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10 Steps to Non-Toxic Lawn Care

The golf course syndrome has created the unrealistic ideal of a 100% weed free lawn. Unfortunately, the quick-fix chemical approach comes with a hefty environmental and human health price tag. Changing the focus from pest eradication to the prevention of pest problems using the following steps will help us and our neighbours understand that the occasional weed and insect is a sign of a normal, healthy, non-toxic lawn.

1. Mow High

Setting your mower’s cutting height to 2.5 or preferably 3 inches will discourage invasion by weeds and insects. This encourages growth of longer, healthier roots that help lock in moisture, Also, keeping your mower’s blade sharp at all times is crucial to preventing diseased from setting into the lawn.

2. Leave grass clippings on the lawn

Doing so ensures that this mulch becomes your lawn’s fertilizer, thereby reducing the need to add additional fertilizers by 30%. If the mulch is quite wet, compost it instead.

3. Water “deeply”

Your lawn needs about 1 inch of water, applied once a week. Watering more frequently than this encourages shallow, weak roots. To minimize evaporation, water before 8 a.m. or in the evening.

4. Use ecological methods of pest control!

Spraying a mixture of dish soap and water during warm weather is an effective way to discourage insects from eating your greenery. Eliminate bare spots (where weeds are given a chance to proliferate) by over seeding. Remove the odd weed by hand, removing as much of the root as possible to prevent re-growth. If weeds persist, have your soil professionally analyzed – the pH of the soil should be 6.0-7.0. Adding lime or sulfur can increase the nutrient content of the soil and promote beneficial micro-organisms. Remember that a healthy lawn can tolerate some pests without stress or damage.

5. Alternatives

You may want to reduce the area of grass that needs maintenance by planting perennial flower beds, expanding your herb and/or vegetable garden, or naturalizing your lawn with local wildflowers and plants.

6. Rake

Raking to gently remove thatch-the layer of dead grass compacted over winter-can increase water absorption. Raking in late Spring or early Summer is ideal; any sooner than this, the grass feels spongy (a sign that raking can damage roots).

7. Fertilize

Fertilize twice a year if possible. Although it is not essential, fertilizing in Spring can help maximize your lawn’s health and immunity against pests. If you fertilize only once, do it in the Fall. Applying a slow-release, granular, 100% organic fertilizer such as compost, rock mineral, bone and blood meal will benefit your lawn because they feed the soil’s organisms (chemical fertilizers destroy these), and last the whole year through.

8. Aerate

Aerating your lawn by removing small plugs of earth will decrease soil compaction, increase water retention capacities and improve air circulation to the roots. June or autumn is the optimum time to do this because heavy seeder weeds germinate and grow in plug holes. Rent and aerator from your nursery, or hire an organic lawn care company to do it, or buy the aerating shoes and dance on your lawn (Lee Valley Tools $20).

9. Top-dress with compost

If you don’t have your own vegetable compost heap (get one!), buy composted cow or sheep manure or mushroom compost. Spread it around at 100 pounds per 1000 square feet. This is best done immediately after aeration, any time between mid-June and the end of August.

10. Overseed

When combined with aeration and top-dressing, overseeding will fill in bare patches that invite weed invasion. First, loosen the soil, spread compost or peat moss; then, sprinkle grass with seeds of hardy species.

There is a wide variety of lawn alternatives. If you choose to have a traditional lawn, consider adding clover and put thought into what type of grass you grow. Here are just a few varieties…

Bluegrass: V-shaped leaves with fairly blunt ends. If you buy sod, this is what you have. It needs a lot of water and sun compared to other grass.

Chewing fescue: very fine leaves with slightly rolled edges and visible veins. For shady areas, this is the best food-looking grass. Creeping red fecue is best for dry areas.

Perennial ryegrass: leaves with prominent veins, shinier below than above. If you regularly have insect problems, this is your grass, varieties ‘cutter’ and ‘edge’ in particular.

Let us know your secret tips so we can spread the word
to all of our communities! Call Sierra Club of Canada at (613) 241- 4611


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