Simple steps to a healthy and safe lawn and yard

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Simple steps to a healthy and safe lawn and yard

Keeping your lawn and yard healthy for your family is the best way to combat weeds, diseases and pests, and get the peace of mind that only a pesticide-free yard can give you.

A truly healthy and safe lawn

While “weed and feed” and other weed killers may offer some short-term convenience, many ingredients in these products can harm people, pets and wildlife, and pollute the waterways we all rely on. Plus, they’re often overkill: they work by broadcasting chemicals all over your lawn and yard – even where you aren’t having any problems. In fact, relying on fertilizers and pesticides may be a symptom of an underlying problem, and can make things worse.

need assistance?

Natural gardening advice from OSU Master Gardeners™

Clackamas County, 503-655-8631
Multnomah County, 503-445-4608
Washington County, 503-821-1150

Why take the chance? For most homeowners, creating a healthy, pesticide-free lawn is surprisingly easy when you follow these simple steps. And should you come across bigger problems with your lawn, the Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardeners™ are just a free phone call away.

So give it a try and pledge to reduce or eliminate pesticides – while supplies last, we’ll even send you a pair of gardening gloves to lend a hand!

Take the healthy lawn pledge

1. Mow

Mow often and mow high (about 2-1/2 inches). Taller grass shades out weeds better and encourages longer roots and healthy turf.

Let the clippings lie instead of collecting them. (A mulching mower is helpful.) Clippings act as free fertilizer, so you not only save the trouble of raking and bagging, you save money at the nursery on fertilizers.

Sharpen mower blades at least once a year like the pros. Sharp blades promote grass health.

2. Grow

In the fall, sprinkle a little new grass seed over the whole lawn after mowing. Apply about 25% the recommended rate for new lawns listed on the grass seed label. An all-purpose mix or a shade mix for the Willamette Valley are good choices, depending on your exposure. De-thatching before you seed can help grass take root and crowd out your weeds.

If your lawn looks pale or sparse, apply some slow-release fertilizer (you can find organic ones at your local nursery) when you over-seed.

Then tuck it all in with a thin (1/2-inch) blanket of compost (but don’t use home compost on your lawn since it is likely to have some weed seeds).

3. Water

If you want green grass in the summer, water deeply but infrequently, about an inch a week, in the early morning. Place a small tuna can or some other inch-deep container in the middle of your lawn and turn on the sprinkler. When it's full, you're done. Note how long this takes and use that time for future waterings during similar weather.

Remember – more is not always better. Overwatering can stress a lawn as much as drought. When it rains, water less, if at all. If you have an irrigation system, adding a rain sensor to your timer will save water and protect your lawn.

If you have hard clay soil, you may need to split your inch of water into two waterings with at least an hour or so in between to let it soak in. If you use a hose-end sprinkler, battery-operated, programmable timers are a great way to deliver just the right amount.

4. Weed

Avoid weed and feed and other herbicides. Children and pets are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures, and lawn chemicals find their way into rivers through storm drains.

Your lawn doesn’t need to be entirely weed-free. If you feel the need to weed, do it by hand using any weeding tool you like. A hori hori knife or dandelion tool makes short work of deep-rooted weeds. If you have too many weeds for this, consider hiring a neighborhood kid to get it done for you, or focus on problem areas instead of trying to get every single one.

Don’t rip and run! Get weeds out by the root and then overseed the spot so grass wins the fight. Try mixing the seed with some potting soil for your own “divit mix” like the pros use at the golf course. Make sure to keep the new seeds evenly moist to ensure germination.

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Beyond the lawn

Pesticide-free yard care doesn’t stop where your grass ends. Make sure the way you take care of your entire yard also takes care of your family, your pets and your nearby rivers and streams. These tips not only make your yard healthy and safe, they also mean your yard will need less maintenance in the long run, saving you time and money.

1. Build healthy soil

Healthy soil makes healthy plants that naturally resist diseases and pests. Making sure there’s enough organic matter in your soil will ensure drainage and provide food to the microscopic creatures that provide nutrients to your plants. Add four to six inches of compost or aged manure to new garden areas by turning it into the earth. For established beds, use a one-inch layer of compost or other organic mulch each year or as needed.

2. Grow plants that thrive in our environment

Plants suited to the Pacific Northwest's soil and climate will be stronger, healthier and less likely to succumb to diseases or pests. Plant them in the right site for their sun, water, soil and space needs.

3. Cultivate a diverse garden

Adding plant variety to your yard creates a year-round habitat for creatures, such as insects, birds and other wildlife, that help control pests in your garden. “Layer” your landscape with trees, shrubs and groundcovers for diverse habitat. Using pesticides can upset this natural balance and actually increase pest problems.

4. Get to know your bugs

Not all bugs are bad. Many eat pests or pollinate your plants. If you think you have pests in your garden, determine whether they are actually damaging your plants. And remember, a little damage won’t hurt. Most plants can easily survive losing 25 percent of their leaf surface, and many plants can actually “outgrow” pests or diseases that afflict them if the soil is healthy.

5. Try non-toxic pest control

If you do have a pest or disease problem, use the safest intervention possible. There are many ways to control pests and weeds without using pesticides. Pick off bugs by hand or use a stream of water from a garden hose to remove aphids. Spread mulch to stop weeds. If you need to use a pesticide as a last resort, choose the least-toxic product possible – insecticidal soap, for example. We’ve made choosing one easier with our Grow smart, grow safe database of hundreds of pesticide products and fertilizers for health and environmental hazards. Go to the database

need assistance?

Natural gardening advice from OSU Master Gardeners™

Clackamas County, 503-655-8631
Multnomah County, 503-445-4608
Washington County, 503-821-1150

download the brochure

For an easy reference and further explanation of the these steps, view the brochure.

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