Using organic techniques, you can grow a beautiful and healthy lawn without
contributing to Long Island Sound's pollution. And, once you manage to
overcome the negative effects of any past chemical treatments, organic lawn
care will be easier, cheaper and certainly more environmentally sound
without harsh soluble fertilizers, toxic chemicals and wasteful sprinkler
Most of the information that we see about lawn care, as well as the images
of what a "good" lawn looks like come from companies which want to sell us
pesticides, fertilizers or expensive mowers and services. They focus on
killing beautiful and useful plants like dandelions and clovers, instead of
on improving the growing conditions for grass.
The first step in organic lawn care is to take one or more soil samples for
testing. With a clean trowel, dig up about a cupful of soil from the root
zone (that's the top six inches) from four to six spots in your yard. Mix
them together and put about a cupful of the mixture in a clean bag or
container. If parts of your yard look distinctly different, take separate
samples from each one. Varying vegetation frequently indicates differing
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven as well as the
UCONN and Cornell Cooperative Extension Services will analyze your soil and
provide suggestions. Check with them for any fees and for the mailing
addresses. Be sure to request organic recommendations.
The most important information you'll gain from the test is the pH or acid
level of the soil. Grass likes a nearly neutral pH of between 6.5 and 7.
Acid precipitation and chemical fertilizers tend to make soil more acid. A
pH of 5 or 5.5 is common on unlimed lawns. With the addition of ground
limestone, the acid level can be neutralized. Limestone is inexpensive and
once you've raised the pH, you probably won't need to add lime for three or
four years if you follow the rest of the program.
Once the pH is near neutral, soil organisms (especially earthworms) can
thrive. The next step is to increase organic matter and soil organisms by
When you are beginning a new lawn turn in the limestone and compost
separately because the lime may drive some of the nitrogen from the compost
into the air. For an established lawn, the lime and a quarter inch of
compost should be spread on top a week or two apart. Lime moves down into
the soil at a rate of about one inch per year. Should you need a lot of
lime, adding it over several seasons is advisable.
Good compost not only has a rich mixture of nutrients needed for grass in a
form which won't leach away, it also is filled with the microscopic
organisms so crucial to healthy soil. And, the more compost you add, the
better your lawn will be able to retain water and resist drought.
For a new lawn, or a lawn with significant bare patches, you should add a
good quality seed mixture which includes creeping fescue, bluegrass and
perennial ryegrass. A small amount of white Dutch clover should be added to
the seed mix, or spread over the existing lawn. Bacteria on the clover's
roots capture atmospheric nitrogen.
After these steps have been taken, many people do little more than mow
regularly to maintain their beautiful lawns. Never mow the grass shorter
than three inches, and leave the clippings where they fall. Nothing
encourages the plants that the herbicide makers refer to as weeds, or puts
more stress on the grass, than cutting it very short.
Once your lawn is established, it should need fertilizing only once a year
in the fall, with a slow-release organic fertilizer or rich compost.
Now you can enjoy your lawn and your contribution to the environment at the
Of course, limiting your lawn's size, and planting more trees, shrubs,
vegetables and fruits produces even greater benefits for your family and
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $10 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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