If you want a lawn that's easier to take care of, safe to play on and beautiful to look at, then follow these tips from the pros this spring.
Ditch The Chemicals
Since 1994 Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and founder of SafeLawns.org, has helped homeowners get beautiful lawns without harmful chemicals. Tukey became a leader in the natural lawn care industry after becoming sick himself from excessive exposure to pesticides. Tukey says in addition to keeping pets and children safer, “organic lawn care also conserves resources, saves money and ultimately saves time.”
Start with the Soil
Your first step to a beautiful lawn is a soil test, says Tukey. “Get a soil test and check the most important three factors: Organic matter should be 5 to 8 percent, the Ph level should be 6.4 to 7.0, and the calcium to magnesium ratio should be 7 to 1. You can get your soil tested at your local soil lab or agriculture extension office.”
Bring in an Expert
Once you have your soil sample results, you can look for a lawn and landscape resource to help you whip that lawn back in shape. Kristina MacPherson is the manager of Moheney’s SafeLawns Organic Lawn Care Service based in Woburn, MA. MacPherson says, “If you are looking to hire out your lawn and landscape care, now is the time start looking, before it warms up. SafeLawns and the Northeast Organic Farming Association are great resources for information as well as finding landscapers.”
Get Rid of the Weeds
MacPherson says take these steps to combat your weeds without chemicals:
- Mow the lawn high, around 3-3 ½ inches through the spring and summer, and don’t remove more than 1/3 of the grass plant in one cutting.
- Mulch your grass clippings to provide nitrogen back to the soil as free fertilizer and reduce the waste that ends up in a landfill.
- Monitor your irrigation system and learn how long you should water to deliver half an inch of water (set up cans in the drip line of water and time). As a general rule of thumb you should do this two to three times a week, unless it rains (watering deep but infrequently), adjusting if your soil is sandy and dries out faster, or more clay-like and repels water.
- Don’t disturb the soil in the spring if you can help it. Repair bare and thin areas and hand pull weeds when you can.
Feed the Soil
“An organic fertilizer can be applied in spring, once the weather starts to warm up. Organic fertilizers rely on soil microorganisms to break down and cycle the fertilizer so keep in mind the “green-up” may be slower if you are used to applying chemical fertilizers. Jonathan Green has a great line of organic fertilizers. Espoma also has many great organic soil amendments and fertilizers to choose from as well as Neptune’s Harvest, which is a great source of liquid fish fertilizer. Compost tea can be applied as well to help boost beneficial microorganisms in the soil. You can make your own, or find a local source to purchase by the gallon.”
Reseed in the Late Summer or Early Fall
MacPherson says, “In the Northeast, summers have become increasingly hot and dry, which poses challenges for our cool season grasses which thrive in cooler temperatures. The heat stress can leave grass vulnerable to weed pressure, disease and insect attacks if not monitored and cared for properly. We recommend over-seeding be done in the late summer or fall and include improved grass varieties that are more drought/insect/disease tolerant to help remediate stress and build a stronger turf. Improving soil conditions through composting and organic fertilizers will also help with water retention and reduces drought stress.”
Consider Alternatives to An All Grass Lawn
“Native gardens or vegetable gardens are always a great alternative to grass if the space and design allows. Patios, decks and other functional spaces can be created as alternatives as well. I typically recommend a client look for an alternative if there is a problem area that grass is not thriving in, such as a dense shade area, a pathway or wet area. Those sections may be better off as more garden space, a stone walk way or even a rain garden. For large expanses of green space, sections can be left as meadow, which can be an attractive alternative. Meeting with a landscape designer or architect would be a good place to start. They can provide design plans for your new space which you can use to do the work yourself or hand off to a landscape contractor to install for you.”