It would seem that green and lawns go together naturally, but that isn’t always the case. Most US lawns are kept lush and weed-free thanks to synthetic chemical fertilizers and toxic herbicides.

Healthy organic lawn

An organic lawn is healthier because the soil is feeding the grass, not synthetic chemicals.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Corn gluten meal

Corn gluten meal is an organic fertilizer that’s better for the environment than chemicals.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Compost top dressing

Like most conventional fertilizers, corn gluten meal is applied to the lawn with a drop spreader. Adjust the setting to the application rate specified on the bag.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Applying organic fertilizer

Spread a thin layer of compost over your entire lawn to improve the overall soil, or just spread over those spots that need extra nutrients.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

But with a global move toward an overall healthier environment, it’s time gardeners begin challenging themselves to use fewer chemicals in their gardens and take an organic approach to lawn care. Instead of keeping your grass on a diet of harmful fertilizers ask yourself, “What can I do to feed my soil?”

Building healthy soil is at the center of any organic lawn-care program. Synthetic chemical fertilizers may make your grass look green and healthy, but chemicals don’t feed the soil or help the beneficial organisms that live there. Here are six soil-healthy ways to get growing on your green organic lawn:

  1. Loosen the soil. Use a core aerator on your lawn at least once a year. Aeration is the mechanical process of pulling small cores of soil out of the ground. Opening up the soil surface allows water and important nutrients to move deeper into the root zone. Use a core aerator that pulls plugs 3 or 4 inches deep on 4-inch centers. And if your turf needs a little reviving, you can sow grass seed just after aerating to provide the best conditions for sprouting.
  2. Use organic fertilizers. Soil amendments that come from natural sources, like plant and animal by-products, are called organic fertilizers. Some of the newest organic fertilizers are made from feed-grade nutrients like alfalfa and corn gluten, and they build up nutrients and organisms in the soil. These fertilizers add nitrogen and perform best when applied in early spring and fall.

    There are just a couple of things to know about corn gluten meal before you apply it: Because it’s a pre-emergent weed control, it should be applied before weed seeds germinate in the spring or it’ll act as a weed fertilizer. Also, don’t apply corn gluten meal when overseeding the lawn or the seeds won’t germinate. But have no fear: Corn gluten meal is safe to use around pets and people. It may be more expensive than synthetic fertilizers, but you’ll need fewer applications during the growing season.

  3. Top-dress with compost. Spreading a thin layer of compost – about ¼-½ an inch deep – over your lawn after core aeration gives your soil added nutrients and will help hold in moisture. Compost will also help reduce the need for weed killers because a thick, healthy lawn is the best deterrent to weed seeds looking for a place to land.
  4. Use earth-friendly weed controls. If weeds are a problem, pulling them by hand or pouring vinegar on them are safe weed control methods. There are many nontoxic herbicides now on the market that can be as effective as those containing glyphosate, but they use environmentally-friendly ingredients like clove oil, vinegar and citric acid.

    Natural foliar sprays can kill most grassy and broadleaf weeds with a single application and won’t affect soil biology. Earth-friendly herbicidal soaps also can take the place of synthetic herbicides. They’re effective, but they aren’t selective. They should be used only for spot treatments.

  5. Leave clippings on the lawn. Grass recycling is another step toward natural lawn care. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing reduces the need for extra fertilizer because clippings quickly decompose and add nutrients to your soil. (It also means you’ll be sending fewer bags of yard waste to the landfill.)
  6. Push for a greener lawn. If you really want to grow green, switch from your gas-guzzling mower to a reel push mower. The new push mowers are lightweight, heavy-duty and easy to use. They provide a quieter, emission-free alternative, and they make mowing a lot more fun!

If you’re stuck in the old-fashioned synthetic chemical lawn-care ways, make the leap to easy organic methods. Not only will your grass be wonderfully green, you’ll be taking one more step toward making the world a little greener, too.