Organic Lawn Care: How to Grow Chemical-Free Grass

side view of healthy soil and grass

With organic lawn care, your green lawn can thrive without reliance on chemical fertilizers. But it’s not all about maintaining a pristine lawn – you’re also committing to sustainability, health, and the environment.

Learning how to grow chemical-free grass is not as hard as you think, so stick around as we break down the necessary steps to achieve it. Not only will this method fit your budget, but it will boost your lawn’s health to the next level.

Benefits of organic lawn care

A philosophy that nurtures a thriving lawn while safeguarding the environment, organic lawn care promotes sustainability. Unlike conventional methods reliant on synthetic chemicals, it harnesses nature’s power to create a greener and more resilient lawn.

Organic lawn care revolves around fostering soil health, promoting biodiversity, and employing natural solutions to enhance the vitality of your grass. This approach eliminates the need for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, favoring organic alternatives like compost, natural soil amendments, and eco-friendly pest control methods. Its benefits include:

  • Minimizes harm to ecosystems, prevents water pollution, and supports biodiversity
  • Enhances soil structure, fosters microbial activity, and promotes long-term fertility and sustainability
  • Helps develop stronger, more robust grass better equipped to withstand stressors like drought and disease
  • Offers slow, steady nutrient release, reducing the risk of nutrient leaching and runoff
  • Creates a safer, chemical-free environment for families and pets to enjoy the outdoors

So, if you want to go organic, the first step would be to grow a chemical-free grass.

How to grow chemical-free grass

Now that you know how beneficial organic lawn care is, it’s time to tackle the practical side of things. Make these tasks a part of your regular lawn care program to promote healthy soil and enjoy your environmentally friendly lawn.

1. Select the best grass variety

It’s crucial to choose the right turfgrass variety tailored to your region’s climate and your lawn’s specific conditions. Opt for native or adapted grass species known for their resilience in your area. If your chosen grass type is naturally resistant to pests and diseases, you can avoid using chemical herbicides and pesticides.

Pro tip: Consider factors like sun exposure, soil type, and water availability to select grass varieties that thrive in your particular environment. This strategic selection minimizes the need for excessive maintenance and ensures a healthier, greener lawn.

2. Reduce soil compaction

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Harsh weather, foot traffic, and outdoor activities put pressure on the lawn, which reduces pore space between the soil particles and results in compaction. The soil becomes so dense that it blocks the root system’s access to receive water and air.

Lawn aeration (or core aeration) alleviates soil compaction by removing small cylindrical plugs of soil from the ground. The 2 to 3-inch-deep holes allow water, nutrients, and oxygen to reach the roots.

Pro tip: Fall is the best time to aerate cool-season turf, while spring through summer is ideal for warm-season turf. Not only will your grass grow deeper roots, but it will look and feel like a dream.

3. Water correctly

Kyryl Gorlov | iStock

The key to a healthy lawn is watering at the right time of day for the right amount of time. Start before 10 a.m. to prevent the rising sun from evaporating all your hard work. Don’t be tempted to water the lawn at night when you know the sun will be away for hours. Since the water has nowhere to go, it will sit on your grass, drench the soil, and attract pests and diseases.

Pro tip: Water less often but for longer periods. Less watering frequency encourages the roots to search the soil for moisture before the next watering, creating a robust root system. In contrast, watering too often for short periods promotes shallow and weak roots.

4. Use topdressing

topdressing lawn process adding a thin layer

Topdressing is simply adding organic materials on top of an established lawn to help improve the soil composition. Compost, a natural lawn food and soil amendment extraordinaire, is the favored choice. Sand is another popular topsoil food, but it all depends on what your soil needs.

Pro tip: Topdressing after overseeding provides the grass seed with a layer of cushioning and improves soil composition.

mower mowing a lawn

Mowing at the highest recommended height for your grass type is better for the lawn. Follow the rule of thirds: Never cut off more than one-third of the blade’s length. For example, if the grass is 3 inches tall, don’t cut more than 1 inch. Mowing taller encourages a deep root system and helps shade out weeds.

6. Fertilize wisely

person spreading fertilizer on the soil
sakchai_R / Canva Pro / License

To maintain a chemical-free lawn, fertilization takes on a natural and strategic approach. Organic alternatives like compost or natural fertilizers offer slow-release nutrients, fostering soil health without the risks associated with synthetic options. Natural fertilizers, like fish emulsion or bone meal, offer balanced nutrients and enhance the soil ecosystem.

Pro tip: Apply these sparingly and in accordance with the specific needs of your grass to avoid overfeeding, minimizing the risk of nutrient runoff.

7. Use natural weed control methods

spring hyacinth growing up through wood mulch

Natural weed killers can help promote a weed-free lawn without resorting to harmful chemicals. Hand weeding, while labor-intensive, offers a direct and effective way to remove weeds without the use of herbicides.

Mulching with organic materials like wood chips or straw helps suppress weed growth by blocking sunlight and preventing weed seeds from germinating. Additionally, natural herbicidal options like vinegar solutions can be effective in targeting and deterring unwanted plants.

Why is lawn fertilization necessary?

Keeping your lawn looking green and fresh can be tricky, especially when it’s exposed to changing temperatures, lawn diseases, pests, and weeds. One way to help your lawn stay healthy is to fertilize it according to its needs. Regular fertilization brings the following benefits:

  • Promotes healthy grass growth: Incorporating fertilizer into your lawn’s diet will help your grass grow faster and healthier. With the necessary nutrients backing it up, your lawn will look luscious and stay green for longer. Say goodbye to dry patches, discoloration, and weak grass blades.
  • Prevents weeds: Fertilizer carries weed-control treatments. It gives grass the tools to grow thick and strong, becoming less susceptible to weed attacks.
  • Creates disease barrier: By definition, lawn diseases trigger a host of problems that can turn your healthy lawn into an eyesore. Regular fertilization makes lawns less disease-prone and more resistant to attacks. Simply put, in case of any stress, your lawn will bounce back much faster.
  • Keeps pests away: Pests will have a much harder time attacking a thick and sturdy lawn – all thanks to fertilizer. Plus, certain fertilizers contain insecticides known to kill pests and prevent infestation.
  • Provides necessary nutrients for your lawn: A healthy, beautiful lawn begins with good soil quality, something fertilizer can help you achieve. It replaces and replenishes essential nutrients your lawn needs to look beautiful. The three most important macronutrients are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) – also written as N-P-K.

Organic vs. synthetic fertilizers

The term “organic” is used in many different ways. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an organic certification program for food. In this article, the term “organic” means holistic and formed without synthetic inputs.

The words “synthetic” and “chemical” are more straightforward. Synthetic or chemical lawn care products are artificial or formed by industrial processes.

illustration depicting organic fertilizer and synthetic fertilizer
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

While synthetic methods offer quick fixes, organic approaches prioritize sustainability, health, and long-term resilience for your lawn and the environment. Here are the differences in their approach to lawn care:

Organic fertilizerSynthetic fertilizer
• Holistic
• Centers around soil health: “Feed the soil”
• Long-term solution
• Considers the impact on humans, local communities, and ecosystems
• Stresses the local economy rather than the global economy
• Focuses on the small-scale rather than the large-scale
• Aims for sustainability
• Lets nature do the work
• Inputs are from the Earth
• Increases biodiversity
• Focuses on yields and efficiency 
• Focuses on plant health: “Feed the plant”
• Short-term solution
• Stresses the global economy rather than the local economy
• Focuses on large-scale production
• Relies on man-made processes
• May have a heavier dependence on fossil fuels and industrial inputs
• Decreases biodiversity

Organic fertilizer

When you go organic in your lawn care, the nutrients are released into the soil over time as the microorganisms break down the fertilizer or compost material. These fertilizers are made from grass, leaves, plant waste, vegetables, fruits, other food waste, animal excrement, seaweed, blood, bone meal, kelp, fish, paper products, or shredded wood.

Pros of using organic fertilizer

  • Protects water systems
  • Homemade compost diverts waste from the landfill
  • Homemade compost doesn’t cost anything
  • Enriches the soil
  • No risk of burning the plants
  • Compost improves soil structure
  • Compost adds organic matter and nutrients
  • Compost is naturally “slow-release,” thereby providing nutrients over a long period

Cons of using organic fertilizer

  • Slower greening of the lawn
  • Store-bought organic varieties may be more expensive than synthetic fertilizers
  • Generally have much lower N-P-K values, so you’ll have to re-apply more often

Synthetic fertilizer

This type of fertilizer is released into the soil with regular watering. While its phosphorus and potassium contents are mined from minerals in the Earth, the nitrogen component is created via the Haber-Bosch process.

In this process, one atom of nitrogen gas (N₂) is fixed to three atoms of hydrogen (3H₂) to form ammonia (NH₃). The ammonia is converted to a usable form (nitrate and nitrite) by the microbes in the soil.

Pros of using chemical fertilizer

  • Rapid and targeted nutrient delivery
  • Immediate visual improvements in the lawn
  • Readily available and relatively inexpensive

Cons of using chemical fertilizer

  • Rapid growth can weaken grass over time
  • Can make lawns more susceptible to diseases and stressors
  • May cause harm to soil structure and microbial balance
  • Contribution to nutrient runoff and water pollution
  • Dependency on frequent reapplication for consistent results

How to apply organic lawn fertilizer

As a homeowner, you likely recognize the importance of fertilization for efficient plant and grass growth. Organic fertilizers are less costly and time-consuming as they can be produced in your own backyard. You also can easily acquire them from landfills and local green waste collection sites.

For a successful application, follow these steps:

  1. Get a soil test: It’s important to test your soil before fertilizing your lawn. You’ll know whether your soil has any nutrient deficiencies (which is generally the case) and determine your soil’s pH (whether it’s acidic or alkaline).
  2. Measure the space: Walk around the lawn with a measuring tape or count your paces to measure the lawn in square feet. You’ll need this number to determine how much fertilizer you need.
  3. Mow your lawn: Just this once, attach the bag to the mower and collect the grass clippings. This will help the fertilizer to have better contact with the soil.
  4. Remove thatch and aerate: Prior to fertilizing your lawn, consider dethatching and aeration for better nutrient absorption. Your fertilizer will have an easier time penetrating the soil and reaching the grassroots.
  5. Select a fertilizer spreader: Whether you use liquid or granular fertilizer, choosing the right spreader will make your work a whole lot easier. Rotary spreaders work best on larger lawns, while drop spreaders should be used on smaller turfs.
  6. Spread the fertilizer: Start with the lowest spreader setting to avoid applying too much fertilizer, and make several test passes. If satisfied, run the spreader around the perimeter of your lawn first and then go over the rest of it, slightly overlapping each pass.
  7. Water it in: Most fertilizers, like granular or water-soluble beads, need water to sink into the soil, so follow up with watering immediately.

Note: Fertilizer should be applied to moist soil, so wait for rainfall and fertilize as soon as the turfgrass blades are dry. Alternatively, you can water your lawn a day or two before fertilizing.

When to fertilize your lawn

If you’re looking to take the first step into organic lawn care, there are a few different approaches for when to fertilize your lawn. Consider this your fertilization schedule guide.

Ultra-specific approach

This method calls for an ultra-specific schedule based on your climate and grass type. You’ll need to look at a lawn maintenance calendar in your state or contact your local cooperative extension service for a similar calendar (or search their website).

infographic showing the cool and warm season grasses on the US map, along with the transitional zone
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Main Photo Credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Three-holiday approach

If you have warm-season grass, the three-holiday approach can help you fertilize at the correct time. It involves fertilizing around Memorial Day (spring), Independence Day (early summer), and Labor Day (late summer). Don’t apply it if you have cool-season grass; many cool-season grasses go dormant during the summer, and this is not the optimal time to fertilize them.

Grass-type approach

If you want to keep things simple, plan to fertilize your grass two or three times per year. Check out this handy fertilization schedule according to grass type:

Grass categoryGrass typesRecommended fertilization schedule
St. Augustinegrass
1st round: early April
2nd round: June
3rd round: September
Cool-seasonKentucky bluegrass
Perennial ryegrass
Tall fescue
1st round: early April
2nd round: early September
3rd round: late October

Note: Try to fertilize in the morning or evening to prevent fertilizer evaporation due to the sun. Wait a few hours and water the lawn to wash off excess fertilizer and avoid burning your grass. If unsure, it’s always a good idea to check with a local expert or lawn care professional to verify what works in your area for your grass type.

FAQ about organic lawn care

What are some good organic fertilizers to look for?

Popular organic fertilizer options include:

  • Milorganite
  • Espoma Organic Lawn Food
  • Jobe’s Organics
  • Kellogg Garden Organics
  • Purely Organic
  • EcoScraps

Remember, you can visit landscaping supply companies to purchase large amounts of compost, wood chips, and other organic materials to build your soil. If you need large amounts of compost, opt for purchasing from a landscape supplier to save money.

What else can I do to build up my soil?

If you have horse farms nearby, these homeowners may let you pick up truckloads of that rich manure/straw combination for free. Once this breaks down, it becomes a great natural lawn fertilizer.

Earthworms are one of nature’s best soil builders. They aerate, leave castings that increase microbial activity, reduce compaction, and help churn the soil, to name a few. Another benefit of using organic methods on the lawn is that you’ll avoid using pesticides, which can be toxic to earthworm populations.

What makes grass super green?

Nitrogen contributes to the vibrant green color you probably want to achieve. This essential macronutrient boosts chlorophyll production, making grass a beautiful shade of green.

Grow chemical-free grass with a pro’s help

With these organic lawn care tips, you’re now equipped to keep your grass thriving. Remember that you can fertilize two, three, or four times per year or search for your extension office’s grass-specific lawn maintenance calendar. If you’re patient enough to let Mother Nature work on her timetable, the results will be well worth the wait.

Of course, if your thumb is more gray than green, a local lawn care pro can take over transforming your lawn so you can enjoy more outdoor time with your loved ones.

Main Image Credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Andie Ioó

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my husband, sports, trying out new recipes, reading, and watching reruns of '90s TV shows. As a way to relax and decompress, I enjoy landscaping around my little yard and DIY home projects.