Organic lawn care FAQs from Mort Mather

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Growing healthy, chemical free, organic lawns for less trouble and expense than the chemically treated kind is easy!  Organic lawns are healthier, more pest and disease resistant, and, consequently, look better.

For the editor's view on organic lawns, read this article. For a wide range of articles on organic farming and gardening, visit Mort Mather's Garden Spot.  Mort is a father, farmer, and author (Gardening for Independence), and was voted environmentalist of the year by Down East Magazine.

Scott Supak, editor



Frequently Asked Questions about Organic Lawns

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I live in St.. Charles MO and I have about a 1/2 acre lot with large Pin Oak, Maple, Sweet Gum and a few other trees, about 25 in all and most are about 30 feet tall.  The soil here  is clay and my yard looks good in the spring  but as soon as it heats up the soil starts to crack and the grass starts to die. I try to keep it watered but it doesn't  help. Since I have so many trees the bulk of my yard is shaded and the grass in these areas are slim, I get mold growing on the surface in-between the clumps of grass. I have put gypsum and lime down every spring but I can't get the soil to loosen up. In the areas that get a lot of sun it seems to die out and water grass comes in. I have been putting K-31 grass mix in the sun areas and creeping red Fescue in the shaded areas it looks good up till the dog days of summer.

What can I do to fertilize the yard naturally and what can I use to loosen the soil? Am I going about this in the right way?  When I cut the grass I do not bag in the summer and I try to cut it every 5 days so I am just cutting the to 1/3 of the grass. I also cut it tall to try and keep the weeds from coming up. I also have a lot of clover to get rid of but I have not used any weed killers so that my grass can germinate.

Your in put would be greatly appreciated
Rich Crow

This looks like a job for....... Compost Man!
Clay soil needs organic matter and lots of it.  You may need to just cover the lawn with manure and straw for the whole winter.

Let's see what my friend Mort has to say....

Your problem is clay soil, shade, tree roots and water. Scott is right. Organic matter is the answer to most of the problems. Well finished compost is the best for lawns as it quickly blends in and will disappear from view soon. Leave all your grass clippings even if the grass was heavy and the clippings look unsightly. They won't show for long and your soil really, really needs all the organic matter it can get. I suggest you mow the leaves in the fall and rake them off lightly. Chewed up leaves left to work into the soil will help also. Any time you are taking organic matter away you should replace it. I wouldn't bother getting rid of the clover but that is me. My lawn is a wild collection of plants including clover and several kinds of grass. What nature grows is good enough for me as long as it survives being mowed and lives under the conditions of the area. I'm not into perfection or, rather, what is is what I call perfection. Clay is the most of your problem and organic matter is the only reasonable solution. The roots will work their way into the soil (roots of some weeds will do an even better job of opening up the soil and leaving organic matter as they die each year but you probably don't want to use that method of adding organic matter). It is important that whenever you water you water deeply. That usually means a sprinkler left in one spot for at least an hour and probably two. It depends on the water pressure, the spread of the sprinkler, etc. After watering dig down into the soil to see how deeply it penetrated. You want the soil moist 4 inches deep. If you water shallowly the roots will stay near the surface and the grass will be very susceptible to dry spells or dependent on you being there every 2 or 3 days with another dribble.

Can you recommend an alternative to chemical pesticides for white grubs in the lawn?
Michelle Taylor


My definition of a lawn is a vegetated area that is mowed regularly. I realize that most people think of a lawn as a mowed area that has only one species of grass growing uniformly over it. It seems to me that people who worry about that kind of a lawn have entirely too much time avialable to devote to worrying. My only worry is, will the lawn mower work? Oh, there is one other effort that I make. I dig out any thistles because they do not feel good when stepped on in bare feet which is mostly what I have.

Assuming Michelle wants a monoculture lawn my advice is 1) don't panic over the grubs. Whatever damage they do is due to the general health of the lawn. If they do serious damage, it was because the grass was stressed. The stress most likely came from too much "care". Many people water their lawns with hand-held hose, for example. Unless they are extrememly patient (and have way too much time) they will water shallowly which causes the roots to grow close to the surface. When the watering fool gets tired of his or her folishness or goes on vacation the grass will suffer from a lack of water in the root zone. Less care would have seen the roots go deeper into the soil where it could find the needed moisture through all but a severe drought. Same deal with lawn chemicals.

Let the lawn take care of itself for a couple of years. Don't mow it too closely. Leave the clippings where they fall even if there are a lot of them which sometimes happens in the spring when the grass grows faster than you can mow it. You can hasten things by adding compost. "Ugh, I can see the compost lying on the grass! Eugh, the grass clippings turn yellow and are unsightly!!!" That is the price I pay for a lawn that is almost always greener than anyone else's in my area. But, hey, if you are willing to use up nonrenewable resources (chemical fertilizers are a petrolium product) and spread chemicals around your house and spend money doing it, go for it. Myself, I'd just sit back and watch to see what the grubs would do. If anyone asked, I call it research.

Spiked sandals to aerate your organic lawn and kill beatle larvae.

The Garden Spot

Note from the editor:  If you want to kill the grubs without chemicals now, before you follow Mort's advice, use these spiked sole sandals for walking around your lawn literally spiking the grubs to death.....

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