LawnAlthough my most recent posts have posited the belief that most of us have more lawn than we need, there will always be some need. Operating on that thesis, how then can we make the lawns we want or need more sustainable?

Many homeowners and commercial property managers hire companies that specialize in chemical spraying. Landscape designer Cathy Bilow of Peoria, Illinois has been quoted as saying that spraying chemical fertilizers and pesticides on lawns is like giving kids junk food. The lawns will be invigorated for a while but eventually they’ll crash and burn. This happens because the chemicals kill organisms in the soil that feed plant roots, thus creating less viable lawns. Here in Cleveland we have an excellent organic lawn care company, Good Nature, Visit their website to learn more about all the services they offer.

Healthy lawnA sustainable lawn is one that thrives with as little input and labor as possible. It is better for the environment, not only because it lessens chemicals going into the ground, but because it also reduces carbon emissions from mowing and supports bees, butterflies and other wildlife.

The key to a sustainable lawn is cultivating healthy soil. Again quoting Bilow, “When soil is healthy, plants will thrive, and thriving plants are more tolerant of disease and drought.”  Instead of killing soil bacteria, insects and earthworms with chemicals, we nourish them with compost.

Soil web

Soil web (Photo credit –

Microorganisms have a symbiotic relationship with plants, supplying the nutrients plants need in return for the sugars their roots give off. As bacteria and fungi decompose organic material in the soil, they make nitrogen, phosophorus, potassium and other nutrients available to plants.

One of the easiest ways to feed microbes is to leave mowed grass on the lawn, preferably mulched by your lawnmower to decompose faster. It saves the labor of raking and bagging, and grass clippings alone can supply a quarter of the nitrogen needs of a lawn. Leaves can also be chopped up with the lawnmower and left on the lawn or placed around trees and perennials.

A thin layer of compost each spring encourages strong new growth. A cubic yard of compost will fertilize a thousand square feet of soil. You can make your own compost pile with leaves, weeds and other organic debris from lawn and garden. Food scraps and horse or cow manure can also go into the pile but minimize the quantity of lawn clippings which can make the pile slimy and anaerobic, thus taking longer to decompose. If you would rather not have a compost pile or don’t have space, you can buy leaf humus in one cubic foot bags at many garden centers or in bulk from some suppliers. I can also order humus for you and have it delivered.

Join the movement toward  more sustainable lawns.