When it comes to finding ways to keep my lawn and landscape looking their best using natural methods, I’m always scanning for any new ideas. Yet to date, I’ve found that it’s the time-tested proven solutions that provide the best results. When it comes to lawn care, there are a few important considerations, no matter what type of lawn you have, that don’t require any special inputs. It’s a common misconception that throwing some fertilizer on your lawn several times a year is all that is needed to keep your lawn looking green and good. But that’s simply not true. Yes, all lawns need to be fed, and when the time comes for that, I look to organic and natural solutions. But there are other basic steps that are just as important to building a strong foundation. To keep your lawn looking great naturally, try these proven steps to success.
Do a soil test
One of the simplest and most overlooked steps to lawn success is getting your soil tested to maximize your lawns potential. All plants, including grass, have a preferred soil chemistry, which allows nutrients to be taken up by the roots. Known as pH, the range goes from 0 to 14 with 7.0 being neutral. Lawns prefer a neutral to slightly acidic pH so your goal is a reading around 6.5 to 7.0. The soil test report, typically provided by your county extension service will tell you just what you need to add to get your soil within the ideal range. It’s typically an easy fix. But not making these simple adjustments can handicap your lawns success before you ever get started.
Feed your lawn
A common recommendation in a soil test report is to add nitrogen. That’s the nutrient that gives your grass its deep green color, as well as some other important benefits. There are many nitrogen-based lawn fertilizers on the market. However, most are synthetic, water soluble, salt-based products. Although fast acting and effective, I don’t believe these are the best long-term solution for a lawn or the environment. What isn’t taken up by the roots immediately can find it’s way into a watershed, adding to an already growing problem, plus the salt buildup over time can have an adverse impact on soil health.
Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants is a credo I live by for all my gardening and landscaping decisions. Accordingly, I look to natural alternatives for my nitrogen sources. In the perfect world, a top-dressing with several applications of compost each year would be the goal. It’s great for adding important organic matter to the soil and has important nutrients. But, adding a generous amount of compost each time can be impractical.
Corn gluten is one organic fertilizer option. Although primarily marketed as a pre-emergence weed control, it also contains a natural component of nitrogen, (about 10%) by volume. Although it does a great job of feeding and greening up your grass, because of the pre-emergence control, you would never use this in a newly seeded application. Another readily available and environmentally friendly product that is safe to use for newly seeded or established lawns is Milorganite. It’s a slow release natural product, which releases nutrients to plants and lawns over about an 8-10 week period. And it adds organic matter to feed the soil, which is exactly what I look for.
Provide access to sun
Some lawns are more shade tolerant than others, but all prefer sun over shade. More often than not, when you see an area of sparse coverage, look up. Chances are shade is impeding the ability for the grass to thrive. Although cutting trees down may not be an option, raising the tree canopy by limbing up just might be all that is necessary to get more sunlight to the ground. Alternatively, choose a more shade-tolerant grass.
Aerate during active growth
Once a year, just as your lawn is kicking into gear for the season, rent a core aerator and give your lawn a once over. This type of aerator is designed to remove cores or plugs from your soil so that air and water can move more freely around the roots. It also gives the roots a better chance of expanding as the surrounding soil becomes less dense and compact. The extracted cores will quickly break down and become unnoticeable in a matter of days.
Provide supplemental irrigation per week and at the right time
Over watering is just as, if not worse than under watering. In the absence of rainfall, one inch of total water per week is your target. When you do irrigate, do so early in the morning, to minimize the time your lawn stays wet. Excessive moisture above ground can promote diseases that can easily be avoided by watering at the right time.
Cut at the ideal level with a sharp blade
Studies have been conducted to identify the preferred or optimal growing height for peak performance for each type of lawn grass. Learn what type of grass you have and then do an online check to see at what height to keep your grass level. Accordingly, avoid cutting more than a third of the height at any time. More than that can stress the plants and potentially lead to pest or disease problems. And maintain a sharp blade for clean cuts. This greatly reduces the chance for torn or rough edges that are more susceptible to potential problems as well.
Simple steps like the ones mentioned above will go a long way to getting and keeping your lawn in peak condition. And the added bonus is, a healthy lush lawn is the best way to fight competing weeds, naturally of course.
Lavinia Moncada says
Hello Joe, thank you for all your help. I’m new on this, I just recently reseeded my lawn and is doing ok I guess. I used Milorganite ounce but didn’t see that much improvement. I have some bad spots that the grass grow but got dry, don’t know why. I’ve watering early in the morning everyday except when raining.
I’ll like to feed the lawn with Liquid Scotts turf builder starter food for new grass, is a 7-12-15. I’ve been reading a lot and I’m kind of confuse. Now I’m thinking on using Scotts liquid turf builder with plus 2 weed and feed, is a 25-0-2 because I lawn care company came to give me an estimate, but I have all these product that is not smart to pay someone when I can do it, even I’m not sure what I’m doing. Well, they said my lawn has clover, lespedeza, oxalis and crabgrass. I’m planning on applying Milorganite again on July, hopefully this time it works. But I feel I need to also use one of this or something else to treat the weeds.
Your advice will be really appreciate it, Thank you. Lav
Erica Glasener says
Wow, you have been working hard and I know it can be frustrating when you get information from different sources. I highly recommend you read Joe’s post about organic lawn care renovation as an alternative to using weed killers. With an organic lawn you may have a few weeds but you will also have birds, bees and other happy critters in your garden. Here is the link, he gives you step by step instructions. Happy gardening. https://joegardener.com/spring-lawn-renovation/
wendy Fong says
Is it a good idea to apply beneficial nematodes annually to my CA lawn to help in the contol of fleas, grubs, etc? Is once a year adequate? Do I need to apply specific strains or is there a good all purpose one?
I have applied 2 different species in the past and it seems to have helped however I’m having difficulty finding a good suitable hose end sprayer that won’t damage the nematodes when applying them. Can you recommend one or know where I can find one? All the hose end sprayers I’ve found at the hardware stores have been problematic. Since I need to do it in the dark to prevent the light from killing them, a hose end sprayer is the most practical method for me.
Joe Lamp'l says
There is no harm in applying beneficial nematodes but I suggest you contact your local
extension service for more specific information.
Don B says
Have you thought about using molasses? It will feed the microbes which will make more nitrogen available. Maybe some compost tea to get it kick started and don’t bag the clippings.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Don. I have not used compost tea nor molasses in my organic lawn care routine. However, I have seen compost tea used on lawns with great results. And I do think they use molasses in the brew to activate the microbes.
Lou Van Geest says
What can be used to green a lawn without using nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash- the usual components of fertilizer. This is to be used near a lake.
Joe Lamp'l says
Lou, you have to use something that includes nitrogen if greening up your lawn is your goal. However, keeping it on target is the key. I do these things to safely apply nitrogen into my lawn: 1. Aerate so that that the nitrogen goes into the ground easier. the cores that are removed from aeration help tremendously with that. Next, I add Milorganite. It’s the best commercial product I know of for applying nitrogen in a slow-release, non-burning form. And it’s easy to find at the store while not breaking your bank account.
I also spread composted manure. I have horses so I collect the manure and allow it to break down over months to the point where it is composted and safe to apply to my lawn. I also add compost when I have enough to make a difference. But the combination of these products combined with aeration are all I need to have a beautiful lush green lawn without the risk of dangerous runoff from potent synthetic fertilizers.
Again, just be sure to keep the product (whatever you’re using) from being spread onto impervious surfaces that could end up washing into watersheds, lakes, etc.
Terrence Uhen says
Wanting organic lawn care. Local tenderlawncare in Grand Rapids, MI advertises 100 % organic lawn care. What do you think and what do you advise.
Joe Lamp'l says
Terrence, I don’t have any experience with this company but the best place to start is with the experience from existing customers. That will be a good testament to the quality of their work. BUT, you still have to know if what they use really is all organic. I know a number of companies that advertise as an organic lawncare company but they are far from all organic. I’d suggest you search for all you can to determine what products they use to treat your lawn for pest, diseases and weed control. Then use that information to play detective online and research it out. You may be surprised at what you find.
And, if you need some help with this, call your local county extension service. They’ll have people there that should be able to guide you through the process. good luck!
Ron Raade says
I am spraying monthly, a solution containing beneficial soil bacteria and other microbes. (a total of 47 strains) It comes as a powder and I use an ortho sprayer to apply. This is my first summer and it appears to be making a difference. What are your thoughts?
Joe Lamp'l says
Ron, I think the proof of it working may be in the results you are seeing. Although it’s hard to know for sure if this is really the reason, I’m a big believer in the benefits of putting the biology back in the soil. But if it were me (and this is what I do), I would conduct an experiment to see the difference this is making by adding the spray solution to one bed or section of your garden, and not to another duplicate area if possible. Then note the differences over time. It’s the only way I can know for sure if something I’m doing differently is really having an effect one way or the other.