Prevent your lawn from becoming a “drug addict.”

It is a myth that pesticides (chemicals including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are a mandatory part of landscape care.  Pesticides are toxic substances that may pose a health risk to your family, pets and wildlife if they are overused or carelessly applied.

Recently, nearly 70 cities and towns in Canada have imposed restrictions and bans on the use of lawn and garden pesticides.  This was due to mounting evidence that such chemicals may pose an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to humans and the environment. (American Water Works Assoc. Journal, Feb. 2006)

There is no such thing as a weed-free or insect-free lawn.

If you look closely at even the healthiest landscapes, you will see a complex blend of plants and insects.  Finding a few weeds or insects in your lawn is not a cause for alarm.

Eliminating weeds and insects altogether is not realistic nor necessary for a beautiful lawn.  Pesticides can disrupt the ecological balance of your landscape by killing the microbial life, earthworms, beneficial insects and birds that keep “bad” insects in check.

Don’t be tempted to rely on pesticides as a quick-fix solution to landscape problems — most insect and weed problems are signs that your landscape is not getting what it needs.

The good news is pesticides are not necessary for a beautiful, low maintenance landscape.  So why take the chance if you don’t have to?  By following the Greenscapes recommendations on this page
and elsewhere in this Guide, you will be able to naturally control most insect and weed problems.

Reconsider your definition of “weed”.

Although advertisements will try to convince you they are “weeds”, plants such as clover and dandelion can be attractive and useful additions to a lawn. They add color and texture, feel great to walk on barefoot, and even provide your lawn with nutrients.  Regular mowing will keep these plants from taking over your lawn and make them less attractive to bees.

Remember that a “weed” is defined as any plant that exists where you don’t want it – consider accepting a variety of plants in your lawn, and you automatically won’t have “weeds” at all!

Routine chemicals aren‘t necessary.

If you have been using a chemical program in the past (either do-it-yourself or lawn treatment service), you can stop and still have a beautiful lawn.  You may initially experience an increase in weeds; however, this will change as the healthy grass crowds them out.  Once restored, it is still important to replenish the soil nutrients.  A lawn in transition may need more fertilizer (test your soil to find out for sure), but as your soil gets healthier, the fertilizer requirement will decrease.

Your best defense is your mower.

Taller grass (mowed to approximately 3”) will help prevent weeds by shading out the competition.  Be sure your mower blade is sharp or you will rip and tear the grass blades, which invites disease.

If you have a few weeds, eliminate them before they spread.

Use the “ounce of prevention” approach to weeds – if you stop ten from developing, you won’t have a million to deal with.  Look for weed seedlings every time you mow and persistently eliminate them before they get a foothold and spread.  Pull them out by hand using a weed fork, making sure to remove the whole plant and the long taproot. To treat recurring weeds, use a vinegar-based herbicide.

Prevent weed germination organically.

Corn gluten meal can help prevent weed seeds from germinating, particularly crabgrass.  Corn gluten is a natural by-product of the wet milling process of corn.  Follow the directions on the bag and apply to trouble areas in the early spring before the forsythia blooms (do not apply at the same time as grass seed).  Corn gluten contains 10% nitrogen, so be careful to avoid over-fertilization.  Corn gluten may require up to three years of application to achieve maximium effectiveness.

Overseed to crowd out weeds.

Weeds are opportunistic and will take advantage of any thin or bare spots in your lawn. Overseeding a thin lawn will thicken it up and crowd out the weeds. Spring or fall is the best time to overseed, but do not apply corn gluten at the same time. Follow these five easy steps, and repeat annually for best results:

  1. Buy.  Regardless of what type of lawn you inherited when you moved in, now is your chance to choose the best seed for a great looking lawn.  Choose a drought-tolerant variety that has a high percentage of turf-type tall fescues.
  2. Rake. Give your lawn a good raking to get rid of the dead grass. This will help the new seeds to grow and allow the air, sunlight and rainwater to give your existing lawn new life. This is the hardest part — but it’s good exercise and you can even recycle the old grass in your compost bin or pile.
  3. Compost.  For best results, topdress the lawn with ¼” of compost (or more in bare spots) before overseeding — but only if your soil test indicates you need to add nutrients.  This will help the seeds germinate, take root and grow quickly.
  4. Spread.  Evenly distribute the grass seeds using a mechanical spreader.  Set it at a light setting and go over your lawn several times for the best coverage. Some people find this part fun and very satisfying.
  5. Water. Give the new seeds a good drink of water to get them started. The seedlings will need to stay moist for a couple of weeks or they will die. Usually in the spring and fall, Mother Nature will take care of this, but if not, give the overseeded areas of your lawn a quick drink every few days.

Encourage natural predators.

Put up bird feeders and bat houses to attract natural predators of insects.  Birds and bats in your yard will consume insects by the thousands and provide you with entertainment too.  Attracting birds and bats will not increase the likelihood of them moving into your attic or wall spaces.

If insect problems persist, seek professional help.

Before spending money on insecticides, first improve your maintenance techniques by following the recommendations in this Guide.  If you still suspect an insect problem, don’t self-medicate!  Instead, seek advice from a respected garden center or trusted landscape specialist and follow their instructions for selecting insecticides for a specific pest (not a broadcast control that could kill beneficial insects).  Follow their recommendations for using organic controls such as insecticidal soaps, beneficial nematodes, and/or milky spore powder.

Dispose of unused pesticides wisely.

Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are considered “household hazardous waste”.  Due to their toxicity and potential to pollute water resources, it is illegal to dispose of unwanted pesticides with the trash and you must take them to a Household Hazardous Waste collection event.