9 Easy Steps for Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

beautiful landscaped yard

Can you help protect the planet and still maintain a stunning yard? Definitely yes! Improving your lawn care routine, mulching, switching to green tools, and adding native plants are only a few strategies you can try. Follow our nine easy steps to eco-friendly lawn care and create a cleaner, safer, delightful lawn that inspires your friends and neighbors.

What is eco-friendly lawn care?

Eco-friendly lawn care is an approach that allows your turf and plants to thrive without harming the environment. 

Spraying compost tea over a nutrient-deficient lawn is eco-friendly lawn care. Dousing the yard with excessive fertilizer so that your already healthy turf can be a brighter shade of green is not eco-friendly lawn care. 

But why bother with eco-friendly lawn care? Isn’t grass good for the environment?

It’s true your lawn has many benefits. It improves soil structure, absorbs rainwater runoff, and cleans the air we breathe. But sometimes, our lawn care practices aren’t the kindest to our planet. Here are some facts about lawns that will raise your eyebrows: 

  • Maintaining lawns produces more greenhouse gases than they absorb.
  • Lawns are stripped of biodiversity and have contributed to fading insect populations. (Why this matters: Insects pollinate the crops we rely on for food and keep our Earth clean by decomposing waste). 
  • Covering only 2% of U.S. land, residential lawns require more irrigation water than any agricultural crop grown in the country. That’s a lot of water for no agricultural value. 

Your lawn’s impact on the environment may be surprising, but it doesn’t mean you need to banish its existence (remember, your lawn has many benefits). Instead, look at your yard as an opportunity for biodiversity, water conservation, and awareness within your community. 

The following nine steps to eco-friendly lawn care are a great way to start your lawn’s eco-makeover. 

Nine easy steps for eco-friendly lawn care

You can make so many changes to turn your lawn eco-green! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so let’s take it a step at a time, from easy stuff to more difficult interventions.

1. Overseed the lawn each year

When your lawn develops patches and begins to thin, don’t ignore the problem. A patchy lawn is vulnerable to weeds, which leads to more chemical herbicide use. 

Encourage dense, healthy growth with routine overseeding so your lawn can battle the weeds without chemical assistance. 

When should you overseed? The best time to overseed a warm-season lawn is in spring. The best time to overseed a cool-season lawn is fall.  

Consider using grass types that: 

  • Fit your soil type and climate (they need less water and fertilizers)
  • Are resilient to local pests and lawn diseases (you’ll use less pesticides and fungicides)

2. Mow the lawn the right way

close-up of the back side of a lawn mower sitting on grass
PHoto Credit: Phil Roeder | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Another trick to sustaining a healthy lawn is mowing it the right way. Mowing your lawn the wrong way will make it susceptible to pests and disease, which ultimately leads to harmful pesticides and fungicides. 

Here are some mowing tips that will protect your lawn’s health –– naturally: 

  • Don’t mow too low: You might scalp your lawn if you do. Scalping stresses the turf and makes it vulnerable to pests, weeds, and disease.
  • 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. Pretty simple, right?
  • Keep your lawn mower blades sharp: You wouldn’t cut your hair with dull scissors, would you? Dull mower blades rip the grass rather than cleanly cut it. 
  • Know your grass type: Mow your lawn according to your grass type’s recommended mowing height.  
  • Keep the mowing height high: Mowing at the higher end of your grass’s recommended cutting height encourages a deeper root system. It also helps shade out those pesky weeds.

3. Feed the soil correctly

wheelbarrow full of grass clippings
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Healthy soil, with good drainage, rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, is the secret to lush, dense grass. Going green lawn care is the only way to achieve this long-term. Here’s how you start.

Test your soil

Your soil is your lawn’s foundation, and growing grass on “mystery soil” has consequences. A soil test reveals your soil’s fertility, structure, composition, and pH, which helps you determine the most efficient way to care for your grass. 

Here’s why settling for “mystery soil” isn’t so eco-friendly: 

  • Not understanding your soil’s fertility levels often leads to unnecessary fertilizing. When too much fertilizer is applied, water washes the chemicals away as toxic runoff, which pollutes local waterways. The polluted runoff kills aquatic organisms and contaminates drinking water. 
  • Different soil types retain different amounts of water. If you don’t know your soil type, you might be overwatering your lawn, leading to water waste, polluted runoff, and leaching. 

How often should you test your soil? According to the University of Missouri, you should test your lawn’s soil once a year with sandy soil and every two or three years with soils with a more clay-like texture.

Fertilize the eco-friendly way

Fertilizer is a significant runoff pollutant. When irrigation water or rainfall washes away unabsorbed fertilizer, the runoff pollutes streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. 

So, how can you fertilize with the environment in mind? Here are some tips: 

  • Fertilize at the right time of year to reduce the amount of fertilizer carried away in runoff. The best time of year to fertilize warm-season grasses is in spring. Early fall is the best time to fertilize cool-season grasses
  • Use the type and right amount of fertilizer based on your soil test results. Follow the application instructions with care. 
  • Only apply a phosphorus fertilizer if the soil test recommends it.
  • Go for a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to avoid leaching nitrogen into the water table.
  • Fertilize no more than once a year, and do it right. Healthy lawns typically don’t need more than one fertilizer treatment per year. 
  • Switch to organic fertilizer to protect water systems and increase biodiversity. Compared to synthetic fertilizers, organic formulas improve soil structure, feed beneficial microorganisms, and decompose slowly, preventing leaching.

Compost is a popular environmentally friendly fertilizer for your lawn. Spread as topdressing once a year to keep healthy soil and grow thick, lush grass. You don’t have to buy it. You can’t make your own compost DIY from kitchen waste.

Don’t bag your leaves or grass clippings

As your neighbors pile up their leaves on the sidewalk for the weekly collection, you may want to think twice about bagging your leaves –– and your grass clippings. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, landfills received about 10.5 million tons of leaves, grass, and other yard trimmings in 2018 –– that’s the weight of approximately 9.5 million adult walruses entering the landfill. Even scarier, this total amount comprised 7.2 percent of all municipal solid waste landfilled.

Not only does bagging yard trimmings take up landfill space, but it also removes valuable nutrients from the environment. Removing a precious food source from your lawn and garden doesn’t sound so eco-friendly, now does it?

So, what can you do with your leaves and grass clippings? Here are some tips: 

  • Mow your leaves with the lawn mower to create a nutritional mulch for your grass. Cut the leaves down to dime-sized pieces. When you can see half an inch of grass above the shredded leaves, you’ve shredded them enough. 
  • Use shredded leaves and grass clippings as mulch in the vegetable garden or flower beds
  • Compost your leaves and grass clippings, which you can later use as mulch or organic fertilizer. 
  • Leave behind your grass clippings. They’re healthy for your lawn and will decompose quickly. 

4. Reduce pesticide and fungicide use

Pesticides and fungicides also kill beneficial organisms that typically support a healthy lawn and are toxic for pets and humans. Using them as little as possible is what you should aim for. In this section, we’re talking about a few tips and tricks that can keep lawn pests and diseases away without chemicals.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a long-term approach that prevents pests through various techniques, including habitat manipulation, biological control, and modified cultural practices. IPM prioritizes human and environmental health and only resorts to pesticides when absolutely necessary. 

So why practice IPM? Similar to fertilizer, pesticides accumulate in rainwater runoff and pollute our aquatic ecosystems. The fewer pesticides you spray on your lawn, the better. 

But won’t fewer pesticides mean more pests? Not exactly. If you’re spraying pesticides on your lawn to manage a pest issue, there’s likely a trait the pests find attractive about your lawn. IPM gets to the root of the problem, while pesticides act as a bandaid –– they offer a fast solution but don’t always fix the underlying issue. 

Here are three simple IPM tips that can help prevent pests and boost lawn health: 

  • Aerate the soil: Compact soil blocks water, oxygen, and nutrients from accessing the turf’s roots. Relieve soil compaction with an aerator and boost turf health. 
  • Dethatch the lawn: Thatch is the layer of dead organic matter accumulating between the turf blades and soil surface. Too much thatch will attract pests and must be removed. 
  • Remove plant debris: Autumn leaves, spent annuals, and twigs make excellent pest real estate. Remove the debris from your yard to avoid an infestation. 
illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Encourage a deep root system

A healthy lawn is less vulnerable to pests and diseases and requires fewer chemicals than a struggling lawn. But to achieve a healthy lawn, you must help your grass develop a deep root system

A chemical-free way to encourage deep roots is a proper watering technique. If your watering method is poor, your lawn will struggle to survive, which leads to more chemical use to support it. 

Here are two irrigation techniques that will quench your lawn’s thirst –– the right way: 

  • Water infrequently and for long periods: Watering too often and for short periods encourages a shallow root system. Watering less often and for more extended periods encourages a robust root system. 
  • Water in the early morning before 10 a.m.: You’ll lose water to evaporation if you water after 10 a.m. But that doesn’t mean you should water in the evenings when the sun is down –– watering at night creates a long-lasting moist environment that invites pests and disease. 

Deep-rooted grass is essential for sustainable lawn care since it’s better equipped to survive pests and diseases. In light infestations, a healthy lawn with a strong root system can fight off some pests without any chemical treatment. 

5. Use water-saving systems 

Photo Credit: schulzie | Canva Pro | License

Millions of people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Saving water is critical, especially if you live in an area that has droughts, water supply shortages, or a dry climate.

Save water with a rain barrel

Nationwide, landscape irrigation accounts for an estimated one-third of all residential water use –– totaling approximately 9 billion gallons per day. By investing in a rain barrel, you can help:

Simply trim your gutter’s downspout (if possible), place the rain barrel underneath it to collect the rainwater, and then use the water for your lawn care. There are many different rain barrels on the market, so remember to choose wisely. 

How much rainwater can rain barrels collect? A rain barrel can collect an awful lot of water. For every inch of rain that falls on one square foot of your roof, you can harvest 0.6 gallons of water. 

For example, let’s say the roof section that drains into the barrel is 150 square feet in size. After a half-inch of rainfall, the barrel can collect up to 45 gallons of rainwater. After 1 inch of rain, the barrel can collect up to 90 gallons of rainwater (although you may need more than one barrel). 

Save water with drip irrigation

When you’re watering the lawn, do you give your gardens and flower beds a sip, too? It may be surprising to learn that water from your hose or sprinkler is often lost through evaporation, wind, and –– you guessed it –– runoff. 

Installing a drip irrigation system in your flower beds and garden is an excellent way to conserve irrigation water. A drip irrigation system is a network of plastic pipes that slowly and directly delivers water into the plant’s root zone. 

The soil readily absorbs the slow dripping water, which leads to less water loss (and saves you from an extra lawn care chore). 

6. Reduce turfgrass-covered areas

Photo Credit: gmc3101 | Canva Pro | License

While beautiful and with its own benefits, turfgrass uses more water, nutrients, energy, and time than other landscaping options. Let’s see how you can reduce lawn work while helping the environment and enjoying a beautiful-than-ever yard.

Downsize the lawn 

Everyone’s talking about downsizing their homes, so why not downsize the lawn, too? The bigger the lawn, the more water and chemical fertilizers it requires to thrive. 

Downsizing the lawn might take a bit of sweat, but you’ll end up with fewer lawn chores and a gorgeous yard that’s good for the environment. Here are four ways you can downsize the lawn and grow less grass: 

  • Replace turf with groundcovers. Groundcovers are low-growing plants that grow along the ground as they spread. Replacing turf with ground covers means less mowing, and if you grow native groundcovers, it means less watering and chemicals. 
  • Install a xeriscape. Building this lawn alternative is an excellent way to conserve water and reduce chemical use. A xeriscape is a type of eco-green landscape that thrives on little to no irrigation water (usually, the local rainfall is enough).
  • Build a rock garden. Similar to a xeriscape, a rock garden requires little maintenance. Save water, reduce chemicals, and enjoy the visual beauty rocks can bring to your lawn. 
  • Install permeable hardscapes. Permeable hardscapes, such as decomposed granite or porous asphalt, allow the water to pass through the surface and into the soil. Solid hardscapes, such as concrete driveway, can increase rainwater runoff. 

Switch to a clover lawn

Clover is a popular, low-maintenance, eco-friendly grass alternative. If you want to join the eco-friendly bandwagon, make the switch to a clover lawn. Here are 10 reasons why people are choosing clover over turf: 

  1. Clover requires less water than a grass lawn.
  2. Clover needs few to no mowings.
  3. Clover is drought-tolerant and can remain green throughout summers and mild winters. 
  4. Clover doesn’t need any fertilizer to thrive.
  5. Clover can easily combat weeds, which means no herbicide use.
  6. Clover is inexpensive.
  7. Clover needs less aeration.
  8. Clover attracts beautiful pollinators.
  9. Clover typically has fewer pest problems than turfgrass.
  10. Clover grows well in partial shade, unlike most turfgrasses.

Grow native plants

Transforming a section of your yard into a native plant sanctuary is an excellent way to grab the neighbors’ attention (and get them talking about eco-friendly lawns). 

So, what makes native plants such an eco-friendly addition to the lawn? Native plants:

  • Thrive without fertilizers and pesticides
  • Control erosion and stormwater runoff
  • Restore natural habitats
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Require less water than non-native plants

7. Switch to green tools

battery electric lawn mowers in garden
Photo Credit: Artush | Canva Pro | License

Gas-powered lawn mowers, weed eaters, leaf blowers –– they’re not welcome in an eco-conscious lawn. Gas-powered tools produce carbon monoxide emissions that are harmful to the user and the environment. 

Instead of filling up your tools with gas and oil, make the switch to green lawn care equipment: corded and battery-powered tools. Corded tools require an electrical outlet to operate, whereas cordless tools run on a rechargeable battery. Both categories are reliable and easy to use on small and medium lawns. 

If you don’t want to buy new tools but would still love to keep it green, look for an eco-friendly lawn care service in your area. More and more companies are switching to electrical tools and offering eco-mowing and eco-friendly lawn care services.

8. Increase biodiversity 

person putting mulch on a garden bed
Photo Credit: Maria Sbytova | Canva Pro | License

Insects, birds, earthworms, bacteria, fungi, and other beneficial organisms are essential for healthy plants and a healthy planet. There are many ways to help these little guys while enjoying your beautiful lawn. For starters, try using mulch and creating a small habitat garden.

Use organic mulch

Does your lawn care checklist include mulching the planting beds? Mulch has many benefits: It helps retain moisture in the soil, controls erosion, blocks weeds, and reduces erosion. But what sets organic mulch apart from inorganic mulch?

Organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, is a plant-based material that:

  • Adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil
  • Enhances the soil’s microbe community
  • Builds biodiversity
  • Enhances plant health
  • Reduces the need for fertilizer

Mulch slowly decomposes and feeds the topsoil with nutrients while keeping it moist and protected from the sunlight. It’s a heaven for earthworms, who till your topsoil while feeding, offering the best aeration possible.

Inorganic mulch, such as rocks or shredded rubber, is not plant-based. Inorganic mulch doesn’t provide nutrients to the soil or build biodiversity. Landscape fabric, a type of inorganic mulch, can even kill the soil and threaten plant health. Try to avoid this category.

Increase biodiversity with habitat gardens 

Turfgrass takes about 40 million to 50 million acres of land in the continental United States, larger than the size of Florida, and is the most irrigated crop in the country. Imagine the positive environmental impact we could make if these lawns contained bustling habitats and removed more greenhouse gases than they produced. 

With the help of native plants, you can boost your yard’s biodiversity by building habitat gardens. These gardens provide food and shelter for wildlife and restore balance to the ecosystem. 

Examples of habitat gardens include: 

  • Meadow gardens
  • Butterfly gardens
  • Wildflower gardens
  • Water gardens
  • Bog gardens
  • Moon gardens

In a biodiverse lawn, there are fewer pest problems because natural predators are present.

Pro tip: Did you know that a dragonfly eats about 100 mosquitos a day? You can attract them in your yard by planting arrowheads, black-eye Susan, meadow sage, or yarrow in your habitat garden.

9. Choose organic lawn treatments

adding food waste to an open compost bin
Photo Credit: Janine Lamontagne | Canva Pro | License

Depending on the situation, you may have no choice but to use chemical control on a pest, disease, or weed. But before buying the first product on the shelf, consider an eco-friendly choice and go with an organic lawn treatment instead. 

Why go organic? Many organic lawn treatment products (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides) are eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic products. Here’s why: 

  • Organic products quickly break down in the environment, making them less likely to be carried away by runoff. Inorganic products do not break down in the environment and often pollute runoff. 
  • Most organic products are not toxic to humans or animals. If the product escapes into a water system, there is a low chance of harming aquatic life. 

Caution: Organic does not always mean safe. Organic products are chemicals that occur in nature, whereas synthetic chemicals are artificial. Just because a chemical exists in nature does not automatically mean it’s safe for humans and animals. 

Most organic products are safer for the environment than synthetic products, but this is not always guaranteed. It’s essential to research the product you’re using before applying it to your lawn. 

Here are a few popular organic ingredients to look for:

  • Eco-friendly fertilizers: compost, aged manure, humic acid, worm castings, guano, bone meal, blood meal, fish meal
  • Eco-friendly pesticides: diatomaceous earth, neem oil, peppermint, thyme, and rosemary essential oils, and biological options with beneficial nematodes
  • Eco-friendly fungicides: citric acid, neem oil, clove oil, biological products including Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Bacillus subtilis, and Trichoderma
  • Eco-friendly weed killers: corn gluten meal, horticultural vinegar, clove oil; manual weeding and applying a thick layer of mulch are also very effective.

FAQ about eco-friendly lawn care

How do you start an eco lawn?

To set your eco-friendly lawn for success:

  1. Start with a healthy, well-balanced soil – test and amend. 
  2. Plant a type of grass that thrives in your climate, type of soil, and sun exposure in your garden. 
  3. Make sure you know how to mow, irrigate, and fertilize your type of turf correctly.
  4. Remember that your soil is a living organism; avoid throwing chemicals unless absolutely necessary. Go organic and natural with pesticides, fungicides, and weed killers whenever possible.

What is the most eco-friendly way to cut grass?

The No. 1 most environmentally friendly mowing option is using a manual mower. Electrical mowers come second because while they don’t emit toxins, there’s still some pollution producing the energy they use – unless it is clean energy (solar, wind, hydro).

What are effective eco-friendly alternatives to weed killers for lawns?

The best natural alternatives to weed killers include:

  • Overseeding – a dense lawn is a weed-free lawn.
  • Taller lawn – tall grass steals the light from growing weeds.
  • A healthy soil, rich in nutrients and microbiome – weeds thrive in deficient soil and are a sign of nutrient imbalance or soil poor in beneficial microorganisms.
  • Fertilizing only when the grass is growing – to avoid feeding the weeds.

Hire a professional green thumb for help

Caring for your lawn is hard work, especially when developing a new routine. While you’re busy designing your new butterfly garden, take advantage of the LawnLove app and find an eco-friendly lawn care company to mow the grass, edge the flower beds, and overseed the lawn. You’re busy saving the planet with your new eco-friendly yard, so it only makes sense to ask for help.

Lawn Love writer/editor Jane Purnell contributed to this article.

Main Photo Credit: DigiStu | Canva Pro | License

Sinziana Spiridon

Sinziana Spiridon is an outdoorsy blog writer with a green thumb and a passion for organic gardening. When not writing about weeds, pests, soil, and growing plants, she's tending to her veggie garden and the lovely turf strip in her front yard.