Thursday, June 6, 2013

Growing a 'Green' Yard

Before I get into my thoughts on growing a healthy, green, organic yard, let me say that I don't really believe in yards, or at least I don't believe in huge yards.  The American phenomenon of growing (and mowing) grass all around your home is simply not always necessary (and you can't eat it).  That said, with 3 young children, I am fully aware that those busy little people need a place to run, and play soccer and get grass stains.  Of course with chickens digging dust bath holes, it often feels like keeping a nice yard is an uphill battle.

Before you think about how to care for your yard, think about how you can decrease the size of your yard.  Large expanses of short grass can increase runoff, cause all sort of problems with fertilizers, take lots of your time in mowing and caring, uses water, and are rarely the most attractive use of space.  Look and think carefully about your yard space and decide if each grassy area is:
  • Useful
  • Attractive 
  • Easy to Maintain
If you find that some of the yard space around your home is not any of the things above, consider changing the grass over to something else: create a garden, let it go natural, plant ground cover, or come up with another creative use for the space.

With that said, many of us are left with the question of how to grow a healthy, green yard without dumping tons of fertilizers, herbicides, and water onto them every year.  Here are some ways to grow a healthy green, AND organic yard this year:

Start With Great Soil
Many yards are grown right on top of the fill used when a house was built, which is why so many of them are weak and need lots of tending.  Just like a garden, grass will grow better when the soil is rich in nutrients (and you will also need less fertilizer).  The deeper your layer of good soil and compost the better.

Consider Mixing Clover with your Grass Seed
Although not as popular recently, clover is drought tolerant and will actually fix nitrogen in the soil (which is something grass likes).  Also choose grass that is appropriate for your area and the amount of sun your yard receives.

Keep Your Mower Blade Sharp and High
By keeping your blade sharp you cause less damage to the grass (and thus decrease grass death by disease).  The lower you mow your grass, the faster it actually grows in an attempt to 'win' over the other plants in the yard.  That means that the shorter your grass, the more fertilizers and water you need.  Longer grass can also shade out the weeds and means you actually will have a nicer looking yard.

Don't Mow When it's Wet
In fact, try to avoid walking on the yard when it is wet since this compacts the soil and kills the grass

Leave the Grass Clippings as Mulch
Grass clippings get worked back into the soil and help feed the grass

Water Only When Needed
If you water only when necessary, the grass will naturally grow deeper roots and will be able to withstand dry spell better.  When you water often, your yard develops shallow, crazy roots known as thatch.  Water when needed and water deeply.

Weed By Hand or Use Herbicide Alternatives
With just a few weeds, you can pull these by hand, or consider putting down corn gluten meal in the early part of the year to control broad leaf plants.

Add Nutrients
Fertilizers are one way to add nutrients to the soil, but these products often over-fertilize your yard and much of these nutrients simply run off into nearby bodies of water causing all kinds of problems.  Instead of fertilizers applied in bulk, you can test your soil and apply only what's needed, or better yet, top dress your yard with compost or compost tea to add nutrients to your grass each year.

Your yard does not have to be a time, money, water, and fertilizer black hole.  With a little preparation and know-how you can decrease your reliance on these methods and still maintain a soft, full healthy yard.

How do you care for your yard?

For a great resource - check out the Cornell Cooperative Lawn Care Almanac


  1. I totally agree with you about yards being too important. Unfortunately, we live with an HOA that only cares about how things look. We have had many battles with them over our yard and have had to replace sod not once, but twice on the property. We will not be moving to a deed-restricted place in the future! Let the wildflowers grow!

  2. Great tips! David used to mow quite a bit around our house last year, but this year he is just mowing a small area around the house and leaving the rest to grow wild. We don't use any type of weed killer either and tend to just let nature do its thing.

  3. We haven't done anything to our 'yard' but there is no grass. We bought this place almost a year and half ago and it had been vacant for a few years before that (repo) so no one did any maintenance. The previous owner landscaped it with small rock. But being neglected for a few years allowed foxtails and other weeds to work their way up through the rock. We live in the high desert so grass is not really practical here, but this rock is rather boring. I would like to scrape it all up and start over with a more natural desert look. Just haven't had the energy to begin such a large project. Guess we will have to put it on our list pre-spring next year.

  4. When I bought my house it had been empty during a drought summer. I took the opportunity to reduce the grass by 3/4. There is a tiny bit in front and more in the back by the patio. I still think it is too much, but with a kid now it makes sense for her to have a place to play. 95% of the rest of the backyard are drought resistant plants, mulch and fruit trees. We use the grass clipping for mulch in the veggie garden.

  5. We......don't really have a yard. We have grass, sort of, that we mow to keep ticks and snakes at bay. We've never really been into the big beautiful green golf course lawns. I love your idea of mixing clover. We have done that and it is beautiful. Clover used to be very common in lawns before the idea of just grass took over. Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop!. We'd love to have you back again this morning:

  6. Just what I needed to read - how did you know?! Shared with our readers at