Caring for and Healing the Earth


Natural Steps To A Healthy Lawn

Alternative to Pesticides Team (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario)
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  • Safe Solutions to Outdoor Problems:

    • Weeds

    • Ants

    • Aphids

    • Mosquitoes

    • Rodents

    • Slugs, Snails and Earwigs

    • Tent Caterpillars

    • Weeds in Between Cracks

    • White Grubs

    • Chinch Bugs

    • Instead of Using Chemical Fertilizers

    • Instead of Using Fungicides

    • Instead of Using Insecticides

Be Informed:

If you prefer to hire a company for your lawn care, know that you have great power as a consumer. After reading this information outlining how to maintain a healthy, non-toxic lawn without chemicals, tell your lawn care company what you want. More and more lawn care companies are offering non-chemical programs. The consumer, however, must be alert to false claims by some companies, that their products (usually "synthetic" or man-made chemical pesticides and fertilizers) are "minimal risk", "organic" (which can sometimes mean only to be "carbon-based"), "biodegradable", "environmentally-friendly", or "non-polluting", etc. Urge chemical-free lawn care such as indicated in the attached "Natural Steps to a Healthy Lawn " guidelines.

Advantages of a Chemical-Free Lawn:

  • You are not contributing to pollution of the soil, air and water.

  • You, your children, your pets, etc. can walk and play on your lawn with total confidence that you are not endangering anyone's health.

  • You're not killing the good insects, worms and micro-organisms that work for you to keep your soil and plants healthy and strong.

Remember the 5 "R's" of a Naturally Healthy Lawn:

  • Replace - the use of pesticides with natural steps to lawn care;

  • Reduce - the frequency of watering; 

  • Recycle - by leaving grass clippings on the lawn as a natural fertilizer;

  • Re-think - our expectations of lawns;

  • Relax - and enjoy the diversity in your healthy lawn

The Keys to Damage Prevention in the Garden or Lawn:

  • Healthy soil;

  • Strong, hardy, drought-tolerant plants;

  • Appropriate planting designs;

  • Careful monitoring.

Some people may just want to mow their lawn, sit back and enjoy it. Others may want to do more. Here are some extra steps you may take:

  1. Mow high - If you only apply one of these steps, this is the most important one. A lawn mowed high discourages "weed" and insect problems.

    • Set cutting height at 2.5 to 3 inches and never scalp the lawn. Long grass blades stay much stronger thus preventing problems. They shade the roots, prevent drying of soil, and encourage longer, healthier roots which keep the lawn drought-resistant and discourage root-feeding insects.

    • Mow regularly never removing more than 1/3 of the leaf length at a time.

    • Keep cutting blades sharp to avoid tearing grass and making it susceptible to disease.

    • Don't mow wet grass.

    • Mow in evenings or cloudy days.

    • Use "reel" or "push" mowers - they don't pollute.

  2. Mulch clippings - Leave grass clippings on the lawn as mulch to return nutrients to soil. This reduces the need for organic fertilizer by 30%! In wet periods, or if grass is very long (e.g. after your vacation), compost clippings instead. This reduces summer landfill bulk by 18%! If you are "detoxifying" a previously chemically-treated lawn, don't mulch for a year or two: thatch may build up.

  3. Water deeply - With appropriate drought-tolerant grasses and groundcovers, watering should be minimal. When watering, water slowly and deeply to promote deeper roots, about 1" of water, once a week at most, preferably before 9 a.m. (Put a can under the sprinkler and time how long it takes for an inch to accumulate - that's how long to allow before moving the sprinkler each time). Frequent light sprinklings waste water and encourage shallow roots. If you prefer, you can eliminate watering completely in dry periods and allow the lawn to go dormant. It will temporarily turn brown and slow down or stop growing altogether (a no-cutting bonus) but will be revived when normal rainfall resumes.

  4. Monitoring - A healthy lawn prevents most problems. Good plant health greatly depends on a sufficient depth of healthy topsoil, about 6" deep. Check your lawn regularly for stressed areas (e.g. bare spots) and treat promptly by eliminating the cause (e.g. heavy traffic) and overseed (see Step 8). Remove occasional "weeds" by hand. For persistent problems, get your soil professionally analyzed: ideal soil pH is 6.0 - 7.0. Add lime or sulfur to modify pH. This increases availability of plant nutrients and promotes beneficial micro-organisms. Avoid chemical pesticides as unnecessary and damaging to human, animal and environmental health. They also destroy the microorganisms and earthworms that keep soil healthy. A pure dish soap (not detergent) and water spray is effective against most insect problems.

  5. Rake - Gently rake your lawn in late spring or early summer only if there is excessive leaf and branch debris or litter (not too soon after the thaw when grass feels spongy; roots will be damaged; and not when heavy seeder weeds germinate).

  6. Aerate - By removing small plugs of earth to decrease soil compaction, increase water retention capacities, and increase air circulation to roots. Best done in May/June and the Fall, avoiding times when seeder weeds may germinate in the plug holes. Rent an aerator from your nursery or rental store or hire a lawn care company to do it. Earthworms are natural aerators! (but are destroyed or discouraged by chemical pesticides and fertilizers.)

  7. Fertilize &/or Top Dress - For healthy soil, use slow release, granular, organic fertilizer such as compost, manure, rock mineral fertilizer, bone & blood-meal, or kelp, in the Fall (not highly-soluble chemical fertilizers which tend to leach natural soil nutrients, stress the soil and grass, and may induce disease or insect outbreaks). Or, top dress with compost - best done with aeration or anytime between mid-June to end-August. Spread or "cast" (throw as if feeding chickens) compost evenly over the land no more than 1/4 inch thick. Use your own compost or obtain it free from municipal compost centres twice/year, or buy composted cow or sheep manure or topsoil. Peat moss could be added but we prefer not to since it is a dwindling resource and its removal from peat bogs causes irreparable loss of habitat for many species.

  8. Overseed - Excellent results when casting a mix of drought-tolerant grasses (i.e. perennial rye) with white clover and top-dressing (compost) after aeration. Stressed areas and bare patches invite unwanted plants. Loosen soil; spread compost or topsoil; sprinkle hardy grass seeds; tap in lightly with flat part of rake head; and water in. Keep area from drying out until seed sprouts are well established.

  9. Develop a Tolerance - for a few "weeds" and bugs. Most insects are not harmful and are critical for a balanced ecosystem (vital pollinators for our food). Certain insects eat others that are considered undesirable. Over 90% of insects in a lawn are beneficial; a healthy lawn can tolerate some pests without stress or damage.

Three Types of Lawns or Yards:

  1. Traditional - mainly grass, some diversity with some herbs and wildflowers;

  2. Naturalized - native or indigenous plant species (see " Alternatives to Grass" below); and

  3. Productive yards - for ourselves &/or wildlife permaculture gardens for production of food i.e. community, backyard or rooftop gardens (see below)

Alternatives to Grass:

Naturalized lawns consisting of a variety of durable, drought & disease-resistant plants are best adapted for our area and become almost maintenance-free once established. These alternative plantings can be combinations of groundcovers (i.e. low-growing clovers, periwinkle, native strawberry, violets), herbal lawns (i.e. creeping thyme, lavender), native trees, shrubs, evergreens or vines, mixed with native wildflowers, other herbs and vegetables.

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