How to Maintain a Healthy Lawn Without Chemicals

June 30, 2017

Having a lawn not only provides a place for children and pets to play, but it also helps with storm water runoff by absorbing water, produces oxygen, and creates a nice cooling effect. But, we all know that a lawn takes time, money, and effort to maintain and keep it looking lush and green. According to the US National Wildlife Federation, 60% of water usage on the West Coast goes to lawn watering with much of that water being evaporated or washing into storm drains or bodies of water. Also, on average, one acre of lawn in the US has 10 times more pesticides applied to it than one acre of farmland. Mowing your lawn with a gas mower adds to the cons of having a lawn, as well. Not only will you notice the effects on your wallet at the gas pump, but gas mowers put out more hydrocarbon into the environment than a normal car does.

But, don’t let these facts completely scare you away from having your own slice of green grass. While all those weed n’ feed commercials really like to make us think that they’re the only way to have a perfect lawn, there are plenty of other ways to have a healthy yard, but without the use of chemicals. You can have a weed-free, insect-free, and disease-free lawn by following some basic tips that won’t break your back or the bank.

  • Soil: Soil is the best place to start when creating a healthy, chemical free lawn. Most grass grows well in a soil pH between 6-7. Before applying lime or sulphur to your yard, it’s best to test your soil to see if it even needs anything added to it. You can buy soil pH test kits or you can contact your city or county to see if this service is provided to homeowners. If you’re in Snohomish County you can contact the Snohomish Conservation District and King County residents can contact King Conservation District Soil Testing Program to get your soils tested. After you’ve figured out your soil pH and have amended it based on the results, it’s also important to consider what kind of soil you have. Most grasses do best in an equal mixture of silt, sand, and clay, otherwise known as loam. This kind of soil retains moisture but still allows for plenty of air flow. If your soil is compacted, it can be aerated to help with air and nutrient flow before fertilizing. You can also add compost or leave some grass clippings to help improve the quality of your soil.
Soil Photo Courtesy of Popular Mechanics

Soil Photo Courtesy of Popular Mechanics

  • Choosing a Grass: Once you’ve improved your soil, you’ll want to choose the right grass for your area. There are a few factors that go into this including: the amount of shade you have, how much water and nutrients the grass needs, and how hardy the grass is. You can ask your local nursery or garden center about what they would recommend for your area. There are also drought tolerant varieties of grass that are available if you want to save on water and mower usage.
Eco-Lawn Low Maintenance Grass Seed Photo Courtesy of Eartheasy

Eco-Lawn Low Maintenance Grass Seed Photo Courtesy of Eartheasy

  • Watering: The biggest rule of thumb with watering is to water deeply and in the morning. This helps the grass develop a deep root system and makes it more drought tolerant. Lawns only need about 1” of water per week so it’s best to wait until your yard dries out between each watering.
Lawn Watering Photo Coutesy of DIY Network

Lawn Watering Photo Coutesy of DIY Network

  • Mowing: Did you know that cutting grass too short can cause the soil to dry out faster than normal? Because of this, it’s best to keep your lawn at 2.5”-3.5” tall. As the growing season winds down in fall, you can keep it around 2” tall.
Mowing Height Photo Courtesy of Today's Homeowner

Mowing Height Photo Courtesy of Today’s Homeowner

  • Weeding: If you have weeds growing throughout your lawn, you’re not alone. Even though pesticides and other chemicals kill weeds, they also kill a lot of other beneficial organisms and can really mess up healthy soil. All of these chemicals can also have negative health effects on humans and pets. One of the best products you can use to help control weeds is corn gluten. It is a natural product and won’t kill your grass or other plants because it kills weeds before they even pop up in your lawn. If you don’t have too many weeds, you can also manually pull them up and toss them or you can spot spray a mixture of vinegar, salt, and dish soap on weeds. The vinegar mixture will burn grass and other plants it gets sprayed on though, so it’s important to hit just the weeds only. If you’re concerned about your pets and how you can keep them safe in your yard and garden, you can check out part 1 and part 2 of our Dogscaping tips.
  • Fertilizing: Keep fertilizing to once a year in early fall. When choosing a fertilizer, look for one that releases nitrogen slowly and preferably one that is naturally coated so it won’t dissolve in water.
  • Controlling Thatch: Aerating your lawn also helps control the amount of thatch that your lawn will accumulate through its growing season. While some thatch is healthy to have, too much can make it hard for water and nutrients to get through and reach the soil and roots. You can aerate your lawn once a year to help with this and improve soil conditions.
Lawn Aerating Photo Courtesy of Metro Lawn Sprinkler Systems

Lawn Aerating Photo Courtesy of Metro Lawn Sprinkler Systems

  • Yard Waste: If you have too many clippings or if you have a lot of leaves in the fall, you can hand rake them. But, instead of taking them to the dump, you can add them to your garden as mulch or put them in a compost pile.
Grass Clippings Photo Courtesy of Organic Farming Report

Grass Clippings Photo Courtesy of Organic Farming Report

These tips will help you get your lawn on track to becoming chemical free. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and think that it might be too much to do, just remember you can gradually switch over to maintaining a healthy lawn without chemicals.

Have you recently switched over to chemical free lawn maintenance or do you have any tricks that you like to use in your own yard? Let us know in the comments!

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