The lawn is the most prominent landscape in residential areas across Canada. Many homeowners spend hundreds of dollars a year on related services and products including fertilizers, water, equipment and fuel. This is hard on the wallet, and the environment. Fortunately, an attractive lawn can be maintained without chemicals and with minimal water and fuel. Follow the steps below to create a beautiful, healthy lawn that is safe for all living things.
Feed the soil
The guiding principle of organic lawn care is to nourish the soil.
- Apply compost, either store-bought or homemade, throughout the growing season. This product adds macro and micro-nutrients to the soil, and increases microbial activity that will decompose thatch—a layer of dead and living stems and roots that forms between grass plants and soil.
- Apply organic fertilizers in late summer or early fall to further improve soil fertility and increase its organic matter content. These slow-release products will not burn grass, nor will they contaminate ground and surface water.
- Leave clippings where they fall. They are the perfect fertilizer—free, convenient and full of nutrients. They boost soil fertility by up to 30 per cent and provide much needed moisture and shade. Many municipalities no longer collect clippings, leaving residents with no choice but to recycle them.
- Top-quality mulching mowers are best for recycling clippings. Other mowers can be altered to do the job. Remove the bag and seal off the discharge chute so clippings fall under the mower, or use a conversion kit. If your mower drops clippings in clumps, spread them out with a rake.
Remove small plugs of earth from the top soil layer to relieve compaction, allowing more water and air to infiltrate. Hire a professional lawn care company to aerate your lawn, or rent an aerator from the local hardware store and do it yourself. This is best done in the fall just before an application of compost or organic fertilizer.
Earthworms aerate and fertilize lawns for free. Attract and protect earthworms in the soil by spreading compost and forgoing chemicals.
Overseed every year, ideally in the fall. Dense turf will crowd out weeds like dandelions and crabgrass. Avoid Kentucky blue grass, which needs lots of water and fertilizer and is highly susceptible to grubs. Choose hardy, pest-resistant, drought-tolerant (labelled as endophtyic or endopyte-enhanced) perennial rye and fescue grass blends suited to your yard’s light, moisture and soil conditions.
Mow high with a sharp blade
Mowing high is good for your lawn. A cutting height of 7.5 centimetres will shade-out sun-loving weeds, encourage grass root development, and keep soil cool and moist. Keep your mower blade sharp to ensure a clean cut and a healthy lawn.
Please adhere to municipal water restrictions. Lawns maintained in an organic fashion can survive without water for a long time. During the summer they will go dormant and fade in colour until cooler, wetter weather prevails.
Rain often provides enough water for your lawn. When this is not the case, water deeply once a week during early morning or early evening. Avoid watering at night as cooler temperatures and sitting water invite disease.
Specific lawn pests and organic solutions
Complete removal of weeds and pests is not possible or necessary. Focus on the overall health of your lawn, accepting that a certain amount of weeds and pest activity is normal. The first step to pest control is identification. The chart below offers tips for dealing with common lawn pests.
|Dandelion||Remove by hand, root and all, before they go to seed. Aerate and apply lime; overseed and mow high.|
|Broadleaf Plantain||Remove by hand, root and all, and overseed. Aerate and apply compost; mow high.|
|Common Chickweed||Remove plants before flowering and rake up stems to avoid re-establishment; re-seed with tall fescue and mow high; do not overfertilize.|
|Crabgrass||Dig out plants completely and re-seed immediately; mow high.|
|Beetle Grubs||Apply beneficial nematodes; mow high; water deeply; overseed with ryegrass and fescues.|
- What’s that Bug?
- Guelph Turf Institute
- Landscape Ontario – How to Maintain a Healthy Lawn
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs