Natural Lawn Care Basics

Do You Know…

How to Mow?
Mow high. Tall grass shades out weeds and encourages deep root growth. Set your mower to 2-3 inches. Never mow more than 1/3 of the blade each time.

About water flow?
Water deeply, and infrequently. Overwatering can cause fungal disease. Water in early to mid-afternoon, about ¾ to 1 inch every week (including rainfall). Winter grasses used in Minnesota go dormant in the hot weather. In July & August, water only the minimum to keep your lawn alive, about ¼ to ½ inch every 3 weeks.

When to Sow?
Sow grass seed in the fall for best results. This gives enough time for the grass to become well-established. Reseed over existing turf at any time, mixing in grass seed with top dressing for best results.

Rake or no?
Do leave lawn clippings on the lawn whenever possible, but rake leaves or mulch them with a mower. Grass clippings add nitrogen to the soil, while clumps of leaves, if not mulched, can cause disease.

Aerate as you go.
Aerate your lawn once each fall to correct soil compaction. (You can rent a small aerator machine.) The best natural aerator is the earthworm. Make your yard worm-friendly by eliminating pesticides!

More lawn care tips:

  • Grass needs about 6 hours of sun a day. If your yard gets less, consider shade-loving ground cover instead or reduce your turf area by planting perennial gardens.
  • Maintain proper fertility and pH levels in your lawn. Have your soil tested to determine nutrient needs. County
  • Extension offices do soil testing for a small fee.
  • Use organic fertilizers in the fall to replenish nutrients. Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly and do not harm beneficial organisms.
  • About once a year, dethatch. You can rent a dethatcher. Thatch is a dense layer of grass stems and roots, which should not exceed ½ inch.

Just what are pesticides, anyway?

They Include:

  • Herbicides, used to kill plant material (i.e. weeds, as well as your “good” plants). Some common pesticides are 2,4-D, Atrazine, Glyphosate.
  • Insecticides, used to kill insect pests (again, they kill good and bad bugs). Some examples are Diazinon and Dursban.
  • Fungicides, which kill diseases of the plant (i.e., molds, rot, fungus).
  • Most important, while pesticides kill the pests, they do not solve the underlying problem. The best way to keep pests, disease and weeds under control is to have a healthy lawn. Finally, learn to tolerate a few pests in the lawn. A weed-free, pest-free lawn is neither feasible nor desirable.

Weeds in your Garden

It’s fairly easy to keep your garden beds weed-free, but it requires some elbow grease on your part.

  1. Plan ahead. Prepare garden beds by ridding the beds of weeds first, by hand-pulling or by solarization (covering the soil with plastic to kill the weeds).
  2. Use mulch on established beds to keep the weeds out and the water in. Mulch to 3-4 inches with an organic mulch, replenishing as needed.
  3. Get acquainted with your soil. Get down and your hands and knees and pull those weeds. You’ll become familiar with your garden, notice pests and disease as they appear, and get a workout as well.
  4. Hoe. Hoe. Hoe. Use a hoe to get at the surface of weeds while leaving desirable plants’ roots undisturbed. Make sure your tools are sharp.

Still not convinced? Consider this:

Of the 34 pesticides commonly used on lawns, only 2 were tested for long-term effects on humans and the environment and 12 are suspected human carcinogens. (EPA, 1993)

The National Cancer Institute said that children are at up to six times greater risk of leukemia or brain cancer after exposure to pesticides. (NCI, 1997)

The EPA canceled the use of Diazinon on golf courses due to its toxicity to waterfowl, yet it is still one of the most widely-used pesticides on residential lawns. (EPA, GAO)

Some pesticides are quite stable in the environment and their toxicity can persist for decades. They also can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and are passed into the food chain.



  • National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP),
  • 701 E St. SE, #200, Washington, DC 20003-2841 202/543-5450; ask for “Safety at Home…” publication.
  • MN County Extension offices,
  • MN Office of Environmental Assistance, 651-296-3417
  • The Green Thumb Project, c/o/ EAGLE 218-726-1828
  • Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) P.O. Box 1393, Eugene, OR 97440 503/344-5044
  • EPA, Office of Pesticide Programs, 401 M St. SW Washington DC 20460
  • Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC), PO Box 7414, Berkeley, CA 94707 510/524-2567 ask for “Least Toxic Lawn Care Management” publication.
  • Washington Toxics Coalition ask for “Grow Smart, Grow Safe” publication
  • Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA)
  • Schultz, Warren. The Chemical-Free Lawn, Rodale Press, 1996.
  • Mugaas, Bob. Low Input Lawn Care pamphlet, Minnesota Extension Service.
  • Gardens Alive! Natural yard, garden and pest-control products. 812/537-8650.
  • Women’s Cancer Resource Center, 4604 Chicago Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55407 612-822-4846
  • Minnesota Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (MNCHEC), 952-933-7235,

Prepared by Megan Bartell
Women’s Cancer Resource Center
4604 Chicago Ave.
Mpls. MN 55407