Going organic doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice an aesthetically pleasing lawn, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to give up the rest of your life tending your lawn. It means planting what will do well in your climate, watering deeply but infrequently and avoiding the use of dangerous and expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, finding safe alternatives instead.
Here are a few steps you can take to go organic on your own:
1. Test your soil to learn what needs to be added to it.
You can do this through the Cooperative Extension Service of a state university or soil lab. There are a few to choose from in Connecticut, including the The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Since laboratories tend to give recommendations for fertilizer in the chemical-based form, ask for recommendations for organic fertilizer.
2. You can use natural fertilizers such as leaves and compost to add nutrients to soil instead of synthetic fertilizers, which disrupt soil biology and can pollute water.
Also, leave on grass clippings as they decompose with a couple of days and supply the lawn with substantial nitrogen and organic matter. Organic fertilizers don’t harm pollinators, birds, animals or humans and are renewable, biodegradable, sustainable and environmentally friendly. Additionally, Beyond Pesticides says, Look for compost or organic slow release fertilizers at your local nursery or order online. A few fertilizers, such as Ringer® Lawn Restore®, are certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute, www.saferbrand.com. North Country Organics has a number of natural fertilizers, including phosphorus‐free fertilizers for lawns close to fresh water bodies, www.norganics.com. Other choices include Peaceful Valley Supply Farm Supply, www.groworganic.com, Down to Earth’s Bio-Turf www.downtoearthdistributors.com, and Harmony Farm www.harmonyfarm.com.
3. If your lawn is hard, compacted and full of weeds or bare spots, aerate to help air, water and fertilizer to enter.
If you can’t stick a screwdriver easily into your soil, it is too compacted. Get together with your neighbors and rent an aerator. Once you have an established, healthy lawn, worms and birds pecking at your soil will aerate it for free.
4. Buy grass seed and fill up any bare spots, otherwise a weed might get there.
Pulling weeds by hand is of course always an option, but you can also apply corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent to weed prone areas or use a flame weeding machine that uses a targeted flame to kill weeds. For really pesky weeds, spray them with horticultural vinegar, or acetic acid. Cultural practices like maintaining healthy soil, using at least two native turf grasses, proper watering and mowing high so the grass blade is three inches afterward are key to weed management.
5. When it comes to insect repellent, organic gardening sprays will do the trick.
A recipe for Hot Pepper Spray: Mix 2 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce with a few drops of biodegradable dish soap, and 1 quart of water and let it sit overnight. Use a spray bottle to apply to infested plants. For a Garlic Oil Spray: Put 3 – 4 cloves of minced garlic into 2 teaspoons of mineral oil. Let the mixture sit overnight, and then strain the garlic out of the oil. Store in a bottle or jar, and dilute the mixture when you use it by adding 2 tablespoons of your garlic oil mixture to 1 pint of water.
There are also quite a few organic lawn and garden care companies located in Connecticut you can contact for a consultation. We suggest John Distasio at Bee Green Lawn & Land Care in Norwalk (203-554 6184). John will treat weeds and lawns and has a process to transfer from chemicals to organic treatments.