What goes on the lawn doesn't stay on the lawn. Any fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide you use will wind up on pets' paws and children's hands and feet. Thanks to rain run-off, your lawn treatments also impact local wildlife and waterways. Thankfully, ecologically responsible lawn care choices tend to be as easy on the budget as they are on your conscience. In many cases, they also mean less work for you.
The easiest alternative to chemical fertilizers is to simply leave the clippings on your lawn every time you mow, delivering nearly 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of soil. This encourages a big, healthy root system that leaves less room for weeds. Mulching with grass clippings also leads to suppression of crabgrass and disease, increased earthworm activity and water retention. If you're worried about smothering your lawn, using a mulching lawnmower or simply mowing more often will result in finer grass clippings.
Deciduous leaf litter also makes a good mulch. Chop it up fine so that it doesn't completely cover the grass and leave it there to decompose over the dormant season.
Home-made compost is a great lawn feeder. Spread a half-inch layer in the spring to add nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the soil.
Some of the store-bought fertilizers that are kind to your lawn and the environment include dried poultry waste and cottonseed meal. Look also for granulated non-chemical organic fertilizers.
Most species of lawn grass prefer a neutral or slightly acidic soil, while most weeds thrive in acidic or alkaline environments. If a soil pH test comes up low, add lime or wood ash to sweeten things up. You'll definitely need to do this if you fertilize with cottonseed meal.
Corn gluten meal (CGM) is a popular seed suppressor. It's an indiscriminate one, though, so careful timing is needed to avoid inhibiting your grass seeds. It will encourage growth of already sprouted grass and weeds alike due to its high nitrogen content. CGM is more likely to be effective in the Midwest US than in other climates.
Beneficial nematodes (Heterorhabditis variety) are a short-term solution for grubs, which hurt your lawn by eating grass roots. A long-term treatment specifically for Japanese beetle grubs is milky spore; apply it three years in a row for many years of a grub-free lawn.
Discouraging grubs can help discourage the moles that eat them from making a mess of your lawn. Applications of castor oil repellent can also dissuade moles.
Castor oil can also help repel voles. So can garlic spray.
Aerate Your Soil
Run an aeration machine over your lawn every couple of years in order to help air, water and nutrients penetrate the soil.