Are you wondering, how can I naturally fix my lawn without using chemicals like pesticides and herbicides? Did the previous owner leave you with dead grass or a lawn full of weeds? Is your existing lawn giving you anxiety? This guide will teach you how to fix your lawn naturally so you can enjoy an attractive lawn without using harmful chemicals.
Planning for your lawn’s future
Ultimately, you want your healthier lawn to exist in a low-maintenance state that looks nice. If you’re planning to hire a lawn service that offers organic lawn care or a similar specialty, you should watch out for greenwashing.
Greenwashing lawn care
Greenwashing is the practice of overemphasizing the “green” aspect of a business or product to mislead consumers. In the lawn care industry, there are companies that will try to greenwash their natural lawn care offerings. You may end up with a beautiful lawn, but that does not guarantee a healthy lawn or one that is good for the environment. Look for reputable companies that understand organic science.
Reduce the overall size of your lawn
If your lawn takes up most of your property, consider shrinking the size of it to areas that you will use. Even organic lawns are not as ecologically beneficial as native garden beds. Unlawn can help you plan what kind of replacement for your lawn is best for you. Grass is helpful to have in high foot traffic areas, but residential lawns tend to be much larger than they need to be.
Natural lawn care techniques
For the areas of grass that you want to keep, use techniques that can improve the health of your existing lawn, or remove it and start with grass seed if needed. You can purchase grass seed mixes that will give you a diverse and healthy lawn containing both warm season grass and cool season grasses.
Your lawn’s natural conditions
When planning for the future of your green lawn, you should consider the natural conditions. Natural lawn care is only possible by working with nature. So, pay attention to things like whether you have sandy soils or clay soils. The soil texture can be a very important factor in determining what kinds of grass will thrive.
Other important factors you should investigate include soil pH and other indicators of soil health. You can get a simple soil test kit online, and your local university extension office may offer soil testing.
You should make sure you know as many of the following items about your lawn as possible.
- USDA Hardiness Zone
- Region/ecoregion (especially if adding native plants)
- Soil texture including soil compaction
- Soil pH
- Nutrient levels
- Shade levels
- Water levels
- Soil depth and rockiness
Choose the right kind of grass
There are several alternatives when it comes to the actual species of grass that will make up your lawn. From Bermuda grass to Kikuyu grass, the correct choice of species will depend on your geographic location and your lawn’s conditions. In many parts of the country, Bermuda grass and Kikuyu grass are considered invasive, and you should not put them in your lawn. St. Augustine grass will not grow in most zones. Achieving a turf grass look in an organic lawn can be tricky.
Your lawn can also contain non-grass plants like clover. In fact, adding clover to your lawn is one of the best ways to improve soil health and support pollinators while keeping a traditional lawn appearance.
The best approach is to have a mix of grasses, or a grass seed blend, when establishing your lawn. Blends that contain both warm season grass and cool season grasses are best for year-round appeal in your lawn. Garden centers don’t always have mixes like this, but there are specialty providers online.
Best practices for a natural healthy lawn
Most lawns are managed with synthetic lawn fertilizers, lawn pesticides, and frequent mowing and watering. A natural lawn can be achieved through:
Organic fertilizers are preferable to synthetic fertilizers, since they are less concentrated and break down slowly. This means there is a lower chance of runoff when they are properly applied, and they supply a more steady flow of nutrients to the grass roots.
Focusing on developing healthy soil will pay off with green grass. Soil compaction is a major problem in most lawns and can create conditions favorable to weeds. Lawn soil naturally becomes compacted over time as people walk or drive on it, especially during home construction and maintenance. Aeration is one way to ameliorate compacted soil.
Mow at the right height
Many homeowners and lawn care companies set the mower blade close to the ground each week. This keeps grass clippings manageable and creates a very neat and tidy appearance. However, a healthy grass blade should be left at least three inches high after mowing. Grass blades are the leaves of the plant, and they produce the food that sustains your lawn.
Watering lawns is a sore subject among environmentalists, especially in areas where water conservation rules have been put into effect during droughts. The fact is that your lawn should only need a moderate amount of water, applied in the morning and infrequently.
Ditch the pesticides and herbicides
If you have issues with weeds, it is probably due to soil issues or bad mowing practices. That said, weed seeds are aggressive, so you might find them even if you do everything right. Some organic lawn care experts suggest using corn gluten meal to prevent weed seeds from establishing a root system. But beware, corn gluten meal application needs to be timed correctly in early spring, or it will only help the weed infestations!
When the entire lawn needs to go
In some cases, a lawn is in such terrible condition that the area needs to be completely reevaluated. Maybe the problem is constantly wet grass. Or maybe it’s difficult to establish turf grass because of a shallow root system. In any case, you should be willing to adapt to the natural conditions.
If you need to kill your grass
Killing grass can be more challenging than you think. In those cases when it is already struggling to survive, it can be easier. Your lawn might be telling you that it can’t survive in the place where it’s been asked to grow.
Whether it’s to re-seed the area or to replace the lawn with something else, if you need to kill your grass, you can do so naturally. There are three proven methods for killing grass naturally that work even if it has deep roots.
- Natural chemical pesticide
Solarizing – bake it
Solarizing takes advantage of the Sun’s energy to basically bake the grass roots and blades. It usually takes a few weeks for this process to work, and it only works at certain times of year. Plus, it is limited in size to as much area as you can cover with a tarp or plastic.
Sheet mulching – smother it
Sheet mulching is a little more labor intensive than solarizing, but it works immediately. There are numerous ways to sheet mulch, but all of them smother grass to death.
Chemicals – poison it
Natural chemicals do not need to be synthesized. For example, lemon juice or vinegar. Organic agricultural and environmental sciences are largely focused on the various effects of natural chemicals. Some natural chemicals can be mixed together to form potent herbicides.
The flip side of natural chemical pesticides and herbicides
Organic science has also given us alternatives to synthetic fertilizers. Many are made at home, like compost tea. This technique can take advantage of yard waste that would otherwise need to be tidied up for a beautiful lawn.
Organic lawn care beyond chemical inputs
Establishing an organic lawn frequently requires alternatives to lawn chemicals. But the ultimate goal of a low-maintenance organic lawn has to be reached through the soil. Soil structure is important, as discussed above. And you should get a soil test. But soil particles are only part of the picture.
Your soil also contains microorganisms that play an important role in an organic lawn. Fungi and bacteria are essential to the movement of nutrients from plants, to soil, and back to plants. Without this living soil, your land will consistently lose nutrients. This is why composting is so widely considered an essential practice for organic lawn care and gardening.
When you have a good soil biome, you improve the conditions for your grass seed to succeed. And continuing to add compost tea to established lawns can help to keep nutrient levels high. It’s a good idea to perform a soil test for nutrients before and after treatments, as well.
Organic lawn care can seem like a lot
If you feel overwhelmed at the idea of organic lawn care, don’t worry. It can seem like a lot! But it’s much easier than it seems. It all starts with your idea of what a lawn should look like. You can work hard and do the research required to maintain your lawn’s current appearance (or something close to it). Or, you can see how having a natural lawn feels.
Your lawn might end up looking a little messier, or more diverse – it’s true. If it’s important to you to have the best lawn on the street, I’m not able to offer you much advice. But your lawn could stand out for another reason – the amount of nature in it. That doesn’t mean it will look wild!
Having a eco-friendly lawn can be more than just organic lawn care practices. Your lawn doesn’t necessarily need to be a lawn. Part of it could just as easily be a prairie or meadow. Unlawning is even easier than going organic. You’ll be glad that you invited nature into your space when you enjoy your pollinator garden or pocket-prairie.