Ditch the chemicals for a naturally beautiful lawn and garden, using living fertilizers and other nontoxic treatments.
The foundation of a healthy landscape is healthy soil. This is the mantra of many landscape architects. An organic garden relies heavily on compost, because it’s the best method of returning decomposed organic matter back to the soil. Compost tea, manure tea or broken-down compost from your yard waste bin will work magic on your plants.
Other ways to help create a healthy soil ecosystem include the use of organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion and adding mycorrhizal fungi to your soil. The fungi benefit plants by helping them to absorb more nutrients. It’s a natural process that you can foster in your own soil to help your garden thrive.
Living fertilizer. White clover (Trifolium repens) is a nitrogen-fixing low ground cover plant that adds nitrogen to the soil. It does well in nutrient-poor soils and can make a lovely lawn addition. Add clover to your lawn and let the bees and pollinators have a great time.
Clover is very easy to maintain and looks good. Adding a “living fertilizer” like clover contributes to a healthy soil that is rich with nutrients.
This is the obvious first place to consider reducing chemical applications. Lawns make up a large percentage of North American homeowners’ landscapes. Who doesn’t love lounging on a lush lawn, and it’s a great surface for kids and pets to run around on.
Lawn Aeration and Thatch
You may need to aerate your lawn to allow for some oxygen to reach the upper crust of soil. This will improve the soil tilth under your sod and is usually necessary if you have been using synthetic chemicals and fertilizers for several years.
One way to evaluate if your lawn and the soil below are acting as a healthy ecosystem is by looking at the amount of thatch collected under the grass blades. Thatch is the dead, brown grass blades that are meant to break down into the soil. There should be some thatch in your lawn, but not a buildup of more than 2 inches. A buildup means that your grass is not properly breaking down into the soil. Establish a healthy soil ecosystem and the thatch will begin to break down into the soil to feed your lawn.
Mowing has a huge impact on the health of an organic lawn. Setting your mower to a higher height that allows the grass to grow longer will actually help shade out some weeds.
There are mixes of grasses called “no mow” and “low mow” that combine several species of grasses that perform and look great on an infrequent mowing schedule.
You also have the option of completely reworking your lawn into a short-grass meadow of sedge. Carex grasses that are native to your region can be densely planted and allowed to grow long to provide a very nice natural look. This type of alternative lawn has been growing in popularity as more gardeners are discovering the beauty of long grasses.
Mulching Your Lawn
Let your lawnmower mulch the grass clippings. This means that the grass clippings are added back to the lawn to break down and feed the soil. For this to work properly, your lawn has to be able to break down organic material. Only start to mulch your grass clippings once you have aerated and established a healthy soil in your lawn, and there is only a small amount of thatch present.
Trees and Woody Shrubs
Do you regularly have a shrub that is diseased or a host to pests? One of the easiest ways to get a pest-free landscape is by using natives. Native plants do not come under attack like the nonnative, ornamental varieties. You can add native plants yourself or do a major overhaul by working with a designer who specializes in native plantings.
The same principles for building healthy soil apply to trees and shrubs. Be sure to collect your leaves and clippings to add to the compost pile. Adding the dead organic matter to your pile, letting it decompose and then adding it back to your soil is a way to mimic the decay-growth cycle of nature.
Weeds are a nuisance to the home gardener. Eradication of weeds can be a constant battle. The key is to be one step ahead of those pesky plants that sprout up in the most undesirable places. Weeds can be hand pulled or removed with hand tools so they are fully dug up.
There are many, many beneficial garden insects. Learn to differentiate between the good and bad. An influx of a pest is typically a sign of an imbalance in your landscape. Solve the imbalance organically and you may have fewer issues over time as your landscape becomes healthier.
Talk with a landscape maintenance company about switching to an organic plan. The lawn-mowing, weed-removing business is very competitive, and your hired company will want to keep you as a client. Communicate that you want to transition to an organic plan. If your current company is unable to provide organic service, find somebody else.
Landscapes and gardens are always a work in progress. There will be a give and take as you discover how to succeed with your garden organically.
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