What Is Organic Lawn Care?

So I've been talking about organic lawn care quite a bit but never really discussed what organic lawn care means.

There is no official definition of organic lawn care so what it means will vary from person to person and some organic lawn care companies may not truly be organic by certain definitions. There are some standards that apply to organic production of crops and livestock such as the USDA National Organic Program, the Organic Consumers Association watchdog group and the Organic Materials Review Institute, a non-profit organization that approves products that may be used in certified organic production as per the USDA NOP. These programs and organizations focus on the production of organic fruits and vegetables, not lawn care specifically.

In this post I'll discuss some of the different meanings of organic lawn care and my own personal philosophy behind organic lawn care.

Sustainable Lawn Care

For some, organic lawn care means sustainable lawn care. Most home lawns are maintained for aesthetic reasons. They do have benefits such as being cheaper and nicer than paving the whole yard, they keep your property from becoming a muddy mess if you just had dirt, it helps clean the air better than trees and the air above grass can be up to 30 degrees cooler than over a paved area. But mostly, it's planted because it looks nice and we try and keep it looking nice.

Sustainability means managing your lawn in a way that helps it thrive on it's own without the need for much external inputs, such as fertilizer. Anything you do apply to your lawn should not be destructive to another ecosystem.

Grasscycling, compost (especially compost you make yourself from your own yard waste) and compost teas are major parts of sustainable lawn care, as are other waste stream items such as composted manure and biosolids.

Biosolids are not considered organic by some, including the OMRI and the USDA NOP. Biosolids, also known as sewage sludge, is processed waste from the sewer system. You know, the stuff you flush down your toilet. While many people use products such as Milorganite®, including some companies that advertise an organic lawn care service, there is not enough evidence to claim biosolids are organic in my opinion.

Safe/Natural Lawn Care

Some people are more concerned with the safety of the products they apply to their lawns and choose to only use products that come from nature. Others go so far as to only apply products that are safe to eat.
The use of synthetic fertilizers (sometimes derived from petroleum) and especially pesticides which include herbicides (weed killers), insecticides and fungicides (to control lawn disease) can pose a risk to human health. Especially if they are not used properly. These synthetic lawn care products can be a concern if you have children or pets that play on your lawn or if you like the feel of cool morning dew between your toes. Some of these products take a while to break down and can be absorbed through the skin. Why take the risk when you can use safer products?

Sometimes what's safe to eat and what's natural are not the same as in the case of feed grade urea which is synthetic but safe for animals to eat. There is no major difference between natural and synthetic urea. There are also biological controls such as beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes and insects that you can use but wouldn't necessarily want to put in your mouth.

A natural approach to lawn care may not necessarily be sustainable but the use of animal feed (corn meal, alfalfa, soybean meal and other animal feeds), biological controls, beneficial microbes, etc gives people a nice lawn and peace of mind.

My Approach To Organic Lawn Care

For me, organic lawn care is a combination of the two. My primary concern is a nice healthy lawn using safe and natural products and I like the idea of sustainability but I don't obsess over it. The companies I purchase products from are well recognized in the organic industry and I rely on them to keep sustainability in mind when creating their products. Safety is my primary concern and I can achieve that through the use of animal feed, beneficial microbes, and other natural products or products that are otherwise considered safe.

Through good mowing techniques, proper lawn watering, aeration, dethatching and overseeding when needed, occasionally adding compost to further increase organic matter I hope to reduce the amount of organic lawn fertilizers and other amendments I use over time. Though I don't mind using a little extra organic fertilizers to try and get the nicest looking lawn in my neighborhood.

In addition to having to add less to my lawn, I expect that the lawn will need less work in general as the soil improves.

So what does organic lawn care mean to you?
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