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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grass is greener when you go green

Switching to Organic Lawn Care is Easy

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

CRANSTON — For lawn care do-it-yourselfers, the switch from chemical fertilizers to organic is easy.
John Holscher, co-owner of The Good Earth organic gardening center in the rural Hope section of the city, grew up working in the family greenhouse in Johnston. For 25 years, he and wife Joyce have run their own garden center, selling organic lawn and garden products, and organic produce.

Demand for their lawn-care and gardening products has grown considerably in recent years, thanks in large part to ongoing research that has exposed the potential hazards of standard synthetic fertilizers, Holscher said. "(People) are starting to get the fact that all those chemicals are not so good for you."

He recommended a few simple steps for making the switch to organic lawn care:

Soil test. For $4, the University of Rhode Island and University of Massachusetts share a program for a pH test. This test helps determine the amount of lime and other nutrients needed to feed the soil with natural fertilizers.

Corn gluten is great to add in early spring to help control weeds. The time has already passed for applying this season, as grasses are beginning to seed. Once the yellow of the forsythia appears it's best to hold off.

Compost. About an inch of compost is great fertilizer. Buy organic compost in the bag or in bulk, or use the food scraps you are composting in the backyard. Just rake into the lawn.

Seeding. There are a few organic seeds on the market, as well as native turf-grass seeds that work best with local soil.

Aeration. A fully organic lawn shouldn't need much aeration, a chore performed by worms if the soil isn't treated with toxic chemicals.

Holscher compared chemical fertilizers to taking vitamins: easy to use but less beneficial for your health. A natural lawn, he said, with well-fed soil will release nutrients naturally to feed the grass.

Organic products are safer to apply and store, and aren't classified as household hazardous waste, such as the synthetic, mass-marketed fertilizers from Scott's and Miracle Gro. "There's no skull and cross bones on these bags," Holscher said.

The transition to organic care may take a year or two to see the full results. There also are organic weed killers — vinegar works — to eliminate unwanted plants. Grubs and other insects can be treated with several natural sprays. Natural treatments for killing ticks, such as organic garlic sprays, are also available.