Organic Lawn Care Q & A, Part One

Organic Lawn Care Q & A, Part One

They say fall is the best time to do major lawn maintenance. Why?

If you could fertilize only once a year, Fall is clearly the best time. Vigorous growth in the fall helps build root systems and stores energy in the roots. With Fall feeding, grass overwinters better and gets off to a good start the following Spring.

Fall is also the best time to establish a new lawn from seed. Since most annual weeds (including crabgrass) don’t sprout in the fall, turf has a chance to get established without competition from weeds.

My neighbor’s lawn always looks great after the lawn-care people have sprayed. Why do you recommend against it?

Most service companies use inorganic chemical fertilizers, weed-killers, and pesticides. Each has its problems. Inorganic chemical fertilizers encourage the accumulation of thatch in the top layer of the soil. Thatch becomes an ideal place for insects to breed and diseases to take hold. The tightly matted roots and rhizomes, which comprise the thatch layer, prevent water from seeping through to the soil. Roots grow in the thatch layer, searching for water. Lawns get parched easily and go brown and dormant, while organically alive turf stays green and healthy with less water. The soil below the thatch becomes compacted, and with the steady diet of chemicals, is devoid of earthworms and soil microorganisms which help keep your lawn alive and healthy.

Pesticides, of course, cause other problems. According to a Federal report issued by the General Accounting Office, diazinon is "the most widely used pesticide on residential lawns…EPA subjected the insecticide diazinon to Special Review when it found that diazinon was killing waterfowl and other bird species."

As a result, EPA cancelled uses of diazinon on golf courses and sod farms, although bird poisonings on residential lawns and in corn and alfalfa fields have also been reported. Due to the number of homeowner poisoning incidents, EPA’s registration standard imposed labeling requirements in order to provide additional use and safety information to the homeowner. EPA has also restricted diazinon’s commercial outdoor uses (e.g., uses on agricultural crops, ornamentals, and turf) to certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision, because of diazinon’s avian and aquatic toxicity. However, this restriction does not apply to commercial lawn care companies and homeowners.

In 1989 the EPA estimated about 6 million pounds of diazinon were used annually on home lawns and commercial turf. Meanwhile, studies of its toxicity have not yet been completed.

What about herbicides?

The health risks of 2,4-D and other weed killers have been questioned by scientists and government agencies. But while studies are being conducted, the chemicals are still widely used by homeowners and lawn-care services. According to the GAO, almost 4 million pounds of 2,4-D are used annually on residential lawns in the U.S.

It has been widely reported that homeowners use 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmers do. Before long, accumulations of all these chemicals (some of which are purposely designed to persist in the environment) leach into wells and groundwater, and run off into streams, rivers and oceans.

This is no way to treat a planet!

Then what’s the solution?

Here are some natural and organic products from Gardens Alive:

Any other tips for weed control?

Mow often, especially during the spring when dandelions are blooming. Frequent mowing during peak growth will eliminate the yellow blossoms and prevent seed formation. Because of their deep tap roots, dandelions are hard to get rid of, even with chemical herbicides, but they can be reduced to acceptable numbers. (Be patient!)

Mow high, especially during the late spring and early summer, when crabgrass makes its annual attempt to take over the world. By allowing grass blades to shade the ground, you prevent crabgrass from sprouting.

Keep pH level neutral or slightly acid, at 6.5 to 7.0. Dandelions prefer more acid soil while lawn grasses thrive in neutral soil.

Grow dense, deep-rooted grass. Turf Alive! Brand seed mixtures are especially good against dandelion and crabgrass competition, because their exceptionally deep root systems allow them to keep a dense canopy even during the hot, dry months when crabgrass is rampant.

If I use an organic fertilizer, do I have to add lime?

Most lawn grasses favor a soil pH (acid-alkaline balance) of 6.5 to 7, which is neutral or slightly acid. In most parts of the country, our soil is more acid than that. When soil is too acid, the grass can’t assimilate the available nutrients, whether from organic or inorganic sources. So we add lime to neutralize the soil and make the grass plants more efficient. Your county agent can tell you how much lime is generally needed in your area.

Soil pH is the key not only to maintaining a beautiful lawn but also to growing a productive garden. The Accugrow Soil Test Kit Accugrow Soil Test Kit makes it easy to monitor and correct the Ph and nutrient balances in your soil.

In parts of the West and elsewhere, the soil is naturally alkaline, and sulfur is used to neutralize it.

How often should I water my lawn?

The old rule of thumb is 1 inch per week, whether from rain or hoses. But Gardens Alive! and other friends of the environment have found a new thumb!

By using deep-rooted grass seed like Turf Alive! Brand, and keeping your lawn healthy with Lawns Alive! lawn food or WOW! Plus, your lawn may survive all but the most severe summer droughts with no extra watering at all! That’s because the new turf-type tall fescues in Turf Alive! Brand mixtures send roots down 2-4 feet looking for water and nutrients. By contrast, shallow-rooted grasses like bluegrass need plenty of water or go dormant and brown in summer.

When you do water, water long and deeply. A brief sprinkle barely penetrates to the root zone and evaporates in minutes.

>>Lawn Q&A, Part Two>>

Compliments of, Garden Alive!

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