Corn gluten is the base of a natural lawn fertilizer that suppresses broadleaf weeds. WOW! Plus. $99.99 for four 20-pound bags. Gardensalive.com.
The ideal lawn, as weed-free as a putting green, may not be such an ideal after all—especially if it requires destructive fertilizers and pesticides, plus heavy watering, to achieve. Consider the environmental costs. Herbicides and insecticides not only do in pesky weeds and bugs, but they also kill the good guys: earthworms and microorganisms essential to the life of the soil, as well as pollinators such as bees. These poisons also threaten the health of humans: They have been implicated in cancers and neurological problems, especially in children under age 5.
Once the soil is depleted of its natural nutrients, what to do? Why, pour on the chemical fertilizer! Yet 60 percent of the nitrates in lawn fertilizers end up in our groundwater, damaging the health of ponds, lakes, and bays.
There has to be a more earth-friendly way to have a nice lawn. And there is. An organic lawn is actually easier on you as well as the environment. In time, a healthier lawn will automatically crowd out many of the weeds. Try taking these steps to kick the chemical habit.
Test your soil to determine its pH factor. More reliable than a home test kit is having the local agricultural extension office do the test for a small fee. Grass is happiest with a pH factor between 6.5 and 7.0. Too acid? Add lime. Too alkaline? Add some lawn sulfur.
Compost tumbler CT7. 7.5 cubic-foot capacity. $149.95. Eartheasy.com.
Build healthy soil. Rather than sweep away grass cuttings, leave them to enrich the soil. In spring and fall, add some homemade compost or other organic fertilizers on top, such as chopped leaves or composted animal manure. Today, more and more garden centers are featuring organic fertilizers, some containing cottonseed meal, bone meal, or—the newest for weed control—corn gluten.
Choose an appropriate grass type for your climate and property. A local horticultural organization or garden center can advise.
Don't scalp the lawn. When mowing, leave grass blades 2 to 3 inches long to protect the roots from drought and heat.
Water with care. Water is a precious resource. The vast quantities of it lavished on lawns are contributing to water crises in many parts of the country. But if you must water, do so deeply to encourage strong roots; light sprinkling encourages grass roots to crowd the surface, where they are vulnerable to burning.
Relax. With a natural lawn, you can let the birds, bats, and dragonflies take care of the bugs while you sit back and watch the grass grow. —Kim Waller