Adapted from “Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards” by Sarah Little, Ph.D., Northeast Organic Farming Association Organic Land Care Program, 2016.
• Encourage native species.
• Remove invasive plants and animals if possible.
• Preserve any existing plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial fauna.
• Be aware of water cycles, plants, and animals in your local ecosystem.
• Plant evergreens to the north of your house for energy savings in the winter.
• Plant deciduous trees to the west, southwest, and east for shade.
• Make your own compost.
• Minimize fertilizer and water use.
• Buy local materials and plants if possible.
• Consider having a lawn small enough for a push-reel mower.
• Have your soil tested before planting trees or shrubs or renovating a lawn and before adding fertilizers or soil amendments.
• Maintain a thriving population of soil organisms by recycling all the organic debris produced by your landscape back into the soil. Leave grass clippings on the lawn, mulch with leaves and other plant material, and compost yard trimmings and other organic waste for use as a natural fertilizer.
• Protect your soil and the creatures that live there from toxins and salts, including synthetic chemicals and fertilizer.
• Compost all organic material (leaves, garden trimmings, kitchen vegetable scraps...)
• Leave grass clippings on the lawn to replenish nutrients and organic matter.
• Mulch gardens, shrubs, and trees; use materials from your yard such as leaves, pine needles, and chipped brush if possible.
• Don’t put mulch against the bark of trees and woody shrubs.
• Read labels carefully and understand what is in any soil amendment.
• Match your plant to the soil.
• Choose natives and species adapted to your property and climate.
• Add compost to the soil to improve water retention. Cover bare soil with mulch, compost, or plantings to reduce evaporation.
• If watering is necessary, irrigate in the early morning to reduce evaporative losses and avoid encouraging fungal diseases.
• Water only newly planted grass and plants and wean them from irrigation as soon as they become established.
• Allow mature grass to go dormant during dry spells.
• Turn off automatic sprinklers and water only when plants require it.
• Water no more than once a week (dependent on weather conditions, plant types and age, soil condition, and watering bans).
• Allow runoff to infiltrate into the ground by diverting roof runoff into low-lying areas or dry wells, or into rain barrels for later use.
• Maintain natural vegetation buffers next to wetlands and watercourses to filter chemicals from runoff.
• Prevent stormwater contamination by minimizing the use of cleansers, oil, solvents, and other pollutants. Use cardboard or other absorbent materials to catch oil and chemicals when working on your car and dispose of such materials in the trash. Do not allow rinse water containing chemicals to flow directly into the street.
• Never apply excess amounts of fertilizers or soil amendments (follow the instructions on the bag). Never allow fertilizers or soil amendments to remain on a street, sidewalk, driveway or other hard surface. If you use a spreader (drop or broadcast), brush all material from pavement or walkways back onto turf or plant beds.
• Never dump anything down a storm drain.
• Consider using native fescues and sedges.
• Consider growing a “freedom lawn” with clover and other grass-compatible plants that will attract pollinators.
• Consider reducing area of lawn.
• Mow high (at a setting of three to four inches).
• Leave grass clippings on lawn.
• Get a soil test.
• Adjust pH of soil if needed according to soil test recommendations (any time of year).
• Use natural fertilizers, such as compost, according to soil test recommendations (apply in fall).
• Avoid the use of toxic materials.
• Water infrequently, if at all; do not apply more than one inch of water per week (including rainfall).
• Seed with a mixture of grasses suitable to your site conditions (in the fall and spring).
• Avoid compacting soils, overwatering, mowing too often or too low, mowing during hot or dry weather, and applying excessive or ill-timed fertilizer in order to discourage weeds.
Weed Removal Options
• Hand pulling, using hand-powered tools (e.g. dandelion diggers). This is easiest when the soil is damp and the weeds are small.
• Repeated mowing.
• Repeatedly cutting down woody plants after each flush of growth to draw down root energy reserves, eventually causing death by starvation.
• Mechanical cultivation (not useful for weeds that propagate via their roots or shoots).
• Mulching with a thick layer (more than four inches) of weed-free mulch, paper mulch under a thick layer of organic mulch, or a temporary covering of PVC-free plastic sheeting.
• Solarization, which involves covering a low-growing invasive plant with clear plastic sheeting and letting it “cook” in the sun. (This technique can also kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil; after the plastic is removed, the area may benefit from applications of compost.)
• Pouring boiling water directly over roots.
• Animal grazing/browsing such as sheep and goats.
• Flame weeders.
• Biological control of invasive plants, using carefully selected natural insect enemies or pathogens.
• Pruning flowers to prevent seed formation, if the plant cannot be removed.
• Spraying with a vinegar solution or organically approved herbicides. (For woody plants, repeated applications are necessary to kill the plant.) Caution: All herbicides are pesticides; read the label and follow the directions.
• Learn which weeds are edible and make good use of them.
• Mow high (three to four inches)
• Abstain from watering in warmer months (June and July) when beetles are flying.
• Fertilize or sprinkle with compost only in fall.
• Encourage a diversity of plant species in your lawn.
• Protect beneficial insects and microorganisms from salts (e.g. synthetic fertilizers) and toxins (e.g. synthetic and broad-spectrum pesticides, solvents, and oils).
• Eliminate standing water on your property.
• Use B.t.i. (Bacillus thuringiensis) in areas with unavoidable standing water.
• Experiment with garlic spray on your lawn and shrubs near the house.
• Wear long sleeves and personal mosquito repellant.
• Avoid being out at dawn and dusk when mosquito populations are the highest.
• Check yourself and your family members for ticks every time you are likely to have been exposed (especially in areas populated by whitetail deer and small mammals with trees, unmowed vegetation, and sufficient humidity).
• Adopt xeriscape, native, and low water landscaping techniques.
• Use gravel pathways and create a 3” or wider border of wood chips, mulch, or gravel between lawn and woodlot or areas with low groundcover.
• Widen woodland trails.
• Keep grass mowed near woods and stonewalls. Alternate customary high mowing (three to four inches) with low mowing (two inches) to discourage ticks.
• Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let in more sunlight.
• Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn, around stonewalls, and woodpiles.
• Discourage rodent activity by cleaning up and sealing stonewalls and small openings around the home and moving firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house.
• Use plantings that do not attract deer, or exclude deer through various types of fencing.
• Move children’s swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland and shrubs into drier, sunnier areas.