A Guide to Natural Lawn Care

An Organic Approach to Lawn Care

Throughout the history of mankind men and women spent the majority of their waking hours outside.  We farmed, hunted, and fished all day long and only went inside when the sun set, the weather was inclement or we were in need of rest.  Over the last three or four generations, all of that has changed.  North Americans on average spend 90% of their time indoors. When we do find time to leave our cars, houses and businesses and go outdoors, we often end up in our yards.  A beautiful lawn and well kept landscape has become a source of pride, status and well being for many of us.

Unfortunately our little patches of heaven come at a cost. The ever increasing population in urban areas continues to stress our water supplies.  Water restrictions are now common in many areas.  Modern research and environmental awareness has also brought up questions around pesticides, herbicides, and commercial fertilizers. Green advocates have also pointed out that gas powered lawn and gardening equipment still use old technology and spew out more pollution per gallon then the largest SUV on the market today.  It’s rather ironic, but in the 21st century keeping your front lawn and backyard green is can be environmentally unsound.

But all is not brown; there are natural solutions for lawn care and landscaping.  Many of the earth unfriendly methods used for grass and ground maintenance are modern innovations.  As we look back to the wisdom of past generations, we find many organic techniques that you can use successfully.  Many of these organic methods will also save you time and money without sacrificing the beauty of your landscape.  The Xeriscaping section is divided into a series of articles exploring various aspects of natural landscaping.  


Exploring Natural Lawn and Landscaping Principals

For many homeowners the perfectly manicured green lawn has taken on the status of a luxury car.  Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours are spent every year in an attempt to achieve the cleanest and greenest grass in the neighborhood.  Pitch men extol the virtues of the newest chemical fertilizer, weed killers, pesticides, lawn mowers, watering systems and genetically engineered grass seeds. People wake up early every morning in the summer to set up the sprinklers and water their lawns.  Defiant lawn owners ignore watering bans under threats of fine, after all their lawns must stay green.  The best neighborhoods could be identified by their perfect grass, but things are beginning to change.

Recently a new type of yard has been spotted across North America.  These yards are just as pretty as the old fashion manicured lawns, sometimes they’re even more attractive, but they are different.  The grassy areas are often smaller or gone altogether.  Different types of drought resistant grasses are popular as well as various non-grass ground covers.  Since landscaped areas include a variety of colors, textures and shapes they offer a versatility of use and design that lawns could never deliver.  Creative landscapers can include ground covers, plants, bushes, vines, and trees along with non-living materials like rocks, stones, and wood chips.  The end product is often an exciting and attractive outdoor living area that is earth friendly.

A small paved or mulched area created for kids or teens can reduce the size of your lawn.  If you are erecting swings and a Jungle Jim set, a thick layer of mulch or wood chips provides better cushioning then grass and it never needs watering. Other families have opted for outdoor rooms using natural paving stones, bricks or gravel to create a summertime space complete with sofas, tables and cooking areas.  Each of these alternative uses can reduce the size of your lawn.  The smaller the lawn, the less water you’ll need to maintain it.

Choosing ground covers instead of grass is yet another option to reduce your water usage and mowing time. In our ground cover plants article, ground covers are finally given their spotlight in the sun.  There are hundreds of ground covers to choose from that offer a multitude of solutions to landscaping problems. Sloping and rocky areas that may be a hazard to mow can be covered with vines and other plants that thrive in that environment.  Other ground covers prefer shade, heavy run off, or sandy ground.  There are also ground covers that you can walk on but never need to be mowed.  Our ground cover article helps you assess your needs and identify the right plants. A chart is included so you can map out your yard and describe the variations and different conditions you should be aware of when you shop for ground covers.

Of course many of us still want some lawn and greenery around our homes and businesses. In our organic grass seed article, we take a closer look at grass seed selection.  The specific variety of grass you chose can make a big difference in water usage, pest control, and your need for fertilizers.  Choosing seed that naturally grows or is conducive to your region is a good start. A grass variety that naturally grows in one region might need twice as much water to survive in another area.  It’s also a good idea to examine the unique conditions of your property when choosing grass seed or sod.  The amount of sun and rain as well as soil content should also be taken into consideration. The article looks at specific grass varieties and offers suggestions to successfully plant a lawn. Techniques like over seeding and mixed seed planting are also explored.

Once your grass and ground covers are planted, they need to be maintained.  Our Eco-friendly lawn mower article looks at the environmental impact of the common gasoline powered lawn mower and eco-friendly options.  Most gasoline powered garden equipment run on old technology and have no environmental controls. It’s rather ironic that gasoline fumes mix with the aroma of fresh mowed grass and pollute the air we breathe.  Push mowers are green alternatives that work on smaller lawns. These manual mowers are making a come back, but they are a viable solution only for small areas of grass. If you follow the other suggestions in this section and reduce the size of grass that must be mowed, consider trading in your gas machine for the people-powered models.  If you have a large area that needs cutting, electric and solar power mowers may be a better alternative.  As more and more of us ask for green technology, more green technology will be available.

Watering Your Lawn and Drought Resistant Plants give real solutions for water conservation. Many of us want to enjoy our yards in the summer even during hot, dry periods.  Drought tolerant grass varieties allow us to water less without harming established lawns. There are times when watering is appropriate and necessary, like when new lawns are taking root or when Summer Patch disease is first spotted. Drought tolerant plants give you color during dry spells and usually demand less attention. Both articles offer suggestions for grass and seeds that are viable in different climates and regions.  There’s an extra bonus that comes with drought resistant plants and grass.  They usually need much less maintenance and once they are established they are more viable then other vegetation.

Water alone is not enough to maintain a beautiful landscape.  The lawn products industry has created a wide range of products meant to make your grass the greenest possible green, however they are often not the healthiest or safest solutions. 

Organic Fertilizers compares organic fertilizers with chemical fertilizers.  Labels can be misleading so I define terms and decipher the numbers.  More is not best when it comes to the chemical composition of fertilizer and I tell you why.  This short article takes the mystery out of the chemicals and explains why organic blends are better for the environment, soil and the plants they nourish.  At the end of the piece, I discuss using composted materials as fertilizers and make-it-yourself organic mixes.

The phrase “Too little time and too many Weeds” might be a little too relevant to many home gardeners.  Natural Weed Control confronts those little green menaces and offers several natural alternatives to chemical pesticides.  Eliminating the need for chemical herbicides and pesticides is especially important if children or pets have access to your lawn.  Since they tend to have more contact with the ground then adults and they often have a stronger reaction to certain chemicals, it is also a matter of safety to remove harmful substances from your grounds. The chemicals in non–organic treatments can seep into ground water and evaporate into the air. 

Seed choices and proper planting can help reduce weeds from your lawn and landscape.  Learning how to identify weeds and grow a healthy lawn or ground cover will help you reduce or eliminate your need for pesticides. Once you embrace the concept of natural lawn care, you might end up rethinking the definition of weeds.

Every backyard has an eco-system of its very own.  If you were to take a microscope to your yard you would find dozens of insects, bugs, and bacteria.  Most of the life that exists on and around your lawn is good or at least benign, but there are a few critters that cause damage.  In Organic Pest Control for Your Lawn the pests are unmasked.  Both bugs and bigger beasts are identified and natural deterrents are discussed.  Some varieties of grass naturally repel insects because they contain endophytes, a symbiotic fungus that is toxic to certain harmful insects.  Since parasitic pests are often attracted to weak and unhealthy growth, choosing varieties that thrive in your region will discourage the bugs from ever staking a claim to your yard.

Larger pests are also discussed in Organic Pest Control for Your Lawn.  As more natural areas turn into residential zones, wildlife is learning to adapt and our pristine lawns sometimes are taken hostage.  Learning to make your property less inviting is the first step in controlling woodland pests.  If your pest problem is domestic, there are a few tips at the end on how to prevent dogs and cats from damaging your lawn.

Use the Natural Lawn Care Section as a blue print for xeriscaping. We can use our front lawn area and back yards in an eco-conscious way.  It is possible for us to fully enjoy our exterior space without harming the environment or wasting our precious water supplies.  Xeriscaping is a better choice for many reasons.  When you choose slow growing grass, reduce the size of your lawn, or plant ground covers instead of lawns, you won’t need to mow as often.  That translates into more time to do other things you enjoy.  When you replace water guzzling lawns with indigenous turf or ground covers that are drought tolerant you will conserve water and maybe spend less on your water bill.  Choosing a landscape that naturally thrives in your location allows you to use less or totally avoid many expensive lawn care products.  

Xeriscaping is a win-win situation.  Save money, save time, save our precious resources, and keep the earth green.  Please add your own ideas and experiences at the end of each article.  After you read each piece, share what has and hasn’t worked for you.  Since xeriscaping drastically changes with different climates, altitudes, soil conditions, and geographical locations, your input is important.  If you know of grass or ground covers that thrive in hot, dry climates, please tell us about them. Let us know where you purchased them, if they need any special attention, and where they grow best.  If you have organic pest control solutions or natural weed control ideas, post them.  We want to hear from you. 

The xeriscaping community is growing.  By sharing ideas and experiences we will encourage others to change their residential landscapes choosing earth friendly designs that give back.


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