How to Create a Natural & Organic Lawn

March 3, 2020

By Matt

Are you looking to create the lawn of your dreams without the use of chemicals? 

Included are our recommendations on the “best of the best” in organic products.

Having a great lawn is as American as apple pie. Americans will spend upwards of $40 million per year to have pristine turf to grace the property around their homes. For some homeowners, a lawn that is hyper-manicured, lush and thick, and emerald green is a status symbol. In some neighborhoods, a struggling lawn is frowned upon.

Having a gorgeous green lawn is every homeowner’s dream. The curb appeal and welcoming appearance of a beautiful, well-kept lawn reflects the homeowner’s pride in their property. Let’s “dig in” and learn a little about organic lawns!

The Pros and Cons of Going Organic

There are many upsides to creating a lawn organically. The main reason many homeowners choose to use organic lawn products is because it is safer for the environment, pets, and children.

Organic products typically cost more per square foot, and although they have a less negative impact on the environment, organic products are not as efficient and potent as traditional chemical products. Because of this, creating and maintaining an organic lawn will require a strenuous, aggressive cultural approach. 

Organic lawns are a bit more difficult to achieve and maintain, and there are pros and cons just as there are with traditional chemically treated lawns. It all comes down to personal choice.

ProsCons
  • Better for the environment
  • Safer for pets and children
  • Provides peace of mind in using products that are non-chemical and non-toxic
  • Possibly less effective than traditional chemical products based on the pest
  • Requires a much more aggressive cultural approach
  • Organic herbicides are less potent on Canadian Thistle, crabgrass, and other unwanted perennial weeds
  • Can requires a lot of patience
  • Organic products can easily be over-applied, potentially lessening the impact of it.

Region-Specific Grass Type

When creating or maintaining a lawn, it’s very important to know your climate and the type of grass that is ideal for your region. For the Mid-Atlantic region, it is a mixture of cool and warm grasses. 

By knowing what your region and type of grass is, you will be able to better care for your lawn with your selection of products. You would not want to apply weed controller that is designed for a warm climate grass if you are in a cool climate region. 

Cool Climates Transitional Climates Warm Climates
Range:
Northern ⅔ of the U.S.

Types:
  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Perennial Ryegrass
  • Tall Fescue
  • Fine Fescue
  • Creeping Fescue
  • Annual Ryegrass
  • Rough Bluegrass
  • Bentgrass
Range:
Middle region of the U.S.

Types:
  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Tall or Fine Fescue
  • Perennial Ryegrass
  • Thermal Blue
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Bermuda
  • Buffalo
Range:
Southernmost region of the U.S.

Types:
  • Argentine Bahiagrass
  • Pensacola Bahiagrass
  • Common Bermuda
  • Improved Bermuda
  • Native Bermuda
  • Carpetgrass
  • Centipede
  • St. Augustine
  • Zoysiagrass

Cultural Methods to Organic Lawns

Organic lawns are far more dependent upon aggressive cultural practices to stay ahead of any problems. Because of this, you will be required to do much more than someone who has a traditional chemically treated lawn. Unfortunately, organic lawns are usually a lot of work, but well worth the extra labor.

Soil
  • Test soil to help you better understand what nutrients the soil needs, as well as the levels of acid are.
  • Aerate soil to prevent compaction
  • Incorporate compost and gypsum into soil.
Maintenance
  • Alleviate thatch buildup
Mowing
  • Mower setting should be 3-4”
  • Mow when grass is dry
  • Maintain sharp mower blades
  • Leave grass clippings on lawn
Renovate
  • Right seed in the right place
  • Timeframe: early fall
  • Seed should have endophyte enhanced cultivars
Watering
  • Water 1” deep every 5-8 days (dependent upon rainfall)
Fertilizer
  • Use labeled organic
  • Do not use quick-release or synthetic fertilizers

Organic Lawn Care

The success of a beautiful lawn is staying one step ahead of any potential problems. Prevention is the key to that lush green turf you are striving to maintain and keep. We will walk you through the steps to a lawn that exceeds your expectations!

The Foundation Of A Healthy Lawn

Soil

The soil is the very structure which a lawn is built upon. If the soil is not healthy, the grass will not be healthy. Testing your soil before seeding is a preventative measure that will save you not only money but time.

A soil test reveals what the pH level is but also if the soil requires nutrients. An ideal pH level reading should ideally be around 6.5 – 6.8, and if any adjustments need to be made, you can contact your local garden center for recommendations on organic options.

Fertilizing

Ideally, you should fertilize your lawn in early fall and again in early spring. 

Early Fall

Temperatures are cool enough in early fall where your lawn will best absorb the nutrients. It will not be under the stress of spring/summer heat. Fertilizer will not perform to its full potential under hot temperatures. 

Fall Fertilization Benefits
Fertilizing Time For Fall
  • Mid to late October
  • Morning/early evening
  • A few weeks before the ground is expected to freeze
  • Keep in mind some states, such as Maryland, have end dates for fertilization periods (currently MD is Nov 15th)

Early Spring

Fertilizing in early spring is very important to give your lawn a jump start for the growing season. The effects of winter cause lawns to lose their vibrancy in color. Early spring fertilizing will wake up the grass from its dormant state and green it up quickly.

Applying Fertilizer

Always follow the directions on the bag of fertilizer.

Recommended Organic Lawn Products

Espoma Organic Lawn Starter Fertilizer

(Product Information Courtesy of Espoma )

  • Promotes thick new grass
  • Safe for kids, pets, and environment
  • Granulated for easy spreading
  • This product is organic   
Amazon.com

Milorganite

(Product Information Courtesy of Milorganite )

  • Slow-release nitrogen feeding up to 10 weeks
  • Iron to enhance the lawn’s color throughout the feeding period. Will not stain or discolor driveway or walkways.
  • Salt-free to prevent burning or streaking.
  • Organic matter that feeds the soil.
  • Safe for children and pets.
Amazon.com

Organic Lawn Weed Control

Natural/organic weed control products are available in garden centers and nurseries. 

Some have opted to make their own organic weed killers to save money. Although the natural/organic alternative to killing weeds is safer and healthier, it may not be as strong as regular strength herbicides. It may take multiple applications to affect the weed, and even then, it may not kill it. Additionally, if you use vinegar as a natural weed killer, it is non-selective and may not be safe to use on a lawn. 

Recommended Preventative in Lawns

Weed preventatives should be applied before weeds emerge. This is why pre-emergents are important to use. It gains the upper hand on weeds.

What is pre-emergent?

Pre-emergents are weed killers that are applied to a lawn to prevent lawn weeds from growing before they emerge from seed.

Why should I use a pre-emergent?

Pre-emergents will ensure your lawn grass is not outcompeted by weeds, such as crabgrass, by stopping those weeds right as they germinate.

When should I use a pre-emergent?

The best time to use a pre-emergent is early to mid spring before weeds germinate. By timing it properly, you can stop those weeds from taking over your lawn in spring and summer. You can also use a pre-emergent herbicide in fall to prevent winter annual weeds. 

Espoma Organic Weed Preventer

(Product Information Courtesy of Espoma)

All natural weed preventer and lawn food                                

  • Prevents dandelions, crabgrass and other common weeds.
  • Provides long-lasting greening that won’t burn.
  • Children and pets can play on the lawn immediately after application.
  • Made from 100% pure corn gluten meal.
Amazon.com

Recommended Post-emergent in Lawns

Weed preventatives should be applied before weeds emerge.

What is post-emergent?

Post-emergent weed killers are used to kill weeds after they have germinated and surfaced.

Why should I use a post-emergent?

Post-emergents are used to kill the weed in its active stage if you missed the window to use a pre-emergent or if a pre-ermergent would have been ineffective against the target weed.

When should I use a post-emergent?

Apply when weeds are actively growing when temperatures are mild.

Bayer Natria Weed Killer

(Product Information Courtesy of Natria)

Controls broadleaf weeds in lawns

  • Kills weeds, not lawns
  • Water-based, no unpleasant odor
  • For use on lawns
  • Active: Iron HEDTA (FeHEDTA)

Note: Not great on tough-to-kill weeds and make require repeated applications.

Amazon.com

Organic Lawn Pest/Insect Control

There are a number of effective and natural methods of controlling lawn pests. The best preventative measure to help in controlling pests is to plant grass that is tough. Maintaining your lawn with aggressive cultural practices will give you an added advantage to staying ahead of any problem.

Common Lawn Pests

  • Grub
  • Flea
  • Mosquito
  • Mole
  • Billbug
  • Chinch Bug
  • Japanese Beetle

Recommended Insect Control Product

Organic Ecosmart Insect Control

(Product Information Courtesy of Ecosmart)

Kills and repels a variety of pests (see label for complete list)

  • Treats up to 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Safe to use around children and pets1
  • Fast acting – kills by contact

Active Ingredients:

Clove Oil …………………………………….. 2.0%

Thyme Oil …………………………………….0.6%

Inert Ingredients:* …………………….. 97.4%

Total ……………………………………….100.0%

*Corn Cobs, Wintergreen Oil

Amazon.com

The Happy, Healthy Lawn

Achieving a beautiful organic lawn does require a lot of work. Once the results are achieved, the hard work definitely paid off. 

Through safer products, cultural practices, and staying a step ahead of weeds and other problems, you can have a lawn that you can be proud of and one that is safe for your children, pets, and the environment!

References:

Wenning, B. (n.d.) Ecological Landscape Alliance, Organic Lawn Care, Cultural Methods, Retrieved from:

http://www.ecolandscaping.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Wenning_Lawn_Care1.pdf

Telkamp, M. (n.d.) Make Your Own Natural Weed Killer, HGTV, Retrieved from:

https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/planting-and-maintenance/make-your-own-natural-weed-killer

(n.d.) Natural Pest Suppression, Good Nature Lawn Care, Retrieved from:

https://www.whygoodnature.com/natural-pest-suppression

(2018 September 4) 7 Tips on Fertilizing Your Lawn In Fall, Pughs Earthworks, Retrieved from:

https://pughsearthworks.com/7-tips-for-fertilizing-your-lawn-in-the-fall/

(n.d.) Lawn Care Guru, Planet Natural Research Center, Retrieved from:

https://www.planetnatural.com/organic-lawn-care-101/

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