The best organic weed killer is a thriving lawn with healthy grass and soil. Spring is the best season to repair your lawn and sort out problems.
The most cultivated plant in the world is the grass that grows in your yard. In fact, nearly 18 million acres of land is landscaped with grass in the U.S., according to the EPA. Americans are so obsessed with keeping their lawns green that they collectively dump 70 million pounds of fertilizers and pesticides on it each year and use 30% of all available water on the East Coast irrigating it.
But are all of those chemical fertilizers, pesticides and water necessary? Absolutely not.
“Residential lawns and landscapes are living spaces. They provide aesthetics, a place to enjoy the outdoors, recreational areas and add value to our homes. However, they are also a potential source of pollution… According to a 2004 survey by the National Gardening Association, 66 million U.S. households used chemical pesticides and/or fertilizers on their lawns and gardens.
“These landscape practices impact water resources, wildlife and environmental health. Harmful landscape practices can damage the environment and pose risks to homeowners, children, pets, waterways and wildlife.” – EPA
When you buy grass seed at most local garden centers, you’re buying a mix of perennial cool season and perennial warm season grasses that are blended for your region. Also in the bag may be fast growing annual grasses to fill in the bare spots while the perennial seed takes its time getting established. There are many cultivars of grass for lawns, each with a different feel underfoot and a different look, costing anywhere from $38 to $100+ for 5 pounds of seed (enough for a 1/4 acre). The cost of seeding your lawn can add up very quickly, so you should put in some research before purchasing.
Since the grass seed is adapted to your area, chemical fertilizers are rarely necessary if the soil in your yard is healthy and biologically vigorous. But therein lies the problem. After years of dumping chemicals on your lawn, the soil becomes dense and compacted, inhospitable to the bacteria, fungi, worms and other insects that thrive in a healthy soil culture.
The big agriculture companies have created the ultimate business model. As you dump more chemicals on your lawn, the soil becomes unhealthy and less able to support the grass. Therefore, the grass needs more and more fertilizer and pesticide to survive, like a hospital patient with a feeding tube. But since your soil is dense and compacted, about 80% of the fertilizer runs off with the rain and into your local waterways. Your grass becomes completely dependent on the chemicals for its survival.
When you move to a sustainable method of lawn care, i.e. organic lawn care, you care for the soil the grass is planted in. Once you build up the soil to a healthy biological level, your lawn will require very little yearly maintenance.
Here is the organic guide to spring lawn care:
1. When necessary, aerate your soil.
This will be most important the first few seasons when you decide to get your lawn off chemicals and treat it organically. Aerating removes inch-long plugs from the lawn to allow air and water into the soil. When you aerate for the first time and examine the plugs, you’ll notice that the soil near the grass roots is dense and probably clay-like when it should be dark brown and crumbly. Dark brown indicates soil tilth. The plugs are left to lie on the soil – as they break down they will begin to restore biological activity to your soil.
2. Build up the soil with organic matter
The easiest way to do this is to buy bagged compost, composted manure and peat moss at your local garden center. After you aerate, distribute the materials across your lawn just as you would a fertilizer. The manure, compost and peat will work its way into the soil via the holes the plugs have left and start to replenish the biological elements that are so sorely lacking from a chemically depleted lawn.
3. Your new weed killer and fertilizer is Corn Gluten Meal
Corn Gluten Meal is a by product of the corn milling industry and contains no synthetic chemicals. It’s a pre-emergent herbicide – that is, it interferes with root formation of the germinating weed seed so the weed can’t get started. CGM is not as powerful or as broad-spectrum as chemical weed killers, so it will take a few seasons to get your weeds under control with this method. On the upside, since Corn Gluten Meal is made from corn, and corn is a protein, as it breaks down it will feed your lawn with lots of nitrogen, the same substance you were using in its manufactured form to fertilize your lawn. Recent research indicates that lawn grasses only need nitrogen and not the other elements that are frequently found in commercial chemical fertilizers.
4. Overseed your lawn.
At least 6 weeks after using corn gluten meal, overseed your lawn with a quality grass seed formulated for your area. CGM will interfere with all seeds, not just weeds, so leave a window of about 6 weeks before broadcasting the grass seed. For best results, choose a grass seed that’s native to your area, as it will require little to no maintenance. It may look a little different than the lawn you’re used to, but the amount of maintenance you’ll put it in will be greatly reduced.
5 Use a mulching blade on your mower
A mulching blade is a necessity for organic lawn care as it grinds the grass clippings into a fine mulch which insulates the roots and supplies nitrogen and other elements as the clippings break down. Also remember your basic rules of mowing:
- Don’t mow when the lawn is wet
- Don’t remove more than 30% of the plant tissue
- Alternate the direction of the cut from the previous mowing
- Keep the mulching blade sharp
6. Water less
Organically treated lawns require little in the way of water, as once established the soil supports the grass, making it more resistant to drought and pests. A good soaking from rain once a week or even every other week is usually sufficient hydration.
7. Consider an alternative to a traditional lawn
Replacing problem areas or less-used areas of your lawn with native plants is becoming very popular, as native plants attract wildlife, require little to no no maintenance, and no additional water. Plant an alternative lawn and you’ll once again have Saturday mornings all to yourself.
Find more information on replacing your lawn with native plants