Natural Lawn Care

What is “Natural Lawn Care”?

Natural lawn care is a holistic approach to building and maintaining your lawn in a manner that relies on practices and products that will yield healthy, attractive-looking grass that is in harmony with its environment. Lawn care that is performed in harmony with the environment is intentionally not harmful to humans, animals, other plants, the soil, the air or the water. Natural lawn care is a holistic game plan, rather than a problem-and-solution oriented strategy.

The overall objective is to cultivate turfgrass and soil that is healthy and robust since this will mean more resistance to insects and weeds and will require less products to apply. Going natural means that you will increasingly turn to natural lawn care services and products to get the results you want.

Natural Lawn Care Practices

Selecting Turfgrass Species

The journey of lawn care starts with your species of turfgrass. The key is to select the species of turfgrass that is firstly ideal for your climate (e.g., generally cool weather across Canada, wet areas of Pacific Northwest) and secondly ideal for your specific property (e.g., shaded areas, high traffic areas, prone to specific weed or insect infestations, etc.). Even if your lawn’s existing species base is not ideal, you can transition it over time to a more suitable composition of grass species by over-seeding with select species that have the desired attributes.


There is a right way and a wrong way to mow your lawn. Improper mowing technique and frequency can place stress on your lawn, increases its susceptibility to weeds, diseases and insects and impose a higher demand of inputs such as fertilizer. The first step is to ensure that your lawnmower’s blade is sharp. Next is cutting height: the cool-season grasses found in Canada do better with a longer cutting height and experts now recommended that you stick with the same cutting height for the entire mowing season. It’s well-known that mowing cool-season grass species a little taller in the summer months can have benefits through summer stress periods (deeper roots, better cooling effect). Taller grass also conserves moisture and even somewhat reduces the need for watering. It’s also known that taller grass in the spring and fall allows the lawn to more successfully resist weeds. Mowing the lawn when the grass is dry and using a properly sharpened mower blade will spread clippings evenly. In terms of when to mow, time of day is usually not a concern except for during the hot summer months when it is best to mow later in the day to minimize heat stress. The frequency of your mowing should be determined by the “one-third rule”. This means that you should remove no more than one-third of the leaf during each mowing. During the spring, cool-season grasses can be mowed every five to six days. However, naturally maintained lawns maintained will typically require four to five fewer mowings each season due to the controlled growth of a natural lawn. Lastly, it is recommended that you change directions of mowing each time you mow


Lawns – actually the soil under the lawn – need 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week either from rainfall or from intentional watering. Adequate moisture is essential for optimal lawn growth and health, but homeowners should also be aware that too much or too little moisture in the soil can contribute to lawn disease. Since there is little you can do about excessive rainfall, you are left to confirm your lawn’s soil base is not too dry. To do so, use a screwdriver to dig up little soil from the base of the lawn. If some of the soil sticks to the screwdriver, you have sufficient soil moisture and there is no need to water. If you do need to water, morning is best time of day to do it for two main reasons: first, it washes off the morning dew which contains nutrients exuded from the grass leaves that feed certain lawn-borne diseases and, second, morning waterings avoid the excessive evaporation that occurs during the heat of day. If a morning watering is not possible, an afternoon or early evening water should substitute. Avoid late evening waterings since the moisture will remain on the grass leaves throughout the night, which contributes to fungal disease formation.


Known as “lawn aeration” – this popular natural lawn care practice actually targets your lawn’s soil base as well as the thatch barrier – not the grass itself. Mechanical aeration is the practice of using a machine to remove thousands of plugs of soil from the base of the lawn to open channels for better movement of air, water and nutrients. It also helps to reduce compaction in the soil and breaks up the thatch layer (when it exists). The soil plugs are left on the lawn to crumble and disintegrate before falling freely into the aeration holes. The soil plugs also spread into the thatch layer where soil microbes feed on the thatch debris. Tightly compacted clay soils may initially require an aeration twice a year (spring and fall). However, after several years of natural lawn care, it is usually sufficient to aerate once per year. Aeration is the best process with which to lead off a fertilization program. After aeration, the applied fertilizer will more readily and immediately transfer its nutrients into your lawn’s root zone. Aeration is also an excellent practice before over-seeding. If your lawn is showing some thinning after a long winter or a stressful summer, over-seeding is recommended to maintain a thick lawn. Aeration prior to seeding will help ensure better seed/soil contact for improved germination. In terms of the equipment needed to perform an aeration, we recommend using a “core aerator” – a machine that removes plugs that are approximately 2 to 3 inches deep (1/2 inch in diameter). Aerators that use “spikes” are less effective and are not recommended.

De-Thatching or Power-Raking

Thatch is a layer of grass stems, roots, clippings, and debris that settle on the surface of your lawn’s soil and either slowly decompose and/or accumulate over time. A thin layer of thatch is natural and a positive thing. It keeps a lawn healthy by insulating against temperature extremes, slowing water loss, and curbing the growth of weeds. It also forms a layer of cushion that helps your lawn tolerate foot traffic. But your lawn can accumulate too much thatch, which can weaken the health of your turfgrass. First of all, too much thatch blocks the lawn’s roots from growing as deeply as they should. When grass roots spread in the thatch layer – rather than the soil below – the lawn is vulnerable to drying out. A thick thatch layer also prevents water and nutrients from getting to the roots that are deeper in the soil. Thatch can even promote disease by holding in too much moisture and harboring harmful insects.

A thatch build-up problem is not an automatic consequence of a healthy, consistently growing lawn. Applying compost and other organic fertilizers stimulates biological activity that controls thatch development. Healthy soils also host and generate large populations of micro-organisms that consume thatch as fast as it is created. However, certain types of turfgrass species popular in Canada such as Kentucky bluegrass are more prone to thatch development. For this reason, your thatch layer should be examined every year to determine if de-thatching should be performed. When the thickness of your thatch layer exceeds ¾ of an inch, your lawn has too much thatch. In many cases de-thatching can be required once per year.

The good news is that there is mechanical equipment available on the market for purchase or for hire to help homeowners eliminate excess thatch – hours of raking, followed by blisters and sore shoulders, is not the only solution! The rotating blades of a mechanical de-thatching machine (also known as a “Power Rake”) can quickly and thoroughly take care of your thatch problem and all that is left to do is to rake up and bag the unwanted fluffy thatch. Homeowners using a mechanical de-thatching machine for the first time should not be worried by the distressed look of their lawn. A thorough removal of thatch will leave your turf looking beat-up but it will soon recover.

In Canada’s Wet (West) Coast, excessive moss proliferation is a common lawn-based problem. The high amount of precipitation acidifies the soil, which unfortunately creates the ideal growing condition for moss. If left unchecked, the moss can take over – potentially choking out your turfgrass altogether. In addition to neutralizing the acidic condition of your soil by applying lime multiple times per year (we recommend the Dolopril lime formulation due to its ease of application), a de-thatching machine offers a very effective way to remove the moss from your lawn so that the grass can re-establish itself. However, please note that it’s very important that you repeatedly apply the lime if your lawn soil remains acidic otherwise the moss will surely make its return.

Natural Lawn Care Products

The residential lawn care market offers homeowners an array of hundreds of products that can benefit your lawn. While it is a vast subject area most of the products can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Products for your grass (e.g., grass seed varieties for over-seeding, fertilizer, etc.)
  • Products for your soil (e.g., top dressing, soil conditioner, lime, etc.)
  • Products for the weeds and insects that interfere with your lawn’s health and appearance (e.g., insecticidal soaps, selective herbicides, pre-emergent herbicides).

Each product within these categories is more or less “natural” based on the harmony that it creates or maintains between the grass and its surrounding environment. However, the fact of the matter is that a strictly monocultural (i.e., singular species) field full of lush turfgrass does not actually occur in nature so, on that basis, we refer to the products that can be applied to lawns as having either a low or high natural rating – of course, with degrees in between.

Note: The tables below illustrate what is meant by the impact of lawn care products on the harmony between grass and its environment.

Main Product Category #1: Grass

Product Sub-Category: Fertilizer

Product Purpose: Fertilizers supplement essential nutrients in the soil needed by all plants for healthy, vigorous growth. Contrary to popular belief, fertilizers are not plant food. Plants manufacture their own food from water and carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis. Fertilizers instead provide the nutrients plants need to grow. You should think of fertilizers as “plant vitamins” – not food.

Low Natural Rating

Example Product Type: Synthetic, Quick-Release Liquid Fertilizer

Impact: While easy for commercial operators to apply and relatively inexpensive, this product can result in excessively fast turf growth which depletes soil nutrients, requires frequent mowing and contributes to excessive thatch build-up which can invite insect infestations.

High Natural Rating

Example Product Type: Organic, Slow-Release, Granular Fertilizer

Impact: Since this product is derived from animal and plant sources, it is highly beneficial to the soil – not to mention the environment. The coating applied to this granular product creates a slow release of nutrients that results in a modest rate of turf growth. Additionally, this product will not feed rampant weed growth, it will not contribute to excessive thatch build-up and it has a low impact on soil composition.

Main Product Category #2: Soil

Product Sub-Category: Top Dressing

Product Purpose: As the organic matter in top dressing breaks down, it filters through the existing soil to improve texture and overall health. This product can improve your lawn’s drainage and drought-resistance while reducing its dependence on supplemental fertilizers. Over time, it can also be used to even out the surface of your lawn; eliminating the dips and pits that develop over the years.

Low Natural Rating

Example Product Type: General-Purpose Garden Soil

Impact: While this product typically contains fertilizer, which does contribute to lawn growth, it should not be used on lawns as a top-dressing agent since it usually contains unwanted weed seeds and does not improve the texture or control the moisture of your soil.

High Natural Rating

Example Product Type: 100% Organic Composted Cow Manure

  • Impact: This product is typically odorless and weed free. It will add millions of beneficial microbes, nutrients and organic matter to your soil and will restore the essential elements depleted by lawn growth. It also helps break up clay soils and helps sandy soils hold moisture.

Main Product Category #3: Weeds & Insects

Product Sub-Category: Insecticide

Product Purpose: Insects can suck nutrients from the grass, destroy roots and eventually kill the lawn. Some insects may even prove harmful for people. A variety of products are sold that can eliminate specific insect species or a variety of species.

Low Natural Rating

Example Product Type: Chemical insecticides

Impact: Most chemical insecticides that are toxic to human health have been taken off the Canadian market but some chemical insecticides with minimal toxicity can still be purchased for use on residential lawns. While these products can be effective at eliminating certain insects, they can also kill the earthworm and healthy bacteria populations, reducing the overall health of your soil.

High Natural Rating

Example Product Type: Beneficial Nematodes

Impact: Beneficial nematodes are a naturally-occurring microscopic worm found in soil. Nematodes are used as insecticides in lawn care since they naturally attack other soil-dwelling insects by entering their body, injecting them with lethal bacteria, and feeding on their insides. Once infected, the host insect dies within a day or two. There are different kinds of nematodes for targeting different turf insects. Nematodes will have no negative effects on your grass or soil but make sure you verify the expiry date on the product since dead nematodes don’t work!

Summing it Up

Natural lawn care will not yield instantaneous results. You’ve got to look at it as long-term care (several years) instead of short-term care. It’s not just about using natural products or an organic fertilizer variety – think of it as an annual process rather than just a list of separate lawn care events. Over time, you are building up a balanced soil environment that is full of organic matter and a healthy population of microorganisms.

You need to remember that, while natural lawn care is effective if properly implemented, it is certainly not perfect. It’s also not an easy fix – it takes extra effort to pull weeds by hand or to spot treat with a natural herbicide. The best approach that we suggest is to “Keep it Simple”. You don’t need a large, complex set of products and practices to maintain a lawn naturally. Following some simple best management practices while incorporating a few high-quality natural lawn care products and practices is all it takes!