Organic Lawn Care: A Complete Guide [2021]

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You want a lush, beautiful lawn, but you can’t help but feel turned-off by the intense warning labels on most pesticides and herbicides.

And for good reason:

Most of the lawn products available at your local home improvement store are filled with toxic chemicals that can be dangerous for your family and the environment.

Fortunately, there’s a better way:

Organic lawn care.

Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we specialize in providing organic lawn management for customers in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you’ve ever wanted to cut down on the chemicals you use to maintain your property, we’re here to tell you that it is possible to get a lush, healthy, beautiful lawn without relying on dangerous compounds.

In this post, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of organic lawn care and how to maintain your lawn without harsh formulas.

Let’s dive in.

organic lawn care

What is Organic-Based Lawn Care?

Organic-based lawn care is much more than just managing your lawn without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Instead, it’s a science-backed, whole-system approach that gets rid of synthetic pesticides, including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides, does not use synthetic fertilizers, and eliminates genetically engineered organisms.

The result?

A healthier, lusher, more resilient, more beautiful lawn–from the ground up.

Here’s how The NOFA Organic Land Care Program defines natural lawn care: 

Organic lawn care is a sustainable ecological landscaping system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-site inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony and beauty in urban and suburban landscapes and gardens. “Organic” means landscaping with no synthetic pesticides of any kind (insecticides ,herbicides, fungicides, etc.) and with no synthetic fertilizers or soil amendments. 

Contrary to popular belief, synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides are not must-haves for healthy lawns.

Unlike traditional lawn care, organic lawn care manages your lawn’s entire ecological system. Organic lawn care takes the synthetic ingredients out of the equation and replaces them with organic fertility and weed control aids to make your lawn beautiful naturally.

Organic Lawn Care vs Chemical: Which is Better?

organic vs chemical lawn care

You care about your lawn and you want to learn more about the difference between organic and chemical lawn care.

Which is better for soil? Which is safer and better for water? Which is more affordable? Which is safer for kids and pets? And finally, which is better for your lawn? 

Here are a few key differences between the two options:

Organic Lawn Care

The pros of organic lawn care are many. First, it reduces exposure to chemicals for your family, kids, and pets. This is critically important, since many commonly-used lawn pesticides have been proven toxic.

Out of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 are either carcinogenic or linked to cancer; 12 are connected to birth defects; 21 have known reproductive effects; 25 cause liver or kidney damage; 14 are known neurotoxins, and 17 disrupt the endocrine system.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how using organic lawn care can make your property a healthier place.

Additionally, organic lawn care is also difficult to over-apply. Since organic fertilizers break down slowly, they won’t “burn” your yard like some chemical lawn care.

Finally, organic lawn treatments take a “whole-system” approach to the health of your lawn. While chemical fertilizers strip soil of important nutrients and creatures (like earthworms), organic lawn care enhances your lawn’s soil and makes it healthier, more biodiverse, and more resilient in the face of pests or disease.

Compared to the cons of chemical lawn care, the drawbacks of organic lawn care are minimal. Mainly, it can take longer to see results and may be more expensive than conventional treatments.

Chemical Lawn Care

While chemical lawn care may make your grass look good, chances are those impacts are only surface-level.

Chemical lawn care improves the appearance of the grass but strips the soil and overall ecosystem of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Ultimately, this leaves glass vulnerable to pests, diseases, drought, and more.

Chemical lawn care also douses your grass in chemical pesticides and herbicides, which can run off into local water systems and pollute the natural environment.

How do I Take Care of my Lawn Organically? 6 DIY Steps

diy organic lawn care methods

Getting started with organic lawn care doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here are six DIY steps to improve your at-home organic lawn care efforts:

1. Mowing

Mowing your yard is an important part of maintaining its appearance, but did you know it can also boost its health?

Unlike many other species of grasses, turfgrass (the type used in yards) tolerates mowing because the crown of the grass (the point from which growth initiates) is located below the mower blade’s path.

To use mowing to enhance the strength and beauty of your grass, follow these tips:

  • Mow your grass at the appropriate height. This ranges from 1 ½” to 3 ½”. As a general rule, we recommend keeping your grass mowed to the longer end of that range. This is because longer grass has a deeper root system, which increases drought tolerance and limits the grass’s dependence on irrigation. Additionally, robust root systems break up hard, compacted soil for a healthier lawn.
  • Mow your grass at the appropriate frequency. If you keep your grass shorter, you’ll need to mow it more frequently. Lawns that are 1 ½” long, for example, may require mowing twice weekly, while 3” long grass may only need to be mowed once a week.

2. Irrigation

Irrigation is a critical component of organic lawn care, but it’s only beneficial if you do it correctly.

Instead of irrigating your lawn a few times a week (which can lead to overwatering and pooling of moisture), opt for less frequent but deeper irrigation.

When you irrigate your lawn, you should provide just enough water to prevent drought stress while also soaking the entire root of the grass. Irrigating on alternating days, for example, or irrigating on odd days for 20 minutes are both great approaches for reducing irrigation frequency.

Finally, be sure to time your irrigation properly. It’s best to irrigate early in the morning – between 5 am and 9 am. During these hours, water can soak into the soil without lingering on the leaf.

3. Aeration

Soil compaction is inevitable in high-traffic environments like lawns.

When soil becomes compacted, it has less space for oxygen and is less able to support beneficial microbial populations. Additionally, turfgrass has a difficult time sending roots down into heavily compacted soil.

To avoid compaction, you’ll need to aerate your soil. The most common tactic is called core aeration, which involves removing cores from the soil to a depth of about 3”-6”.

Lawn aeration should be performed at least once per year, generally in the late summer or early fall.

4. Dethatching

Thatch is the layer of partially decomposed organic material that sits above the soil surface of your lawn. While a thin layer of thatch (½” or less) can benefit your grass by insulating the crown of the grass and providing cushioning, excessive thatch can make the grass more vulnerable to diseases and pests, cause shallow rooting, and reduce nutrient infiltration.

To dethatch and refresh your lawn, simply use a metal leaf rake to remove thatch manually. You can also use a vertical mower that cuts down into the thatch layer and pulls material up and away from the surface of the soil.

5. Compost Topdressing

Compost topdressing is the practice of spreading a very thin layer of compost (between ⅛” and ½”) over the lawn area. Topdressing adds beneficial nutrients back to the soil and can help a yard that has been conventionally treated restore its beneficial organisms.

For best results, use a compost spreader to spread high-quality compost across the lawn immediately after aeration.

6. Overseeding

Overseeding is the process of laying grass seed over existing turf. When it comes to organic lawn care, this is the single most effective weed control method available today. Since weeds are pioneer plants that will grow in any area where grass does not, overseeding decreases available space for weeds to grow and leads to a lush, beautiful lawn.

To overseed your organic lawn, choose a grass seed that includes a mixture of grass species that perform well in your region.

Visit ntep.org for a list of varieties that will work for you.

For best results, use a slice seeder to overseed your lawn in the early spring or late fall, spreading seed at a rate of 6-10 lbs. per 1000 square feet of lawn. Follow the treatment with an organic fertilizer to enhance growth.

Regarding organic lawn fertilizer, many people have questions about natural or homemade fertilizers.

Is Epsom salt good for lawns? Are coffee grounds good for lawns? 

While both contain nitrogen and phosphorus that can help restore nutrients into the ground, we recommend purchasing an organic lawn care fertilizer at your local home goods store.

What is the Best Organic Lawn Care Fertilizer?

organic lawn care fertilizer

We don’t have any affiliation with the following products, but we do recommend them for many of our customers:

  • The Best Overall Organic Fertilizer: The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic
  • Best for Nitrogen Deficiencies: Urban Farm Fertilizers Liquid Lawn Fertilizer
  • Best for Phosphorus and Potassium Deficiencies: Scotts Natural Lawn Food
  • Best for the Budget-Conscious: Jonathan Green & Sons 7566565 Organic Lawn Food
  • Best for Creating a Lush, Green Lawn: Milorganite 0636 Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer
  • Best Phosphorous-Free Formula: Espoma EOLB30 Organic Lawn Booster Fertilizer

Where can I buy Organic Lawn Care Products?

Most lawn and home stores carry a wide selection of organic lawn care products. If you live in the area of a natural or organic lawn care store, you’ll have more options than many. We recommend visiting your local home or garden center, or a local nursery or greenhouse to find organic lawn care products that work for you.

How do Professional Organic Lawn Care Services Work?

If you prefer not to DIY your organic lawn care, there’s always the option of hiring an organic lawn care service like Smith’s to take care of your lawn.

Here’s a general breakdown of how organic lawn care services work:

1. Analysis

Organic lawn care specialists believe that there is no one-size-fits-all rule for lawn maintenance. Instead, they create specialized programs for each lawn they’re hired to maintain. Each program leverages a different level of treatment intensity designed to meet the needs of an individual site.

What each eco-friendly program shares, however, is a mission to address soil and grass health, resolve existing problems, and make the grass and soil healthier and more resilient for the future.

To determine the needs of a given site, most organic lawn care companies start with a soil analysis. This soil analysis evaluates the current levels of key nutrients in the soil, identifies the presence of pests or diseases, and provides a high-level overview of current grass and soil health.

Once the results of the soil test are in, the organic lawn care company can begin constructing a customized program for that unique lawn.

2. Treatment

Now that the treatment program is in place, the lawn care provider will start deploying treatments. Because natural lawn management practices take longer to generate results, there’s an initial window of time called the “transition period.”

During this period, new products are put in place and different practices are implemented. The goal of the transition period is to treat the lawn from the soil up – improving the chemistry and biomass of the soil, and supporting the grass as a result.

3. Follow-up Treatments

As the transition period draws to a close, your organic lawn care company will evaluate the results of treatment and re-apply treatments as needed. Since an organic lawn care regimen adapts to your lawn’s current and projected health, treatments typically change during the long-term scope of lawn management.

4 Organic Lawn Care Maintenance Tips for a Healthy, Vibrant Lawn

soil test

The best way to enjoy a beautiful organic lawn is to maintain it carefully.

Here are a few tips we recommend:

  1. Test and improve your soil. Soil is the basis of every healthy lawn. Ideal soil pH sits between 6.5 and 7.0, which is just slightly acidic. Purchase a pH test kit at your local home or garden store or have your soil tested professionally. Depending on the results of the pH test, you can amend your soil accordingly.
  2. Overseed with local grasses. Grass grows best in its ideal environment. For best results, ask a local garden center to recommend a grass seed mixture that is best-suited for your area.
  3. Inspect for pests. Pests can negatively impact the health of your lawn, so it’s important to keep an eye out for them. Look for mole tunnels, bare areas that look like they were damaged by grubs, or other telltale signs. Smith’s can help you identify and manage pests if you have them.
  4. Install pavers in high-traffic areas. Instead of trying to maintain grass in high-traffic areas, opt for paving stones or gravel to create a no-maintenance path.

Looking for Organic Lawn Care Services in the San Francisco Bay Area? We’re Here to Help!

Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we’re an organic lawn care company that helps residential and commercial properties in Northern California–from Marin to Monterey–access high-quality, natural lawn services.

Our certified horticulturists and arborists possess the know-how to deliver powerful, tailored organic lawn care that generates results. We also take care of pests that invade your lawn. We offer an organic lawn care program as a comprehensive, soil test driven and soil health program.

It’s time to stop dumping toxic chemicals on your lawn. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to schedule your consultation now. 

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Author Bio: Zach Smith

Landscape Pro Turned Gopher Pro: Owner, Zach Smith, graduate of Cal Poly’s Horticulture program worked nine years as a landscape professional- dealing with gophers, moles, and ground squirrels and was quickly recruited by other local gardeners. Fast forward to the past 10+ years, where Zach and his team trap and remove burrowing pests from residential, municipal and commercial properties throughout the San Francisco Bay area, from Marin to Monterey.