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Natural Garden Grass Grand Forks ND

So you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, do you? If you're striving for a weed-free lawn without using chemicals, it just may be. But going without chemicals doesn't mean you can't have a good-looking and healthy lawn without crabgrass, dandelions and other unsightly weeds. You shouldn't expect a PGA golf course in Grand Forks, but with some preparation, a fundamental approach and a little labor, you too can have a yard you can be proud of.

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So you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, do you? If you're striving for a weed-free lawn without using chemicals, it just may be. But going without chemicals doesn't mean you can't have a good-looking and healthy lawn without crabgrass, dandelions and other unsightly weeds. You shouldn't expect a PGA golf course, but with some preparation, a fundamental approach and a little labor, you too can have a yard you can be proud of.

Experts agree that the single best way to get rid of weeds - or make sure they don't grow in the first place - is to use lawn-care practices that promote healthy turf. Healthy, thick grass squeezes out weeds and makes them less likely to take root.

In the long run, you may actually be better off without chemicals. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island have found that non-chemical weed control can work better than chemical control, although it takes time to achieve those results. But don't ever forget this: There is no single solution for a weed-free lawn.

"You're going to have to work at it," said Evie Gussack, a turf specialist at Cornell University. "There's nothing magical here, unfortunately."

A weed is really nothing more than a plant growing in the wrong place. A daisy in the garden is beautiful; a daisy in the yard is not. Annual weeds include dandelions, clover, ground ivy, plantain, nut sedge and the dreaded crabgrass. Perennials include chickweed and knotweed. To keep these goodies and others out of your yard, you might want to keep a checklist of things you can do in the spring to keep your yard weed-free in the months ahead.

Start by sharpening your lawn mower blade. A sharp blade keeps grass healthy. And healthy grass squeezes out weeds. Buy extra lawn seed and overseed if you must to make sure your grass is lush and thick. Have your soil analyzed to make sure it doesn't have too much acid or alkali. Don't cut your grass too short. Water deeply and loosen up the soil where it is too compact for grass to grow.

"In order to control weeds, you want to grow the lawn healthy," said Rosanne Sherry of the URI Cooperative Extension. "And in order to grow the lawn healthy, you want to have all aspects of it correct. This way, people don't have to go to the store to get magic mixes to spread willy-nilly all over the place."


When you mow your lawn, mow it high - especially during that first cut of the spring. Most lawn experts recommend cutting no shorter than 1 or 2 inches and as high as 3 inches in the early spring.

"If you mow your lawn really low, the weeds can grow faster than the turf," said Karen Snover, director of the plant disease diagnostics lab at Cornell University. "Then they can get over the canopy of the turf and take over."

It is also a good idea to leave the grass clippings on the yard once you're done cutting. The clippings return nitrogen to the lawn, thereby promoting healthy growth. You should, however, rake up the clippings if they are so thick that they clump. Clumps of grass clippings maintain moisture and block sunlight from the grass under them, thus making the lawn weaker and susceptible to disease.

Always have a sharp blade on your mower. A dull blade shreds grass, making the blades work harder to grow. A sharp blade cuts grass cleanly, which allows lush growth.


It's a good idea to know the pH levels of your soil. The pH level is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil on a scale of zero to 14, with seven being neutral. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the soil; the higher the level, the more alkaline it is. By determining if your soil contains too much acid or alkali, you can restore it to neutral levels to promote a healthy lawn and suppress weeds.

Sherry says pH levels vary in different parts of the country. In New England, for instance, soils are generally too acidic, and homeowners should spread lime to get the pH back to where it should be. In other parts of the country, the pH is often too high, meaning that people should spread a sulfur product on their lawns to make them more acidic. You can check with your local cooperative extension offices to see if they perform soil analyses. Hardware stores and gardening centers also carry home pH test kits. Either way, making sure your lawn has the proper pH levels to promote healthy grass growth and - you guessed it - suppress weeds.


Fertilizers are needed when the soil has too few nutrients to sustain a healthy lawn. Many weeds - dandelions and crabgrass, for instance - thrive in nutrient-deficient soils, Sherry says. There are plenty of organic fertilizers on the market that provide vital nutrients without the risk of burning or harming grass. Or you can create your own fertilizer. For instance, homeowners who live along the ocean have plenty of seaweed they can use. Sherry says they can collect the seaweed, hose it down, then compost it or put it somewhere to dry. Shredded and applied to the lawn, seaweed offers nutrients like iron, magnesium and zinc, all of which support plant health. You can also compost leaves, grass clippings, manure and other organic matter.

"Mother Nature gives us loads of stuff for free," Sherry said. "We just have to find the resources."

Ladd Smith, co-owner of In Harmony Services Inc., an organic landscaping company in Bothell, Wash., said he has tremendous success with corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn and acts as both a fertilizer and a weed inhibitor. (See our related story on page 15.) The product was developed at Iowa State University and can reduce weeds by 50 to 60 percent in the first year of application. In two to three years, corn gluten meal has matched the results of synthetic herbicides. Corn gluten meal strikes weeds four to six weeks before they emerge, meaning you typically have a four- to six-week window to apply it. It also means you must have good knowledge of the weeds in your yard, and their life cycles. Corn gluten is also more expensive than synthetic weed-and-feed products. It comes from corn and is as safe to be around as a package of corn meal.

Water and Air

Lawn experts say proper watering and aeration are good weed-control techniques because they too promote healthy turf growth. A general rule of thumb is that lawns need about 1 inch of water per week. When you turn on your sprinkler, give your lawn a good, deep dousing so that the water reaches the deepest part of the root systems. Shallow watering encourages roots to stay near the surface, making them susceptible to drought. Aeration is the process of removing small plugs of earth to decrease soil compaction and increase water retention and air circulation. You can rent aerators at nurseries or tool rental stores.

Pesky Weeds

For those pesky weeds that emerge even if you cut high, water deeply and maintain a proper soil acidity, be prepared to use some good old-fashioned elbow grease. If this is the case, pull the weeds before they go to seed and spread more weed seeds on your lawn. The important thing is to pull the entire weed out by the roots. Some people suggest using vinegar to kill weeds by putting the liquid in a spray bottle and dousing the base of the weed on a hot day. The weed should then turn brown and die within 24 hours. But others say this is an untested and unproven method that raises questions - such as how much and what kind of vinegar to use - and could hurt grass. Nowadays, some people also use so-called weed torches to burn their weeds to death. But fire is non-selective; it will burn healthy grass as easily as weeds. Smith says fire is used primarily for areas where weeds grow but grass doesn't, such as around gravel pits or in sidewalk cracks.

Whichever methods you choose to make your lawn weed-free sans chemicals, odds are that weeds will occasionally still appear - in which case you might want to do some spot spraying with chemicals in a selective and controlled manner. Buttercups, for instance, are long-rooted and tenacious weeds that are particularly abundant in the Pacific Northwest. Smith said that often the only way to remove them is with a synthetic herbicide. Still, as people become more aware of the hazards of chemicals, there will be more demand for chemical-free ways to tend to your lawn.

"I think people want to be more selective about how they take care of the landscape," Smith said. "Landscapes can be beautiful without using chemicals."

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