Spring is here and you’re wondering what to do with the lawn? Should you hire a Traditional Lawn care company? Hire a Natural Lawn Care Company? Hire an Organic Lawn Care Company? Or, should you just buy lawn fertilizer and treat the lawn yourself?
We’ll do the best we can to answer these questions in the blog post below.
When we talk about traditional lawn care, we're referring to a program that uses synthetic fertilizers to feed the grass and then uses synthetic pesticides to treat insects, diseases, weeds, and other issues that come up. These synthetic fertilizers and pesticides became popular after World War II and haven’t been in existence for very long in human history, but long enough to become “traditional”.
Synthetic fertilizers contain water soluble nutrient salts in a form that the plants can readily absorb. The benefit of a water soluble lawn fertilizer is that you notice a quick greenup after applying a synthetic fertilizer. There are a few drawbacks to traditional synthetic fertilizers though. The first is that the high doses of salt burn up the beneficial soil biology that is so necessary for healthy plant growth and lead to thatch accumulation. The second is that because the nutrients are water soluble, they’re more likely to get washed down the drain and end up in our rivers and lakes where excess nutrient pollution can lead to harmful algal blooms.
Some newer synthetic fertilizers contain water soluble nutrients covered with plastic that gradually breaks down and then exposes the water soluble fertilizer to the environment. So, they make a quick release fertilizer, more slow release by covering it with plastic.
The real problem in my eyes with a synthetic lawn care program is that it includes regular applications of weed killers and insecticides. If these lawn pesticides don’t bother you, then a traditional lawn care program might be right for you. They’re typically inexpensive and result in a lawn without many weeds (because they use pre-emergent weed killers and post-emergent weed killers).
If you’re going to choose a traditional lawn care approach, I’d recommend hiring a local company that is certified to apply lawn chemicals. You’ll get a little more personalized service with a local company than you would with a national chain. In addition, it is better to have someone else make the chemical applications correctly, than it is to do it yourself and risk misapplication or, even worse, tracking the chemicals that you walk through as your making the application, back into the house (carpet) where they could remain active for years.
It's interesting to note, that the more you use traditional synthetic fertilizers, the more you need to use traditional synthetic insecticides, weed killers, and fungicides. (Learn More about why that is the case on our Why Organic? page)
Organic Based Lawn Care is a confusing term. It sounds good, but technically all it means is that you're using fertilizers that are made up of 75% synthetic ingredients and 25% organic material. The organic material can be just about anything but is often composted sewage sludge. This is not a bad ingredient for the soil and is a lot cleaner than it sounds. Most Hybrid or Organic Based Lawn Care Programs are just Traditional programs with a little bit of organic matter mixed in. They still use the same synthetic weed killers, insecticides, and fungicides. So, the bottom line is that there is some food for the soil, but you're still getting the chemicals. They're an improvement from Traditional Lawn Fertilizing Programs but definitely not the same thing as an Organic Lawn Program. If your goal is to improve the soil a little more than a traditional chemical program would, then a hybrid lawn care approach could be right for you. If your goal is to keep lawn chemicals and pesticides away from your family and pets, an organic based program is not a good choice because it will typically still require synthetic pesticides (the poisons) to kill weeds, insects, and disease.
There is no true definition of Organic Lawn Care, but here is how we define it at Good Nature. We use materials that feed the soil so that it can create a healthy green lawn without the need the traditional pesticides. Most of the lawn fertilizers we apply do not feed the lawn, they feed the soil. They are not initially available to the plants and need to be broken down by soil organisms in order to become available. In addition, natural lawn care treatments are designed to stimulate microorganisms and help them to unlock nutrients already in the soil, but not yet available to the plants.
Our natural lawn care approach starts by using healthy ingredients like humates (concentrated organic matter), sea plants (seaweed), plant proteins (soybean, alfalfa, and corn), compost, and compost tea to build the biology in the soil. A true organic lawn care program includes materials that favor the grass and discourage weeds so that you never have to ask us to apply a synthetic pesticide. We use corn derivatives to discourage weeds from sprouting and specific nutrient mixes designed to favor the grass while discouraging weeds. Instead of using Neonicanatoid Insecticides (often associated with colony collapse disorder and other health issues) to kill grubs in a lawn, we use naturally occurring organisms called beneficial nematodes. Instead of killing chinch bugs with an insecticide that also controls Big Eyed Bugs (bugs that eat chinch bugs) we use natural oils to discourage chinch bugs from eating your desirable grasses. You get the idea.
So, to me, the definition of organic lawn care is to do everything possible to make more toxic pesticides (weed killers, insecticides, and fungicides) unnecessary. We want you to have a Natural Lawn without all the chemicals. Our program doesn't include any of the chemicals (unless you specifically ask for a spot weed control treatment). Even if you ask for a spot weed control treatment at some point, you'll know that we're doing everything else possible to help your lawn look its best naturally, so that you don't need to use the chemicals. We don't just say, yes, we're using some organic things, but you also need the chemicals. The goal of our organic lawn program (and our company) is to never have to use a synthetic chemical poison on your lawn. If you’re looking to hire an organic lawn care company or a natural lawn care company to treat your lawn, choose one that does not offer a traditional synthetic program as well. Then you’ll know that they’re focused on providing you with a truly organic lawn.
I have no idea what the term "Natural Lawn Care" means, so it is difficult for me to comment. I do know that Natural is a term that can mean a lot of different things, so I'd be a little careful with it. I’d tend to associate Natural Lawn Care with Organic Lawn Care, but people can call anything Natural Lawn Care, so it’s hard for me to give a standard definition.
If you want to have an organic lawn, to keep your kids, pets, and family away from all the chemicals I'd recommend that you choose a company that does not include or encourage you to use chemical weed killers, insecticides, or pesticides. Choose a lawn care company that is focused on giving you an attractive lawn without the chemicals. Will you have a few weeds this way? Probably. Will you need to make sure that you or your landscaper is mowing your lawn nice and tall? Yes. Will it be worth it in the long run? That's for you to decide, but my guess is that the more you look into it, the more your answer will be yes!
I hope this post has helped improve your understanding of the different lawn care methods. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions.
If you're wondering if it is best to hire a lawn service or to buy lawn fertilizer and treat your lawn yourself, check out this article on Cleveland.Com.