• Barbara Bour

Chemical Free Lawn Care for Busy People: Lawn To Do List

Updated: May 1

Lawn chemicals, synthetic fertilizer and blowing are causing environmental problems, impacting our health, and interfering with soil health and carbon sequestration.

Doing nothing at all is less harmful, but not ideal for your soil and for your lawn. Resourceful weed are likely to take over.


You can have a pretty lush lawn without chemicals and blowing. You will need to get used to having some "weeds" in your lawn. There are benefits to some amount of weeds: Clover provides nitrogen, while other common weeds like, violet and dandelion support honeybees and other pollinators. As for grubs and other enemies of a lush lawn, the best defense is to maintain a healthy lawn and yard environment to encourage predators including birds and other insects. Here is how we suggest you do that:

Get a professional pH test of your soil:

Take samples from various locations around your lawn and send them to Rutgers Soil Testing Laboratory. Tests can be ordered on line. It will tell you if you need to add limestone to nudge your pH up to neutral, which is the sweet spot for turf grasses.

Apply organic fertilizer mid April and mid September in New Jersey.

Organic fertilizer supports ability of lawn to complete with weeds. Organic fertilizer provides slow-release nitrogen and other essential nutrients.

An alternative is corn gluten meal, an organic weed control that works by preventing weed seeds from sprouting.

We do not recommend mid season fertilizing and it is very important to not over apply any fertilizer.

Corn gluten is protein byproduct from the production of corn syrup, used mainly as animal feed. Corn gluten breaks down after several weeks into a slow-release nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer. Timing of application is important. Put it down in early spring, about when first crocuses are blooming. Wait six weeks before putting down any grass seed, which will also be killed by the corn gluten unless you wait until after it has broken down.

Water only when grass is dry and when you water, water deeply.

Keep track of rainfall with a rain gauge and if your lawn gets thirsty, water deeply, putting down at least a half inch. Light frequent watering does more harm than good b bringing roots up to the surface and causing thatch.

Mow often and mow high.

Set the mower for about three inches. The higher turf level tends to deny sunlight to germinating weed seed. The higher frequency makes it less likely you are cutting down on the stem of the grass plants, which stunts their growth.

Leave the clippings behind.

They recycle their nutrients back into the soil.

Minimize blowing.

Not only is blowing very noisy and polluting, they harm the soil by blowing nutrients off.

Mow leaves in.

Like clippings, they recycle nutrients back into soil. A rotary mower works well for this purpose by partially shredding leaves to speed their breakdown.

Core aeration.

Fall is best time for a core aeration to help loosen soil compacted by summer foot traffic and to promote root growth. Most lawn services do aeration. Make sure the lawn is well watered beforehand.

Reseed bare spots

Fall is best time to reseed bare patches. Success will improve if you cover seeded areas with chopped hay and keep those areas watered until the new grass is well-established. Best and most drought tolerant seeds mixes contain a lot of tall fescue.

For further research:

* Paul Wheaton on lawn care for the cheap and lazy.

* Yale Environment360 on danger to waterways from fertilizer runoff.

* Washington Post on dangers of lawn chemicals to insects, kids and pets.


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