Organic lawns aren’t just healthier; once established, they’re less expensive and less time-consuming to maintain. Whether you’re hiring a professional or doing it yourself, adopt a “buyer beware” mindset.
When choosing an organic lawn care company, hire a NOFA-accredited firm — one that’s been trained by the Northeast Organic Farming Association and that agrees to abide by its care standards.
Here are five steps to lush, healthy, organic lawns:
1. Do a soil test. Contact your local garden extension service for a kit (about $5). The test will measure the soil’s pH level and recommend amendments. Be wary of professionals who want to treat your lawn without a soil test.
2. Plant the right stuff. Overseed spring and fall with a mixture of grasses suited to the climate. Include clover in the spring because it adds nitrogen naturally. Perennial ryegrass and fescues are good for New England’s climate fluctuations. Fill in bare spots with grass seed to leave less room for weeds and crabgrass.
3. The cut counts, so do it correctly. Sharpen your lawnmower’s blade annually and set it at 3 to 3 and a half inches: Longer grass is more weed-resistant. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to provide about half the lawn’s annual fertilizer needs. Never cut wet grass.
4. Feed your lawn. Feed the soil with natural and organic products, such as well-aged manure or compost. Avoid sewage sludge, also called Milorganite; it’s prohibited in organic land care standards.
5. Water infrequently. If needed, water in the early morning, and water deeply — one inch — weekly to encourage root growth. The roots of organically fed grass grow deep to search out food and water, which makes the grass more drought-tolerant.
Sources: “The Organic Lawn Care Manual,” by Paul Tukey; Todd Harrington, NOFA instructor and organic landscaper; Bill Duesing, Connecticut NOFA executive director