Green Lawns

A couple of weeks ago, a friend was complaining to me about the number of chemicals that an ordinary person can get exposed to in a typical day. "And then the weed and feed guys come by," she said, "and who knows what gets tracked into the house from the lawn?" It sounded as if the weed and feed guys just showed up on their own, unbidden, and sprayed chemicals around the yard. And in fact, that may be pretty close to the truth. Lawn care is a routine, and it’s one that doesn’t get questioned very often.

If you aren’t convinced that your lawn can be organic, and you need yet another reason to give it a try, consider the new research from Indiana University’s School of Medicine. Children conceived during summer months have significantly lower scores on math and language tests throughout grades 3 through 10. One hypothesis put forward by the researchers is that pesticide and fertilizer use increases during those months, and the time immediately following conception is critical for brain development.

Not that I want to discourage taking a roll in the grass on a warm summer evening. If you’re going to plant a lawn, you ought to be able to enjoy it, whether that means running around barefoot or scoring a romantic tryst at dusk. Your kids and pets will be safer if you’re not pouring chemicals in your lawn, but that’s not the only reason to go organic. It’s also cheaper, because organic lawns and gardens require fewer and fewer inputs over the years as they become more self-sustaining, and it’s better for the planet, too.


A new organization called SafeLawns ( was founded last year by Paul Tukey, the founder and publisher of the popular East Coast gardening magazine People, Places, & Plants. Its mission is to convince home gardeners to grow organic lawns, but also to make sure that public gardens, parks, and the soccer fields where children play are also organic. Check out their website if you want to find out more; you could also read up on the Indiana University study and watch some how-to videos.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to go organic around here. Most nurseries carry an organic version of the familiar weed and feed fertilizer that uses natural plant food ingredients and corn gluten, which has been proven to suppress the germination of weed seeds. Remember that corn gluten won’t kill existing weeds, but if they are annuals they will die at the end of the year anyway, and if they are perennials, you’ll just need to dig them out once and know that if you continue to use corn gluten, new seeds won’t sprout.

The rest is pretty easy. Set the blade higher on your mower so the grass can get a little taller, and leave the clippings on the grass to decompose and provide extra nitrogen to the soil. The result will be a healthier root system and a thicker lawn that can crowd out weeds. You’ll also be able to get away with watering less. In summer months, you should be watering deeply once or twice a week, rather than every day. You’ll conserve water and encourage deeper roots. Oh, and by the way, if you switch to a push mower, you’ll save even more energy and get a workout.

In the first few years, you might want to give your lawn and extra boost by raking in a layer of compost every spring and fall. If you don’t have enough compost of your own, or if you’re worried about introducing weed seeds from your compost pile, just buy a few bags of high quality organic soil conditioner and rake it in, then water well.


Go Here to Read More Articles and Essays by Amy Stewart.