Natural Lawn Care

Follow these steps for a healthier lawn that needs less water, chemicals, and work.

Follow these steps for a healthier lawn that needs less water, chemicals, and work!

Mow higher (1-2 inches), mow regularly, and leave the clippings.

“Grasscycling” or leaving the clippings on the lawn doesn’t cause thatch build up. But it does make lawns healthier. Soil organisms recycle the clippings into free fertilizer, and you save all the work of bagging. Modern mulching lawn mowers make grasscycling even easier.

Use “natural organic” or “slow release” fertilizers.

Don’t try for a deep blue-green color – healthy lawns in our region are a lighter meadow green.

Water deeply, to moisten the whole root zone, but less frequently.

Let the soil dry between waterings to prevent lawn disease and save water. Lawns only need about one inch of water a week in summer, including rain, to stay green.

How much is one inch of water a week?

Scatter tuna cans or other straight-sided containers on your lawn, turn on the sprinkler, and check the time. When most cans have 1 inch of water in them, turn off the sprinkler and check how long it ran. Now you know how long to run your sprinkler each week in summer, if you want to keep your lawn green.

Or let lawns go brown and dormant – they’ll bounce back in fall!

You can let lawn areas that don’t get heavy wear go brown and dormant – just water once a month, and they’ll bounce back in the fall. If you end up with thin areas from wear, when it rains in the fall you can rake to expose the soil, then overseed (see below).

Use automatic irrigation systems efficiently

Automatic systems can actually waste lots of water, or be fairly efficient, depending on how you set and maintain them.

Improve poor lawns

Think twice before using “weed and feed” or other pesticides.

Accept a few weeds, and crowd out problem weeds by growing a dense healthy lawn. Use a long handled weed puller to easily remove dandelions without bending over. Weeding is easiest when the soil is moist. If you want to use weed killer, don’t spread “weed and feed” all over (it gets into our streams) – just spot spray the problem weeds.

Consider alternatives to lawns on steep slopes, shady areas, or near streams and lakes.

Grass grows best on level, well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. And it takes a lot of work (and sometimes chemicals) to maintain. Look for other plants better suited to soggy soil, slopes, or heavy shade. Try to leave or plant a “buffer” of dense, native vegetation along streams and lakes. It will filter and slow runoff, shade and cool the water, provide homes for wildlife, and prevent bank erosion too.

More Information

Natural Lawn Care guide (pdf)
Ecologically Sound Lawn Care (pdf) - 90-page manual for professionals, or a short summary Sustainable Lawn Care for NW Professionals (pdf)
Integrated Pest Management - has factsheets on weed and pest management for lawns and landscapes.

Questions? What about moss, or crane flies? Where to buy organic fertilizer or mulching lawnmowers? Ask the experts at the Garden Hotline, (206) 633-0224 email help@gardenhotline.org