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How to grow grass that’s REALLY “green”

I admit it: I really don’t enjoy lawncare. But while I do like to have a nice-looking lawn, I certainly won’t use poisons just to grow something that rivals Augusta National. My neighbors seem to try, usually by piling on a mishmosh of pesticides and insect-repellant so they can have a “killer” lawn, so to speak. Once in a while I see those trucks dumping gallons of the stuff – you know, that company which has transformed themselves – in true “Clear Sky Initiative” fashion that’d make Dick Cheney blush – from “ChemLawn” into “TruGreen”.

But the frightening thing is that those pesticides have a devastating impact on our health and planetary welfare. You don’t have to read Silent Spring;just Google “pesticide lawn care danger” and see for yourself. Alternative Lawn Care has a nice, frightening summary, or check out Safelawns, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care, which has some great resources.

Anyway, since I’m always pushing organic, sustainable, green approaches to modern living, I figure I have a responsibility to prove it with a green, healthy weed-free lawn. And I’ve been able to do this with alternative, non-toxic, organic fertizers. They’re pretty cheap, very easy to use, and really do the trick. You just put the stuff down a few times in spring and summer, and that’s it.

Now, I’m a busy guy, fulltime job, two kids; finding an hour just to mow the lawn is challenging enough. Pulling weeds is not going to happen. What’s beautiful about organic weed control is that these products (I’ve provided links below) follow a preemergence model; this means that you put it on before weeds sprout. You use these as a replacement for “weed and feed” products that traditional garden centers sell.

The magical thing about this – and it is truly magical, if you ask me – is that corn gluten meal, a by-product of cornstarch manufacturing, inhibits seed growth naturally. I don’t know if you’d want to eat the stuff, but it’s totally safe to have around yourself, your kids, your pets and the planet. And it makes a beautiful green lawn to boot.

There’s a nice overview of the science behind corn gluten meal here; the only warning I’ve seen is for folks with corn allergies.

There are several ways to use these products, and the manufactures often suggest alternating treatments between their weed preventer and their natural fertilizers. But I’ve had very good success just using the weed preventer by itself, because it also includes lawn food (the “feed” side of weed and feed). I start early in spring, just before the forsythia bloom (I’m in central New Jersey, which is zone 7), and before the crabgrass starts (this will be the last you see of that stuff too, trust me). For me, this is around the second or third week of March; I’ve also waited until early April with success.

At the same time, you can really put this down at any time in the summer. In my experience weeds seem to come in waves; there’s usually one that hits around June. So it’s never too late to use.

spreaderTo put it down you use a standard fertilizer spreader; the weed control manufactures often suggest which settings to use according to your spreader type. You can’t use too much of the stuff; it’s so mild there’s no chance of “burning” your lawn. It’s best to do this on a day it may rain, but in truth I’ve never worried too much about this. The stuff starts breaking down in a few days, and you’ll know because it smells, well, none too appetizing, let’s say. To me, this is the only drawback. A minor inconvenience.

Then you wait about five weeks and do it again. I try for two applications per season.

And that’s it; the only other lawn maintenance I do in early spring is to aerate the yard with those funky spiked shoes (just aerator shoesdo a Google search for Lawn Aerator Shoes). True, the neighbors may think you’re nuts as you walk across your lawn but it does start conversations. So think of it as community building.

Now I’m just waiting for a neighbor to drop a complement, at which point I can whip out my stash of Cockadoodle Doo, or Wow! Plus and tell ‘em they could eat their lunch off the lawn, if they wanted to. And their dog won’t drop dead from walking through the backyard, either.


There are many places to find corn gluten meal on the web; here are a few:

There are pros and cons to each of these companies; Amazon’s probably the cheapest; Cockadoodle DOO has the advantage of being available in stores; check their site for a store locater.

On the other hand, Gardens Alive has a terrific “Gardens Solution” program – sort of like a frequent-flyer program – which you can use to buy any of their excellent organic gardening products at a discount.

UPDATED: I think the Gardens Alive product works best, overall, but it’s the most expensive. So this past year I tried a new product I found in my local garden store from Espoma, the Holly-Tone people. You can find more info here:

Good luck and healthy gardening!

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February 8, 2008   |  Filed Under Living Now   |    Permalink


1 wbblack { 02.08.08 at 6:53 pm }

I’m hearing you bro. My neighbors are all trying to choke the planet so they can be the real Mr. & Mrs. Jones as well. I prefer weeds to grass myself. Some of them sprout pretty little flowers. But it does get some evil looks from other folks on the block.

2 orderinthecourt { 02.18.08 at 7:44 am }

Hey Eric. Sounds great! But you know, for most of us, seeing is believing. Is the picture of the lawn in this post yours? If not, it might help your point to show us how your lawn looks.

I have to admit that I’ve used ChemLawn – only because I’ve prioritized my time for other things. I feel bad every time I do it. Especially when they leave with a sign in the ground that instructs me to keep my kids off the lawn for 48 hours! It’s obvious this stuff isn’t good.

Your site is living up to it’s potential already; You’ve just helped me to change one thing! How to maintain the health and appearance of my lawn, safely.

Thanks and keep up the good work!

3 Eric { 02.18.08 at 8:23 am }

Fair enough and no, that’s not my lawn…but I promise to post a pic as soon as the spring thaw hits!

4 wbblack { 02.18.08 at 8:45 am }

I’m not sure where you live, but in NJ there are green alternatives to chemlawn. We use Greenscapes 1-800-529-6227. They are reasonable and they use non-poison material. They even put a little sign on your lawn that says it so your bonehead neighbors know. If you’re in NJ let me know and I’ll send you a $25 off coupon.

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