice to adhere to, mowing grass higher than average is the one to choose. Short shorn grass is under a constant state of stress. Grass cut low dries out quickly and uses precious energy trying to regrow what it has lost. Keeping grass long retains more surface area for food production, making stronger plants more capable of growing strong roots. Grass plants that are not wasting their stores of food and energy trying to regrow surfaces lost to short shearing retain these stores and expend their energy in producing new rhizomes (baby grass plants) instead, thereby growing a thicker, more lush lawn.

It is often thought that cutting grass short will reduce the need for frequent mowing. The opposite is true (again, biology). Short cut grass quickly tries to regrow lost surface area for the crucial job of photosynthesizing and making food. Grass that is cut at a longer length (three inches) does not try to make back what it has lost at such an alarming rate, effectively reducing the rate of growth and thereby the need for frequent cutting.

Properly cut grass is its own form of weed control. Taller grass chokes out competing weeds by shading weed seeds and young plants, depriving seedlings of sunlight necessary for growth. Without the invading weeds for competition, grass thrives and the cycle of success over weeds goes on and on.

Water Less Frequently

In gardening and landscaping, the tendency is to water, water, water. We all figure everything needs water to grow, and the more we give it, the less it has to stress itself by looking for it, particularly in hot weather. Again, the reverse is true. Watering lawns less frequently encourages root growth. Grass must send roots down deep into the ground to find an adequate supply of water.

Most weeds, on the otrher hand, look for water closer to the surface of the soil. The majority of weeds rely on a shallow water supply. When the water is more than two or three inches below the surface, weeds will dry up and die out. This is where grass benefits from a deep root system. Deep roots continue to supply the plants with water, and continue to thrive and multiply when shallow rooted plants are dying, making the use of herbicides unnecessary on your organic lawn. Grass with a deep root system dries out less frequently. The plants are well anchored in the soil, resisting being easily disturbed and torn up. Additionally, the grass is trained to be more tolerant of periods of heat and drought.

Infrequent watering of your organic lawn eliminates thatch, too. Thatch is grass reproducing on the surface of the soil in the runner fashion of strawberry plants rather than sending roots down to grow new rhizomes. The result is a thick matting of dry grass throughout your lawn. When this occurs, grass is unable to grow up through the mat and weeds will take over your organic lawn, as there is no healthy grass growth to compete for light and water.

Infrequent watering does not mean never watering; it simply means strategically plan to water when the grass begins to curl and wilt. Do not wait until your organic grass is drying out, as this causes unnecessary stress and the plants may be too far gone to recover. Watering with limited frequency is meant as a means of training your organic lawn to grow optimally, giving your plants all the advantages over weeds and pests. Remember, intruders such as insects, grubs, mushrooms, molds and mosses need water to thrive.

Test pH and Fertilize

Grass prefers a soil pH of about 6.5. Most weeds thrive in soil with higher or lower pH, so if your lawn is growing an abundance of dandelions, clover or other invaders, chances are your organic soil pH is not at an optimal level to support grass growth and weeds are poised to take over. Correcting the pH of your soil with compost, lime or other organic amendments will give your grass the ideal environment for growth, while choking off that which makes the weeds thrive.

Testing your organic lawn soil with a home pH test kit or by sending a sample to a lab or your county extension service (contact a local state University) determines the levels of acidity and soil components. Tests will reveal if lime is needed to reduce acidity, or if the levels of nitrogen or acidity should be raised. Once you have determined what your soil does or does not have, amend the soil with organic fertilizers and/or compost. Amending organic lawn soil in the Spring prepares for the growing season ahead, while a Fall application replaces what was lost and boosts the grass before its dormancy. The soil in an organic lawn will be better prepared for the Spring when amended in the Fall as well. In addition to replacing nutrients lost to plant growth, organic soil amendments improve the texture and composition of your soil, creating an ideal environment for the organic lawn and inviting beneficial critters such as earthworms into your yard.

Grass requires high nitrogen levels for optimal growth. In an organic lawn, this is easily achieved by fertilizing, and by letting grass clippings fall back onto the lawn each time it is mowed. Clippings break down into much needed nutrients and encourage earth worm activity. Worms pull clippings into the soil where nitrogen is more accessible and aerate the roots, circulating oxygen to root systems, keeping them healthy and strong. Again, this is an instance in which mowing is your organic lawn’s best friend. Mow high and leave the trimmings behind. This one simple practice will go far for your organic lawn.

The basics involved in organic lawn care are not difficult to employ. Adopting these healthier, safer alternative landscape practices can actually be easier than frequently repeating chemical applications to fertilize and kill weeds. Given the proper environment, grass will naturally thrive over weeds and pests, with less interference from its maintainer.

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