Have a giant patch of grass you aren’t sure how to care for? This organic lawn care guide will show you how to care for your yard in the most organic, natural way possible, as well as some grass alternatives to try.
Lawns are evil.
Ok, perhaps that is a harsh generalization. I like a picnic on soft blades of grass as much as the next person. At the same time, I don’t like wasteful practices that are harmful to the earth.
I would much prefer if everyone would replace their water-guzzling lawn with drought-tolerant gardens, native plants to attract pollinators, or zero-waste vegetable gardens. I would prefer to replace MY lawn with pavers and ground covers, but I don’t have the only vote in the house.
All of the above considered, a prestine, green yard is a way of life for many homeowners. Organic lawn care allows you to care for and enjoy your grass in a responsible, nature-friendly way.
5 Steps to Organic Lawn Care
We maintain a small patch of grass for kids and pets to play on in the back garden. It is a lovely, green, organic, natural lawn that requires almost no maintenance. If you too must have grass, then here is how I care for my lawn without pesticides, herbicides, store-bought fertilizer, or water-waste.
1. Prepare the Soil
Rake the lawn to remove any debris. Remove any weeds without too much digging. Opening up the soil allows dormant weed seeds to awaken and germinate, creating even more weeds! Keep the weeding to a minimum and it will reduce the overall number of weeds you have to dig up in the future.
2. Check (and Correct) pH
Grass likes alkaline soil. You can easily test your soil’s pH at home with distilled water, vinegar, and baking soda. If necessary, you can also purchase a soil pH test kit.
If you have acidic soil, you can spread some lime to help raise the pH.
A central part of organic lawn care is overseeding properly. To do so, you’ll need to get the right kind of seed. Lawns are made up of different kinds of grasses—here are just a few:
- Rye grass is used as a base in lawn mixes. It’s cold-tolerant and rebounds well under heavy traffic. It grows in clumps so it’s best used in a mix where other grasses can fill in around it.
- Bluegrass is a nice green grass that fills in patches well.
- Tall fescue is an easily established grass that is heat-tolerant.
- Fine fescues are shade tolerant and slow-growing.
- St. Augustine grass is coarse and dense with wide blades. It thrives in heat and cannot tolerate the cold.
Choose lawn seed that is a mix of these grasses for the best results. A shady lawn blend will work in both sun and shade, so it is a good choice if you have a lawn that has mixed lighting.
Spread seed evenly over the entire lawn, and add some extra in bare patches. Cover seed with a thin layer of turf soil, a mix of compost and sand to ensure good drainage.
For new lawns, seed 3 times in the spring, for instance: March, April, and May. To fill in the lawn, seed 2 times in the spring.
4. Mow and Fertilize
Keep lawn at 2”-3” long to promote vigorous growth and prevent weeds. Fertilize your lawn naturally by leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing. They are rich in nitrogen and provide free fertilizer perfect for turf.
Let the grass grow a bit longer and go to seed before you cut it, and you have now also seeded your lawn in the process!
One simple test you can try is to go without watering your lawn for a whole year. Once you do this, you will quickly learn if the lawn is the right choice for your area. If the lawn can’t survive without a lot of added water throughout the season, then think about changing it out.
Some options include ground covers, native species, or even edible gardens (more on this is described at the end of this article).
If you must water your lawn, limit it to 1” of water once a week to promote deep roots that will require less water and maintenance. Measure water by placing a cup or a jar on the lawn and label the cup 1” from the bottom as the fill line.
What do I do When my Grass Turns Brown in the Summer?
It is completely natural and healthy for grass to turn brown in the heat of summer. Grasses do not like heat and will go dormant in very hot weather to protect the plants. The best way to deal with this is to accept that lawns will brown in the summer, and turn green again when the temperature cools. Save water and allow the plants to thrive by supporting their natural cycle, not preventing it.
If the soil is compacted and needs loosening, you can pierce the sod with a pitchfork in the fall, then spread turf soil and rake to fill it in. This doesn’t need to be done every year. Every 3-4 years or as needed is sufficient.
Keep in mind that any aeration also invites dormant weed seeds to become active again, so aeration should only be used when soil is clearly too compacted to thrive.
With these steps for organic lawn care, I maintain a small and lush patch of grass in my yard. It is surrounded by flowering and edible gardens. One day, it may be removed forever. For now, though, I have a lovely organic lawn.
Grass Alternatives to Try
If your grass can’t easily be managed in your yard using these tips, then it might be time to consider replacing your lawn. Here are some alternative ground covers to try:
- Blue Star Creeper (Isotoma fluviatillis)
- Kidney Weed (Dichondra micrantha)
- Bugleflower (Ajuga reptans)
- White clover (Trifolium repens)
- Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
- Elfin Thyme (Thymus serpyllum).
Additionally, many seed companies also create an eco-lawn alternative full of hardy plant mixes that are perfect for lawn replacement as they require less mowing and water, and can survive foot traffic.
Or why not turn your lawn into garden? Here are some tips on converting lawn into garden beds without waste.
Oh, and if you are looking for a way to prevent dogs from destroying the grass by doing their ‘business,’ then check out this article on building a flushable dog run.
I think it can be really difficult to maintain your yard, especially in the winter months. My husband has tried everything to get our yard to be lush and green but nothing has seemed to work. I think the best option is getting a landscaping service to come and take care of everything so that we can be sure it will be in good hands.
Hi Katie, I see that your name links to a lawn care company.
Great article. I own a lawn care service and I use chemicals to treat my clients yards. Several have asked about going organic. Not sure of the expense. Can you let me know what the cost would be?
I think that if you are using less chemicals you would be saving that expense. What other costs did you have in mind?
I completely agree with this! I am in the lawn care business, but I believe in practices that are positive for the environment.
Great tips thank you for sharing! Organic is always the way to go. Glad I found your site
I’m from Southern California – the water use issues still override any benefits. Please consider doing a more regional take on this. Turf doesn’t work in our area without major propping up. And it does little to contribute to habitat for the insect world that we need to protect.