Go Natural! Protect our environment
Avoid using “weed and feed” and other pesticides – use less-toxic alternatives
These products may damage soil and lawn health and pollute our waterways. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides etc.) are not healthy for children or pets either. They often get tracked into the house, bringing toxins indoors.
Accept a few “weeds” in your lawn. Some plants like clover, provide nitrogen and look fine in a lawn. Target the problem weeds, leave the others.
Crowd out weeds and reduce pest damage by growing a healthy, vigorous lawn through proper fertilization, irrigation, and mowing. Improve thin areas by aerating, overseeding, and topdressing with compost.
Remove problem weeds by hand in the spring and fall. Don’t cover your entire lawn with weed & feed just to kill a few dandelions. Pincer-type long- handled weed pullers are available at most garden stores. They work well in moist soil, before weeds go to seed. Pull dandelions when they’re young to get as much root as possible.
Or spot-spray problem weeds with the least-toxic product. That’s much safer than broadcasting herbicides all over your lawn.
Read product labels carefully and follow the instructions including safe product disposal. Even less toxic products may have cautions.
Weed & Feed is a pesticide! It typically combines a quick-release fertilizer (bad) with a mixture of hazardous herbicides (worse).
Hand pull or spot-spray instead.
Mow higher, mow regularly, and leave the clippings (“grasscycle”)
Set mowing heights between 2 and 3 inches for most lawns (or 1-1½ inches on bentgrass lawns) to develop deeper roots, improve drought and disease resistance, and crowd out weeds.
Remove only one-third of grass length at each mowing. Try to mow weekly in spring. Cutting too much at once stresses the grass.
“Grasscycle” – leave the clippings on the lawn. Mulch-mowing provides free fertilizer (soil organisms recycle the clippings), helps lawns grow greener and denser, and doesn’t cause thatch buildup. It also saves the work of disposing of clippings.
You can grasscycle with your existing mower. Keep the blade sharp, try to mow when the grass is dry, and mow a little more often in spring. Clippings will break down quickly – just mow over any clumps to scatter them. Push mowers work fine. You can also buy “mulching” blades for many older power mowers that improve performance.
Buying a new mower? Get a “mulching” mower. Modern mulching mowers chop clippings finely and blow them down to the soil surface where they disappear and break down faster, returning free nutrients to the soil.
Keep blades sharp! Dull blades tear the grass, leaving ugly brown tips and inviting disease. Mower shops do a good job or learn to sharpen blades yourself.
If needed, use “natural organic” or “slow-release” fertilizer in September or May
Do I need fertilizer? How much?
If the lawn is thin or yellow, apply ½ to 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. in the fall or spring. (Read the label or call your local Garden Center to figure out how much to apply for your lawn’s area.)
Many home lawns on good soil do fine without regular fertilizing – just with the free nutrients provided by grasscycling.
These fertilizers release nutrients slowly to feed the lawn, and less is wasted as runoff that pollutes our streams. Look for “water insoluble nitrogen” and the words “natural organic” or “slow-release” on the label.
Choose no-phosphorus fertilizers to protect our waterways. Newly planted lawns need phosphorus, but established lawns rarely do – get a soil test to determine your lawn’s needs.
Fertilize moderately – more is not better. Healthy lawns are a meadow green color. Dark green turf is over- fertilized, which invites damage from disease and drought. Accept a lighter color, for a healthier lawn.
Fertilize in the fall, September- October with organic fertilizers, or as late as mid-November with slow-release synthetic. These feeds fall and winter root growth, as the plant stores nutrients for the next growing season. If you want to fertilize in spring too, wait until spring growth slows in May. Early spring fertilizing just makes faster growth and more mowing!
Soils west of the Cascades may be acidic and low in calcium, so spreading lime in the fall every 3-4 years helps some lawns. Again, a soil test will tell you exactly what’s needed.
Water deeply, but less frequently. Or let lawns go dormant in summer
Grass does better when the whole root zone is wetted, and then dries. This promotes deeper rooting. Too frequent watering can cause weak shallow roots, lawn disease, and leach nutrients from the soil. To see if you’re watering as deep as the roots go, dig in with a trowel or shovel about an hour after watering.
Lawns need about 1 inch of water per week in summer, from rain or watering, to stay green. Scatter straight- sided tuna cans around your lawn, and time how long it takes your sprinkler to fill them to 1 inch. That’s how long to water each rainless week in summer.
Water less in early and late summer when it’s cooler.
Or let your lawn go golden brown and dormant in summer – it will bounce back in the fall. Water slowly and deeply once each rainless month to keep it healthy. Avoid heavy traffic on dormant lawns – you may want to water areas where children and pets play. When the rains return in fall, overseed any thin areas.
Save on water bills, by making every drop count:
- Water early in the morning or late in the day to reduce evaporation.
- If water puddles or runs off, water more slowly or start and stop.
- Aeration breaks down thatch layers and helps water penetrate.
- Use a timer on your sprinkler.
- Newly planted lawns need water daily; wait to plant lawns until rains come in September.
Automatic irrigation systems often waste a lot of water.
Improve poor lawns with aeration, overseeding, and compost topdressing
Use these practices on areas that are thin, weedy, or compacted to improve lawn appearance and health.
Aerate compacted soil in spring or fall to improve root development. Use a rented power core aerator or hire a professional. The soil should be moist. Make two or more passes, then rake or mow to break up the cores and leave them to break down. Aeration also helps break down excess “thatch” (old grass stems), or you can rent a power de-thatcher if you have more than a ½-inch thatch layer.
Overseed with a rye/fescue mix designed for Northwest conditions. Aerate or rake first to expose the soil surface. Ask at your local nursery for a seed mix blended for the Northwest that matches your sun/shade conditions. Spread seed twice, in two directions, for more uniform coverage, focusing on thin areas of the lawn.
Then topdress with ¼ - ½ inch of compost. Scatter compost with a shovel, then rake it out to fill aeration holes and let the grass stand up through it. Compost adds organic matter, and nutrients the young grass needs to grow quickly so it can crowd out weeds.
Really poor soil? Consider re-planting. Strip old sod or till it in, till in 2-3 inches of compost, then re-seed the lawn. New lawns need water daily, so do this big job in September when the fall rains will help you.
September or April-May are the best times to overseed and topdress with compost (with or without aeration) or amend the soil and replant.
Consider alternatives to lawns in shady areas, on slopes and near waterways
Grass grows best on well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
Steep slopes are hard to mow and water. See the resources below for alternative ground covers and native plants that will grow well on slopes, in heavy shade and soggy or rocky soil, with much fewer maintenance needs than lawn.
Use “sheet mulching” to easily convert lawns to beds. Cover lawn areas with layers of newspaper or cardboard, then 3-6 inches of compost and/or wood chips. Wait a few months for the grass to die, and then dig holes through the mulch to plant shrubs, or till the compost and dead sod into the soil to create planting beds.
Honey, I shrunk the lawn! Level lawns are great for play and relaxation, but lawns take more work mowing, watering, edging, weeding and fertilizing than beautiful beds full of site-adapted plants. Think about where you need lawn, and where you could try other planting beds, trees, or a rain garden.
Leave a buffer of natural vegetation near streams and lakes to filter pollutants and protect fish and wildlife.
Include shrubs and trees to shade the water, and native plants or low maintenance grasses that don’t need mowing. Never use pesticides or soluble fertilizers near streams, ditches, wetlands, or shorelines. Fish, birds, and our children wade and swim in those waters!
Think twice before using pesticides. Identify the problem before you spray, squash or stomp.
Start with prevention
- Build healthy soil with compost and mulch.
- Select pest-resistant external link plants, and plant them in the sun and soil conditions they like.
- Remove diseased to reduce the number of hiding places.
- Pull weeds before they go to seed and spread.
- Use a variety of plants; if pests attack one plant, others can fill its place.
Accept a little damage
Nature may control it for you, or plants may just outgrow the damage.
If a pest or weed problem persists, use the least-toxic solution
- Use physical controls, repellants, and long-handled weed pullers.
- Mulch once a year to reduce weeds in beds.
- Use least-toxic products, such as soaps, horticultural oils and plant-based insecticides.
Replace problem plants with pest- or disease-resistant ones
If a plant or tree has a chronic or recurring insect pest or disease problem, it's time to remove it and replace it with a more tolerant variety or another type of plant.
Avoid using weed-and-feed products and other pesticides
Weed-and-feed-type products have been identified as a number one priority for education. Weed-and-feed products are the most widely used pesticide, and many people are not aware that they are a pesticide. Sales of weed-and-feed products peak each spring as they are often used as a fertilizer rather than as a pesticide.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 16 pesticides have been detected in the Northwest at levels that exceed standards set to protect aquatic life. One of those pesticides, 2,4-D, is a component of weed-and-feed products.