Here is the dream: a beautiful, lush green lawn that is soft to our bare feet and free of harmful chemicals. Here is the reality: most of us don’t know how to do it. Below we offer two alternatives: hire out or do-it-yourself.
Pure Prairie Organics
P.O. Box 1458
Wheaton, IL, 60187
He also offers tips and guidance on his website.
Natural Lawn Care
The EPA wrote "Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment", a 19 page step-by-stepguide on how to carefor your lawn AND protect the environment. You can download it for free from newdream.org.
To get tips from someone in our area, here are Bill’s Ten Top Turf Tips as quoted directly from his webpage: http://www.pure-prairie-organics.com/top-ten-tips.htm. His site has other useful information and is worth a visit.
- Mow high! The longer the grass, the longer the roots. By raising the mower to the top setting (3 ½ inches), we can cut our watering in half and we will have half the weeds as the person mowing at 2 ½ inches.
- Water the lawn for one hour, once per week from mid- September to Halloween. In the autumn, plants are getting ready for winter by storing food in their roots and they need water to make their food.
September and October are usually our driest months. If it rains then we are fine and don't need to water for that week. Keep the garden hoses out until Halloween! Everything we do in autumn will show up in spring. Lawns that have been watered and fed in autumn will green up 2 to 4 weeks earlier than lawns that have not been fed or watered.
- Grass is a full sun plant. Even the “shade tolerant” grasses need 5 hours of full sun. The other grasses need 8 hours of full sun. Shaded areas should be mulched. Trees like mulch.
- Fertilizing definitely helps. Although we live in the Prairie State, it definitely helps to fertilize the lawn. Native prairie plants are 3 to 4 feet high with long roots which can forage for food. We mow our lawns which keeps the roots shorter. By feeding our lawns, the soil can support more grass which thickens the lawn. If we do not feed our grass, we will still have a lawn but it will be thin and probably have more weeds.
- Apply gypsum every year. The rule of thumb for gypsum is one bag per 1,000 sq ft per year. We can apply half in spring and half in autumn or every few months during the growing season. Gypsum opens up clay.
- Stop using killer chemicals! Plants don't have a stomach, so the digestion has to happen in the soil. Killer chemicals are hostile to the microbes that digest food for the plants. This will encourage the growth of pathogens (bad microbes) which will attack an already weakened plant. Spot spray weeds instead or, for larger yards, just spray once in April for dandelions. The rest of the year is not too bad. Liquid weed killers are better than dry because they are absorbed in the leaf and stay out of the soil. Dry killer chemicals get in the soil and do a lot of damage.
- Labor Day is the best time for seeding. Grass needs one year to mature.
Seeding in the spring, we get more top growth. Seeding in the autumn, we get more root growth. Spring seeded grass is 2 to 3 month old baby grass plants going into July with a small root system. Autumn seeded lawns are 10 months old going into July. Big difference. Also, September and October are cooler than summertime so we don't need to water as much and the soil is still warm from summer which encourages the seed to germinate.
- Gypsum controls crabgrass. Crabgrass only germinates where there is salt.
Gypsum neutralizes salt. Gypsum is a better crabgrass preemergent than the chemicals are. Usually crabgrass is found along the roadside where the snowplow pushes the salt and also along the driveway, where the salt melts off our tires. Apply one bag along the parkway on Thanksgiving and again at Easter. Do the same along the driveway. It may take a few years to get results but keep at it until the crabgrass disappears on its own without any digging and the natural grass will begin to fill in. Buy stock in U. S. Gypsum.
- Do not aerate or dethatch by machine. They don't work and it's messy and expensive. One bag of gypsum and two pounds of sugar will do more to aerate the soil than any machine can do. We WANT a ½ inch or ¾ inch of thatch!
It will help hold in moisture so the lawn doesn't dry out so fast and it will prevent weeds by shading the soil. Weed seeds need sunlight to germinate. Thatch= shade=fewer weeds and less watering. You can do this. Just leave the clippings on the lawn and no one gets hurt. If you have more than one inch of thatch, then spray Stoneyfield yogurt, or better yet, some kefir, with active cultures in it. Lactobacillus bacteria is a world class bio-dethatch. It will turn your thatch into topsoil. Much better than having someone beat up your lawn and then pay to haul it away.
- Plants need carbs. Organic fertilizers work best but if we must use chemical fertilizers, then add a bag of gypsum and two pounds of sugar and it will work much better. Use the fertilizers without the killer chemicals.
Schultz, Warren. The Chemical-Free Lawn: The Newest Varieties and Techniques to Grow Lush, Hardy Grass (1989). Accessible through the Batavia Public Library via LINC 635.9647 SCH.
Darcy Costello writes, “I have never used lawn chemicals on my lawn but my husband has always wanted a nice lawn. Here is a book that was helpful in keeping us both happy.”
Franklin, Stuart. Building a Healthy Lawn: A Safe and Natural Approach. Available at the Batavia public library 635.9647 FRA.
Turkey, Paul. The Organic Lawn Care Manual. Available at the Batavia public library 635.9647 TUK.
Places to Buy Organic Fertilizer and Natural Lawn Care Products
The Natural Garden
38W443 Highway 64
St. Charles, IL 60175
Aside from a large variety of native plants, this store stocks a good supply of organic fertilizers for your lawn and garden and natural pest and weed controls.
2111 S Randall Rd
Geneva, IL 60134
Home Depot typically carries Ringer Restore organic lawn fertilizer, TerraCycle organic lawn fertilizer and plant food, Sure Fire organic fungicides and pesticides and Miracle Gro organic lawn food.
1901 W Wilson St
Batavia, IL 60510
Last year Ace carried Ringer Restore Organic Lawn Fertilizer and a number of organic tree spikes. The more we buy them, the more they will carry them. Ace also has a nice selection of bird feeders :)
Fortunately, organic lawn care products are becoming increasingly common. If you can't get them at the local garden shop, you can definitely get them on-line. The options are many. Jim Kirkhoff likes www.groworganic.com.