Natural Lawn Care Basics

Do You Know…

1. How to Mow?
Mow high. Tall grass shades out weeds and encourages deep root growth.
Set your mower to 3 inches. Never mow more than 1/3 of the blade each time.

2. About water flow?
Water deeply, and infrequently. Overwatering can cause fungal disease.
Water in early morning or late afternoon, about ¾ to 1 inch every week (including rainfall). Winter grasses used in Minnesota go dormant in the hot weather.

3. When to Sow?
Sow grass seed in the fall for best results. This gives enough time for the grass to become well-established. Reseed over existing turf at any time, mixing in grass seed with top dressing for best results.

4. Rake or no?
Do leave lawn clippings on the lawn whenever possible, but rake leaves or mulch them with a mower. Grass clippings add nitrogen to the soil, while clumps of leaves, if not mulched, can cause disease.

5. Aerate as you go.
Aerate your lawn once each fall to correct soil compaction. (You can rent a small aerator machine.) The best natural aerator is the earthworm. Make your yard worm-friendly by eliminating pesticides!

More lawn care tips:
· Grass needs about 6 hours of sun a day. If your yard gets less, consider shade-loving ground cover instead or reduce your turf area by planting perennial gardens.

· Maintain proper fertility and pH levels in your lawn. Have your soil tested to determine nutrient needs. County Extension offices do soil testing for a small fee.

· Use organic phosphate-free fertilizers in the fall to replenish nutrients. Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly and do not harm beneficial organisms. Phosphate run-off pollutes lakes, streams and rivers, as it promotes growth of algae. Some fertilizers also have toxic chemicals and heavy metals, even ones labeled “organic”. Find recommended products at

· Corn gluten meal is a natural, nontoxic “weed and feed”. It inhibits the germination of weed seeds if applied in April, before weeds go to seed, and again in the fall.

· Occasionally you may need to, dethatch. You can rent a dethatcher. Thatch is a dense layer of grass stems and roots, which should not exceed ½ inch.

Just what are pesticides, anyway? They include:
Herbicides, used to kill plant material (i.e. weeds, as well as your “good” plants).
Some common pesticides are 2,4-D, Atrazine, Glyphosate.

Insecticides, used to kill insect pests (again, they kill good and bad bugs).
Some examples are Diazinon and Dursban.

Fungicides, which kill diseases of the plant (i.e., molds, rot, fungus).

Most important, while pesticides kill the pests, they do not solve the underlying problem. The best way to keep pests, disease and weeds under control is to have a healthy lawn. Finally, learn to tolerate a few pests in the lawn. A weed-free, pest-free lawn is neither feasible nor desirable.

Weeds in your Garden
It’s fairly easy to keep your garden beds weed-free, but it requires some elbow grease on your part.

1. Plan ahead. Prepare garden beds by ridding the beds of weeds first, by hand-pulling or by solarization (covering the soil with plastic to kill the weeds).

2. Use mulch on established beds to keep the weeds out and the water in. Mulch to 3-4 inches with an organic mulch, replenishing as needed.

3. Get acquainted with your soil. Get down and your hands and knees and pull those weeds. You’ll become familiar with your garden, notice pests and disease as they appear, and get a workout as well.

4. Hoe. Hoe. Hoe. Use a hoe to get at the surface of weeds while leaving desirable plants’ roots undisturbed. Make sure your tools are sharp.
Still not convinced? Consider this:

Of 30 pesticides commonly used on lawns, 13 are suspected human carcinogens. (Beyond Pesticides, 2005)

The National Cancer Institute said that children are at up to six times greater risk of leukemia or brain cancer after exposure to pesticides. (NCI, 1997)

The EPA canceled the use of Diazinon on golf courses due to its toxicity to waterfowl, yet it is still one of the most widely-used pesticides on residential lawns. (EPA, GAO)

Some pesticides are quite stable in the environment and their toxicity can persist for decades. Some can also accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and pass into the food chain.

· National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns
· MN County Extension offices
· MN Office of Environmental Assistance, 651-296-3417
· Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), P.O. Box 1393, Eugene, OR 97440, 503/344-5044
· EPA, Office of Pesticide Programs, 401 M St. SW Washington DC 20460
· Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC)
· Washington Toxics Coalition
· Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA)
· Schultz, Warren. The Chemical-Free Lawn, Rodale Press, 1996.
· Mugaas, Bob. Low Input Lawn Care pamphlet, Minnesota Extension Service.
· Gardens Alive! Natural yard, garden and pest-control products, 812/537-8650
· Phosphate-free fertilizer & natural herbicide source: Summerset Products, 952-820-0363
· Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, 2105 First Av. S, Minneapolis

Prepared by Megan Bartell, Women’s Cancer Resource Center & Kathleen Schuler, Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy

Reprinted with permission by the Safe Lawn and Garden Campaign of EAGLE and the Duluth Community Garden Program

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