Organic Lawn Care
Pursuant to its statutory charge, this Commission frequently reviews applications to the Inland Wetlands and Planning & Zoning Commissions and provides commentary to these two bodies on the potential impacts of planned development activities to our town's natural resources. For properties with surface water bodies near lawn areas we typically recommend an organic lawn care program with use of natural, phosphate-free fertilizers to minimize nutrient loading of waterways from chemical fertilizer and herbicide/pesticide runoff. This runoff can not only harm aquatic organisms directly, but can accelerate growth of invasive aquatic plants that cause additional degradation to our streams. Organic lawn care avoids use of chemical lawn treatments and can result in a healthy, safe lawn with less impact to the environment and sensitive receptors such as pets and children.
For homeowners that contract lawn care services, ask your provider if they can provide organic care. The Northeast Organic Farming Association maintains a database of organic land care professionals that can be consulted here.
For do-it-yourselfers, successful implementation of an organic care program can involve some planning. Homeowners should be aware that recent Connecticut state law bans the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers on established lawns.
- Obtain a soil test - determine what amendments your soil requires before you add them. The UCONN Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station are local agencies with this capability.
- Grow the right grass - grow grasses appropriate for this area's climate and that are less dependent on watering and fertilizer use.
- Water well - water in the morning to ensure the lawn surface dries during the day. Water deeply and infrequently so grass roots grow deeper into the soil rather than relying on frequent watering.
- Think of your soil as alive - your lawn is full of organisms, including large numbers of microorganisms that decompose organic matter and nourish plant life. Nurturing that life will lead to a successful lawn.
- Mow properly - recycle grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn to provide a nitrogen source. Keep mower blades sharp and use mulching-type mowers blades. Take care to not remove too much grass in any one mowing.
- Avoid synthetic materials - use fertilizers that come from materials that were once living plants or animals (e.g. bone meal, blood meal) or come from mined minerals (e.g. lime).
- Add compost - compost contains beneficial microorganisms that will interact with organic fertilizers to enhance their effect. Liquid compost (compost "tea") will become available to the soil and grass more quickly, and should be used in combination with solid components to aid the transition from a synthetic to organic care system.
- See weeds as messengers - weeds can identify underlying problems with the soil. Killing them with herbicide will eliminate the plants, but not the conditions that favored their growth.
- See insects as messengers - a rush of new growth brought on by chemical fertilizer can attract detrimental insects.
- Overseed regularly - mowing prevents grass from "going to seed" and reproducing. Overseeding introduces young plants to fill in bare areas and compete against weeds.
Positive and Negative Aspects of Synthetic Chemical vs. Organic Care
Chemical Care - Positive Aspects:
- Heavy spring application of nitrogen concentrated fertilizer makes lawn grow faster, greener, and fuller without it.
- "-icides" provide quick pest, weed, and disease eradication.
Chemical Care - Negative Aspects:
- High water solubility of chemical fertilizer leads to quick nutrient release, but the lawn cannot absorb the entire dosage of nutrients.
- The portion that is absorbed causes a spring growth spurt that depletes the lawn's carbohydrate reserves for times of stress.
- Excessive nitrogen application tends to result in shallower roots and make the lawn fertilizer-dependent.
- Phosphorus-based fertilizers can stimulate excessive algal growth in adjacent waterbodies.
- Chemicals can slow or halt natural decomposition of thatch.
- Increased soil acidity from chemicals stresses earthworms & micro-organisms that normally assist in aeration and decomposition processes.
- EPA registration of a chemical does not imply that the chemical has been proven to be harmless. See this link for more information on the types and potential effects of pesticides: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/types.htm
Natural Care - Positive Aspects:
- Lower solubility of natural fertilizers provides for slow release so that a lawn benefits longer from a single application.
- There is no rapid growth spurt to deplete the lawn's carbohydrate reserves.
- The lower percentage of nitrogen, in proportion to other nutrients in fertilizer, lets the lawn remain independent with strong root systems.
- The absence of phosphorus compounds in lawn fertilizers reduces the potential for excess growth of algae in adjacent waterbodies.
- Natural fertilizers can maintain or increase the rate of decomposition by adding beneficial micro-organisms.
- Natural fertilizers and top-dressing create less pH change in soil.
- Low likelihood of negative health effects to children and pets.
Natural Care - Negative Aspects:
- Moderate application of natural fertilizer takes longer to achieve a lush, green lawn in the spring.
- Chemical-free control measures do not completely eradicate weeds and pests.
Visit the following links, in addition to those listed above, for more information and lawn care ideas: