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Landscaping with a Green Thumb: The Organic Lawn

Change Your Mowing Style
Once you've minimized your lawn, consider conserving energy by doing away with that gas-powered mower. The typical gas-powered mower produces about 80 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. It also produces noise pollution—90 decibels' worth. An electric mower will keep the air clean and runs much more quietly. Current models run on rechargeable batteries, so there's no cord to worry about. Even better, try a reel mower, which requires only your own energy to run. Keep the cutting blades sharp and set them to a height of three inches to keep the lawn vigorous. Let the grass cuttings fall and decompose, providing natural fertilizer.

In the fall, don't bother raking—or using an ear-splitting, polluting leaf blower. Just chop up the leaves with your mower and let the fragments settle into the grass, where they will decompose and add humus to the soil. You may have to make several passes, and you will have to mow frequently to keep up with the leaves. Bits of leaves will be visible until they fully decompose, but the benefits to your lawn are worth waiting for. If there are just too many leaves for this approach, rake, shred, and compost the leaves for an excellent free mulch you can spread under trees and shrubs.

Stop Using Chemicals
Going organic means no more chemicals on your lawn, period. The following are hazardous to children and pets:

  • Weed Killers. Train yourself to ignore weeds, pull them by hand, or use a natural pre-emergent weed control product in the early spring. Products made with corn gluten meal provide nitrogen to green up your lawn, while inhibiting the germination of annual weed seeds safely (e.g., WOW!, Safe Earth Natural Weed Control, and Espoma Organic Traditions).

  • Pesticides. Stop using pesticides. They are poisons that kill the good bugs along with the bad. Even pyrethrins, an insecticide made from natural organic compounds, should be avoided, since they can irritate eyes, skin, and respiratory systems, and are particularly harmful to aquatic life. Instead, let the natural enemies of lawn pests keep them under control and/or try milky spore, a naturally occurring bacterium that kills the larvae of several lawn pests, including Japanese beetles.

  • Chemical Fertilizers. Chemical lawn fertilizers are so overused in America that they are a major source of water pollution. They leach into groundwater supplies and enter surface waters through runoff. Runoff from lawn fertilizers has even been implicated in the death of the coral reefs. Plus, think of it this way: fertilizers encourage your lawn to grow, which means you just have to mow it more. Your lawn will be fertilized naturally as lawn clippings and mulched leaves decompose.


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