Organic Lawn Care Basics

Organic Lawn Care Basics

BUILD HEALTHY SOIL FOR HEALTHY GRASS

• Leave grass clippings on to supply nitrogen.
• Use natural fertilizers such as compost, live compost tea, corn gluten meal (a natural “weed and feed”) and meal from fish, kelp, or legumes to supply nitrogen. See other side for application rates.
• Avoid chemical fertilizers – they harm beneficial organisms and earthworms.
• Consider planting dwarf white clover in your lawn to supply nitrogen. Pre-1950’s lawns were seeded with a mix of grass and clover.
• Aerate established lawns to add oxygen and reduce soil compaction. Core aeration pulls plugs and drops soil back onto lawn.

DISCOURAGE WEEDS

• Mow high (3 to 3 1/2”) to shade out weeds.

Lawns with taller grass have fewer weeds. Never cut more than 1/3 off the top of the grass leaf at a time.
• Over-seed (see next section).
• If you water your lawn, water deeply (to 6” down) and infrequently to encourage deep grass roots. It is not necessary to water in hot, dry weather when grass goes dormant; dormant grass will recover in the fall.
• Remove weeds in the spring when plant root reserves are low. Use an upright dandelion digger or pronged grabber tool to pull tap-rooted weeds such as dandelions, thistles, and burdock. Rake or pull creeping Charlie.
• Try corn gluten meal in the early spring and fall to prevent weeds on established lawns.
When applied under just the right conditions (~45° soil temp, just enough water), this product prevents crabgrass, dandelions and other seedlings from growing.

Plants sprout but do not make roots. Be aware that it kills grass seedlings as well as weed seedlings. Corn gluten meal adds nitrogen to the soil also. See other side for application rates.


GIVE WEEDS STIFF COMPETITION
• Select the grass seed mix that is appropriate for the amount of light your lawn receives. In sun add dwarf clover.
• Over-seed your lawn in spring and fall. Grass grows best in cool weather.
Starting more grass plants will thicken the lawn and prevent weeds from sprouting.
• Sprinkle grass seed on bare spots after weeding.

Does your lawn have problem areas?

GET TO KNOW YOUR LAWN

Many common lawn problems such as weeds, thin grass, and bare spots occur because of compacted soil, planting grass in the wrong location, or lack of nutrients. Grass rarely thrives in shady areas or high traffic areas.

Consider shade-loving ground covers and paths instead.

TOLERATE PLANT DIVERSITY IN YOUR YARD

Lawns will always have some weeds and some insects. Even heavily treated lawns have weeds. Weed seeds blow in from other yards and are carried by feet and dropped by birds. Avoid pesticides and tolerate a few weeds for the greater good of the environment and our health.

Annual Lawn Care Timeline

April Sharpen mower blades, tune mower. Set mower height to 3-3 1/2”. Edge paths.
Begin mowing. Leave grass clippings on lawn. To over-seed clover use 2 oz dwarf
white clover/1000 ft2 in early April. You can mix it with grass seed. Mow to 2”
until clover sprouts. Don’t apply corn gluten meal if you over-seeded.

To stop weed seedlings from rooting apply corn gluten meal in dry weather at
the rate of 12 lbs/1000 ft2. Time it for weed seed germination, which occurs
when early daffodils and yellow forsythia shrubs bloom. Lightly water it in.
May Aerate, and if thatch is a problem use a power rake.
May Aerate, and if thatch is a problem use a power rake
June Early June Figure out your nitrogen needs. Sunny lawns need 2-3 lbs nitrogen/1000 ft2 per
year and shady lawns 1-1.5 lbs. Never apply more than 1 lb nitrogen/1000 ft2 at
one time. Use natural sources, such as compost, live compost tea, manure, fish
meal or vegetable meal fertilizer. Corn gluten meal provides 1 lb nitrogen/1000
ft2. If you plan 2 nitrogen applications make the first one now (Memorial Day).
Don’t apply nitrogen now if you recently used corn gluten meal.
July Figure out your nitrogen needs. Sunny lawns need 2-3 lbs nitrogen/1000 ft2 per
year and shady lawns 1-1.5 lbs. Never apply more than 1 lb nitrogen/1000 ft2 at
one time. Use natural sources, such as compost, live compost tea, manure, fish
meal or vegetable meal fertilizer. Corn gluten meal provides 1 lb nitrogen/1000
ft2. If you plan 2 nitrogen applications make the first one now (Memorial Day).
Don’t apply nitrogen now if you recently used corn gluten meal.
August Grass growth is at its slowest point. Don’t mow on schedule; mow when grass
height is above 3”.

This is usually the hottest and driest part of summer. Consider letting grass go
dormant; do not water.
Late August Grass growth is at its slowest point. Don’t mow on schedule; mow when grass
height is above 3”.

This is usually the hottest and driest part of summer. Consider letting grass go
dormant; do not water.
Early September Over-seed established lawn with 2- 3 lbs of grass seed/1000 ft2. Plant new areas to lawn if needed.

Use a grass seed mix for your location, either sun or shade.
Late September Aerate again if needed. Do another edging if needed.
October Rake leaves and compost them.
November Apply nitrogen fertilizer. Use compost, manure, fish meal, or vegetable meal
fertilizer. Apply 1 lb nitrogen/1000 ft2. If you recently used corn gluten meal,
don’t apply nitrogen now.

If you apply nitrogen once a year, do it now; if twice a year, do it Memorial Day and Halloween.

Pesticides To Avoid

2,4-D (2,4-Dicholorophenoxyacedtic acid )

Found in: Scotts Green Sweep Weed & Feed, Ortho Weed B Gon Lawn Weed Killer, UltraStop Lawn Weed Killer, Spectracide Weed Stop Weed Killer for Lawns, Ideal Weed & Feed, Menards Premium Weed & Feed, Triplex and Killex and many other retail products. Typically used in “weed-n-feed” products and combined with Dicamba and Mecoprop. A broadleaf herbicide.

  • Widely found to be contaminated with dioxin [1]
  • Contaminates urban bodies of water. Surface and groundwater contaminant [2]
  • Linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma [3]
  • Found in residential carpet dust up to one year after application outdoors on lawns [4]
  • Endocrine disruptor [5]
  • Reduced sperm counts and/or increased abnormalities in sperm [6]

2-Methoxy-3,6-dichlorobenzoic acid (Dicamba)

Found in: Ortho Weed B Gon Lawn Weed Killer,UltraStop Lawn Weed Killer, Spectracide Weed Stop Weed Killer for Lawns, Menards Premium Weed & Feed, Banvel, Scott’s Pro-Turf, Dianat, Dicazin, Fallowmaster, Mediben, Metambane, Tracker, and Trooper and many other retail products. A broadleaf herbicide.

  • Listed by the EPA as a developmental toxin [7]
  • Linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma [8]
  • Surface and groundwater contaminant [2]

2-(2-Methyl-4-chlorphenoxy)propionic acid (Mecoprop or MCPP)

Found in: Scotts Green Sweep Weed & Feed, Ortho Weed B Gon Lawn Weed Killer,UltraStop Lawn Weed Killer, Spectracide Weed Stop Weed Killer for Lawns, Menards Premium Weed & Feed, Kilprop, Mecopar,Triester-II, Mecomin-D, Triamine-II (with MCPA and 2.4-DP), Triplet (with 2,4-D and dicamba), TriPower (with MCPA and dicamba), Trimec (with 2,4-D and dicamba), Trimec-Encore (with MCPA and dicamba). A broadleaf herbicide.

  • Linked to cancer of soft tissues and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma [9]
  • Medium toxicity to birds [9]
  • Surface and groundwater contaminant [2]
  • Listed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer [10]

2-Methyl-4-chlorphenoxyacetic acid (MCPA)

Found in: Agritox, Agroxone, Agrozone, Agsco MXL, Banlene, Blesal MC, Bordermaster, Cambilene, Cheyenne, Chimac Oxy, Chiptox, Class MCPA, Cornox Plus, Dakota, Ded-Weed, Empal, Envoy, Gordon’s Amine, Kilsem, Legumex, Malerbane, Mayclene, MCP, Mephanac, Midox, Phenoxylene, Rhomene, Rhonox, Sanaphen-M, Shamrox, Selectyl, Tiller, U 46 M-Fluid, Vacate, Weed-Rhap, and Zhelan. A broadleaf herbicide often used in combination with 2,4-D, mecoprop and/or dicamba

  • Linked to reproductive effects, mutagenicity [9]
  • Can cause severe eye irritation, slurred speech, muscle spasms [9]
  • Surface and groundwater contaminant [2]
  • Listed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer [10]

N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine (glyphosate)

Found in: Roundup, UltraStop Weed & Grass Killer, Ortho Ground Clear Triox Total Vegetation Killer,Touchdown,Gallup, Landmaster, Pondmaster, Ranger, Rodeo. A broad spectrum herbicide; kills grass and other plants.

  • Linked to spontaneous abortion [11]
  • Leaches from sandy soils and contaminates water; highly toxic to fish; [12]

[1] Crit. Reviews in Toxicol., 32(4) pp. 223-257
[2] Struger, J. et al. 1994. Environmental Concentrations of Urban Pesticides. Contained in “Current Practices in Modelling the Management of Stormwater Impacts. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL 1998.
[3] Cancer, 72(5), pp. 1773-78.
[4] Environ. Health Perspect., 109 pp. 1185-91.
[5] Environ. Health Perspect., 103 pp. 81-85.
[6] Occupational Medicine, 12(2) and Human Pathology, Vol. 24.
[7] Toxics Release Inventory and Community Right to Know, EPA, www.epa,gov/tri/
[8] Journal of Pesticide Reform, Vol. 14, No. 1.
[9] “Basic Guide to Pesticides: Their Characteristics and Hazards.” Washington, D.C., Taylor and Francis, p. 283.
[10] Lists of IARC Evaluations, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). http://193.51.164.11/monoeval/grlist.html.
[11] Environ. Health Perspect., 109, pp. 851-57.
[12] Journal of Pesticide Reform, 15 (3) pp. 14-20.