Advice and FAQs
Yes, you can still have a lawn and be PRFCT. We suggest reducing the size of your lawn to an area rug instead of wall-to-wall carpet. In other words, get rid of your lawn where you no longer need it, and replace with native plantings. To find out more about having a PRFCT lawn, visit our Lawn Basics page.
We recommend watering your lawn seldom, but deep. This means watering your lawn until the soil is moist to a depth of 6 inches below the surface, and waiting until the lawn is dry to about 4 inches below the surface.
How often you’ll need to water to remain within these parameters depends on the soil, slope, climate, and other environmental conditions. A soil test will help you understand how well your soil holds water (clay soil retains the most water, loamy soil drains moderately slowly, and sandy soil drains quickly). You can also use a moisture meter to test your soil’s moisture level.
The best time to feed your lawn is in the fall or early spring. Avoid feeding in late spring or summer, which will encourage the growth of opportunistic weeds (e.g. crabgrass).
Topdressing with a ¼” of compost in early spring and fall will feed your soil biology and enhance soil structure.
Clover fixes nitrogen from the surrounding environment, creating free fertilizer for your lawn. Clover can also grow in nutrient poor soils, is drought tolerant, resists pet urine, and remains green throughout the summer.
Fortunately, there are seed mixes on the market that incorporate clover. Look for mixes that incorporate Dutch white clover (it’s low-growing), or simply mix the clover seed into your grass mix. Cut grass to 2 inches, rake out thatch, and spread seed using a broadcast spreader. If the weather is dry, water for the first two weeks to establish.
Clover is a great food source for local pollinators. If you have small children or a bee allergy and are concerned about stings, you can still have clover; simply mow the blossoms off before they have a chance to bloom. Avoid walking barefoot on clover lawns that are in bloom.
The best way to deal with ticks without harmful chemicals is to treat yourself using herbal, DEET-free repellants. Apply these frequently, like sunscreen. Wear light-colored clothing outdoors, tuck pants into socks, and do daily self-checks in a well-lit space. A flashlight can help you tell the difference between freckles and ticks; ticks will reflect light and appear shiny, freckles and moles will not reflect light.
If you have an upcoming event and are concerned about ticks, use a pressurized sprayer and a botanical spray like Essentria to treat nooks and crannies around the border of your property in early morning, when pollinators are less likely to be active. Keep some bug spray in an accessible location for guests to use.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water. Check your property for any areas where water is collecting. If you have poor drainage spots on your lawn, this is a good indicator you need to aerate. If you live near a body of water, remember that mosquitos and their larvae are an important food source for fish and other aquatic organisms. Please do not use any mosquito products designed to kill larvae in these aquatic areas. Instead, focus on eliminating the standing water on your property—this should eliminate most of your mosquito issues.
If you live near a body of water, remember that mosquitos and their larvae are an important food source for fish and other aquatic organisms. Please do not use any mosquito products designed to kill larvae in these aquatic areas. Instead, focus on eliminating the standing water on your property—this should eliminate most of your mosquito issues.
The problem with poison ivy (Toxidendron radicans) is that it sends out runners that travel underground. The only guaranteed method to remove poison ivy is by pulling it—this requires a hazmat suit and gloves that should be disposed of after the poison ivy is pulled. If you are extremely sensitive, hire a professional to remove the plants from your property.
If the poison ivy is on your property where it can be easily avoided, embracing it isn’t a bad idea. Poison ivy berries are a great food source for migratory birds.
Compost tea is a liquid extraction made from compost. It is either an extraction (non-aerated) or a brew (aerated). Compost tea can be infused with different ingredients. It can be applied to soil, lawns, and as a foliar spray. Compost tea is ideal when your soil contains ample organic matter (about 5%) or large quantities of good compost are not readily available.
+ High in microbial content to feed your soil
+ Contains some soluble nutrients to feed your plants
+ Rich in organic matter that helps improve soil structure
– Heavy and messy to apply
– Will end up all over your clothes (and your kids and pets) if you play on a lawn treated with compost. Best to apply in spring or fall.
+ High in microbial content to feed your soil
+ Contains some soluble nutrients to feed your plants
+ Only requires a small amount of compost to feed a large area of land
+ Easy to apply throughout the year using a sprayer or watering can
+ Good for lawns or gardens that need to recharge their microbial battery
– Does not contain organic matter for your soil
– Requires special equipment to brew (but our how-to instructions make it easy)
While organic agriculture is becoming increasingly popular by demand in colleges across the country, the availability of organic landscaping curricula is relatively scarce (but it does exist). The Ecological Landscape Alliance is a good resource for organic landscapers, and the website offers articles and webinars on relevant topics. If you live in the Northeast, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) offers an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) course that covers all aspects of organic land care, from soil biology to invasive species management. Osborne Organics offers Organic Lawn Care Accredited Professional (OLCAP) courses across the U.S.
Be sure to check with your local cooperative extension to get a better understanding of the courses available in your area.
Many states have laws that require your landscaper to notify you if a pesticide has been applied to your yard if the product has an EPA registration number. If a product is applied commercially, the DEC requires your landscaper to notify you, regardless of whether the product is organic or synthetic.
If you’re concerned, this is a great opportunity to talk to your landscaper about her services and become an active participant in the health of your yard.
These laws tend to vary from county to county and between states, so check with your local DEC to learn more about the pesticides notification requirements in your area.
Trees and shrubs do not usually need to be sprayed to prevent disease. Occasionally, an intervention treatment is required when the tree’s health is endangered by a major infestation.
Most of the time, disease and pest problems can be managed through monitoring, physically removing pests, pruning infected branches, and if needed, using an organic or naturally derived spray.
Watering and feeding your shrubs is a good idea when they are first planted, but established trees and shrubs generally do not need to be watered or fed. Use drip tubing to irrigate trees and shrubs during the first three years after planting, and remove them when no longer needed.
Yes, it is possible to grow roses organically. Focus on right plant, right place: pick disease-resistant varieties that perform well in your climate. Look for Rugosa hybrid roses, which are bred to have disease resistance. Roses need at least six hours of sunlight per day, and should be pruned to encourage good air circulation.
Try planting your roses with other plants, too; multiple roses planted closely together encourages pests and disease. Planting other plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects will help manage the pest population naturally.
Use decomposed bark mulch or leaf mulch under your roses to prevent water from splashing onto leaves, which can spread disease. Water seldom and deep to encourage deep, healthy roots.
Above all, be willing to accept some imperfection—your roses will still be beautiful, and the earth will thank you for forgoing the toxic chemicals!
Mushrooms are generally not an indicator of poor lawn health and do not present a threat . Typically, they are the fruiting bodies of beneficial fungi that are growing after a rainfall. They can also be an indicator of over-watering or poor drainage. If they occur after especially wet weather,physically removing them with a rake or broom is probably the best way to deal with them. If it has not been raining, adjust irrigation.
The main difference between conventional synthetic lawn fertilizers and slow release organics is solubility, or how quick they dissolve in water.
Synthetic fertilizers dissolve rapidly, releasing nitrogen quickly into the soil. They promote quick "green up" and shallow root systems. They do not last very long, and quickly leach into ground or surface waters after a rain event, preventing most of the nitrogen from actually being absorbed by your plants. This causes pollution that can lead to algal blooms.
Slow-release organic fertilizers, along with compost and compost tea, work by providing food to microbes living in your soil. These in turn produce nutrients for your grass. They are less soluble than synthetics, leading to less leaching of nutrients, and lessening the need for frequent fertilizer applications.
Corn gluten is often used as an "organic" crabgrass pre-emergent. Studies on its effectiveness have been mixed. Precise timing seems to be the most important factor in using it successfully. Because it is expensive and not reliably effective, we do not generally recommend its use.
The best way to get rid of crabgrass is to crowd it out with healthy turf. Crabgrass is opportunistic and needs bare patches in a lawn to get established. It is an annual --it spreads seeds and dies every fall-- and then germinates in warm weather, i.e. late spring/early summer. Typical lawn grasses germinate in cool weather so it is easy enough to get a jump on crab grass by planting turf grasses in the fall so they are well established before the crabgrass has a chance. For this reason, turf grasses are best mowed high 3.5-4” to provide more coverage of the soil.
If you already have crabgrass, and can’t bear to wait until fall to get rid of it, you can pull it out and overseed the bare patches with rye. Starting in the summer by getting rid of crabgrass before it goes to seed does give you an advantage. You can also remove small patches with boiling water or with toxic-free, vinegar and citrus-based products available in stores.
In the fall, cut lawn short, aerate, compost , and overseed with grass seed suited for your conditions.
Moss is a pretty good sign that your soil is too acidic. Liming is the easiest way to deal with this, but composting with the lime will help improve the soils retention of the lime so it is most efficient. Liming should be applied as guided by a soil test.