Most gardeners want their lawns to be lush and green, but the health and environmental dangers associated with toxic pesticides and herbicides are making many people and communities turn to ecologically sounder methods of lawn care. Organic lawn products may not have the same immediately noticeable effects as synthetic chemical products available in garden stores, but over time, the grass will be healthier, and better able to out-compete weeds, disease, and pests. Additionally, homemade lawn care products are safer for children and pets who play on the grass.
One of the easiest ways to care for your lawn and improve the topsoil is to return the cuttings to the grass after you mow instead of bagging them up and throwing them away. Grass clippings contain nutrients that feed the grass and are a good source of organic material for the soil. According to the Ohio State University Extension Service, grass cuttings can fulfill 25 percent of your lawn's fertilizing needs, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When you mow, take the bag off the mower and set the mower as high as it will go. Aim to cut only the top third of the grass, which will also help prevent clumps of clippings on the lawn. If you do end up with clumps, simply spread them around with a rake.
Manure is a natural source of the essential fertilizers your grass needs. Although manure that has been aged for a year does not contain any dangerous pathogens, some people might balk at spreading it around their homes and the unpleasant smell can last for several days. To get the benefits of manure without the smell, make a tea by steeping 5 quarts of manure in 3 gallons of water. Put the manure into a burlap bag and let it sit in the water for a week. When the water is deep brown, remove the sack and drain it into the bucket. Dilute this solution to a ratio of 1 cup of tea to 1 gallon of water, and spray it on your lawn in the spring and fall. Don't fertilize the lawn with manure in the summer, as you will be feeding the weeds more than the grass.
Coffee grounds are another rich source of nitrogen for lawns, and they encourage earthworm activity. Earthworms aerate soil and produce castings, another nutrient rich food for the grass. You can save up grounds from your kitchen, or ask around at local coffeehouses, many of which save their grounds in separate containers for gardeners. Coffee grounds should be spread at the same rate as any nitrogen fertilizer, which is around 2 lbs. per year for every 1,000 square feet. If you use too much nitrogen fertilizer, you risk burning the grass. Put the grounds in piles around the lawn and use a shovel to toss them around evenly. Sweep the grounds off the surface of the grass with a broom and water them in. A coffee odor might linger for awhile, but you should see the nitrogen's greening effect on the lawn within a couple of weeks.