Is your lawn organic? (Think barefoot kids and wild salmon)
Don’t you just love wriggling your toes on green grass? Me, too. Until one summer day in the park. Picture this: Several boys playing frisbee in the park. Barefoot. The kids were having fun. But yikes! They were romping on grass treated with chemicals. We’ve all seen it. What to do?
I’ll share the best lawn fertilizer money can’t buy. What’s more, it’s our favorite way to jumpstart a lawn and maintain it—without the use of chemicals. In Kodiak, Alaska no less.
If we can do it, you can do it, too.
Believe me. It took some experimenting. After all, we live in a temperate rainforest. What’s more, the soil is acidic, sticky, and lacks organic matter. Oh, did I mention volcanic ash?
Still, the method I’m about to share is simple. And I’m confident it will work for your patch of green.
Let’s dig in.
We started our lawn from seed on a base of peat moss, shredded kelp, and compost. Your lawn probably differs. No worries.
Guests staying at our Cliff House Bed and Breakfast marveled at our green lawn. And yes, you’d be right to say that it takes work. Our lawn must withstand heavy rain, snow, moisture-sucking winds, and freeze-thaws. Plus the pressure of many footprints.
Footprints like visitors, kids, grandkids, and dogs.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Green lawn care: Spring greening
Spring arrives. It’s natural to grab a rake and start cleaning up winter debris. Twigs, branches, spruce cones, plastic toys, dog poop. Warning: Be gentle.
Give it a light combing with a leaf rake. And step lightly. Treading on a soggy lawn it one of the worst things you can do. Better to wait until the turf has dried out and the ground is not mushy.
Here’s the deal. When you walk on a soggy lawn, you squeeze out the air between soil particles. Air pockets are critical to soil health. Without air “highways”, water and nutrients can’t reach the root zone. Water forms puddles. Then one day, you look at your lawn and wonder, “Why does it look so pathetic?”
Remember, turf grass thrives on the same kind of soil in your garden: Rich, well-drained soil, high in organic matter.
You may have guessed, but perfect, well-drained soil doesn’t come naturally in Kodiak, Alaska!
So we had to create our own. And that’s what I want to share with you.
What is the best lawn fertilizer?
It’s easy being green. Whether you apply organic or chemical fertilizers. There are differences, however.
Organic fertilizers enrich the soil which improves aeration and root growth. Which means your lawn:
- Survives drought and extreme weather conditions
- Holds onto nutrients longer
- Requires less maintenance
Here’s an important lawn care tip: HOW you mow your lawn makes a big difference. Keep your mower blades sharp and leave your grass 3 inches longer. This improves your lawn’s health because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.
Chemical fertilizers turn your grass an enticing, Day-Glo green. But at a price.
- Wash away in heavy rains
- The toxic runoff ends up in lakes, streams, and oceans
- Create a toxic playground for kids and pets
- Have been linked to cancer and poisonings. Kids are higher-risk
Unfortunately, most Americans follow a “more is better” attitude. Overfertilizing to the tune of 3 million tons per year. This damages soil by killing beneficial microorganisms, worms, and fungi with toxic salt buildup.
With an organic lawn, you’re not simply putting down fertilizers four times a year; you’re initiating cultural practices to nurture life in the soil, and in turn, the soil sustains the grass.
~ Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual
The one simple tip for every lawn
Guess what? I have nothing to sell you. Except for the happy thought of you enjoy a lawn that’s green, easy to maintain, organic, and safe for kids and pets.
Here’s the simple tip: Spread sifted organic matter on your lawn.
A couple inches, more or less, is all it takes.
We do this twice a year when the lawn is relatively dry. Then add water. Rain or sprinkler.
What to spread?
No exact science here. It depends on what’s available in your location. In coastal Alaska, the list includes:
- Spreading a combo of peat moss and compost, or
- One part peat moss to 3 bags steer or cow manure, or
- Finished compost plus sifted kelp, or
- A manure-compost blend
Well-aged manure is like a good wine
You can also mix in:
- Soybean meal
- Cottonseed meal
- Dried molasses
- Well-aged manure–like a good wine!
- Finely shredded leaves (leaf mulch)
Blend ingredients in a wheelbarrow. Then dump it on the lawn. That’s right.
Spread it with the backside of a steel rake. Or broadcast it by the shovelful, as if feeding chickens. Then spread it around with a leaf rake with a combing, fluffing action.
Needless to say, your lawn will look horrible for a while. Maybe a couple weeks. The neighbors will think you’re crazy.
Then something magic happens. New, green shoots emerge and the brown stuff settles into the ground and disappears.
Your lawn will be ten times healthier. You don’t have to worry about your kids running around barefoot. And the neighbors will stop whispering behind your back.
Now it’s your turn.
Thanks for visiting. I hope this article is helpful.
P.S. I’d love to know what changes you make to lawn care. Drop a note below…
P.P.S. I’ve written a general overview of organic gardening: Organic gardening tips | Cool climate gardening | Alaska gardening tips
Marion Owen is a “Jill of All Trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. How? She “Readers’ Digests” topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel recharged when taking pictures.