Organic lawn care products are derived from animal and plant sources.
They have fewer health and environmental risks than synthetic lawn products.
Organic fertilizers improve soil quality over time.
Research has shown organic herbicides are effective for smaller weeds.
Organic products are less precise, so you may need a soil test.
Lawn care is a big business in the United States. According to Consumer Reports, we spend $35 billion a year on lawn and garden products—but not all these products are equal.
In recent years, many homeowners have turned towards organic lawn care to avoid the environmental and health concerns of traditional options. Sales of organic lawn products have been steadily climbing over the last two decades, but does organic lawn care work? Should you choose organic or synthetic lawn treatments? Before you consult a local lawn care service, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Organic Lawn Care?
If you’ve ever used mulch or compost in your garden, you’re probably already familiar with the idea of organic lawn care. Organic lawn care products are derived from animal and plant sources. For fertilizers, this includes ingredients like:
For herbicides, you may see active ingredients like:
Citrus oil, clove oil, or cinnamon oil
Acetic Acid or citric acid
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Pelargonic acid and fatty acid
Unlike synthetic weed killers, pesticides, and fertilizers, organic lawn care products are never made from inorganic chemicals (many of which come from the petroleum-making process). Which works better? It’s a toss-up, but there are solid reasons to go green.
Benefits of Organic Lawn Care
Does organic lawn care work? The answer is a firm yes. It’s effective if you do it right, and it also has a wealth of other benefits that go far beyond peace of mind when your kids are playing in the yard.
Organic Lawn Care Has Fewer Health Risks
The link between synthetic lawn chemicals and certain health issues is nothing new. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Reports, exposure to certain lawn chemicals is associated with:
Several types of cancer
Lawn chemicals aren’t just a risk to humans. They can also harm our furry BFFs. Research has shown that pets living in households using synthetic pesticides have significantly higher rates of lymphoma. Organic lawn products don’t carry the same risk (and there are plenty of organic ways to control pests in your garden).
Organic Lawn Care Has Fewer Environmental Concerns
One of the largest arguments against traditional lawn care is the environmental impact. This is particularly true in the world of agriculture, but it also applies to your front yard. According to the EPA:
Lawn chemicals are responsible for the majority of wildlife poisonings.
The nitrogen in artificial fertilizers can run off and pollute lakes, streams, and waterways.
The phosphorus in artificial fertilizer can promote excess weed growth.
Lawn chemicals can harm beneficial insects, which threatens native plant species.
That’s not to say organic lawn care is completely green. Overuse of organic fertilizers is linked to other issues like excess algae blooms (which kill ocean life) and contaminated drinking water, but most of this is the result of commercial farming rather than a small backyard garden.
Organic Fertilizer Improves Soil Quality
All fertilizers contain three major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (or NPK). Organic options usually include additional nutrients beyond the main three. The big difference between organic and regular fertilizer is that organic fertilizer improves—rather than diminishes—your overall soil quality. How? It helps beneficial microorganisms and macroorganisms (like earthworms and certain fungi) thrive.
Disadvantages of Organic Lawn Care
Organic lawn care isn’t a miracle solution. Organic products can be healthier for your family and the environment, but they do have drawbacks.
Results Are Less Precise
Organic lawn care products work, but the results aren’t as precise as with synthetic products. The active ingredients greatly vary from brand to brand. For this reason, your local landscaper might run a soil test to see what mix works best on your lawn.
Organic Fertilizer Works Slowly
If you’re looking for a quick fix, you might want to stick with traditional synthetic fertilizer that helps plants quickly absorb essential nutrients. Organic lawn fertilizer is slow release and may require multiple applications. In this case, patience is a virtue. It’s better for the long-term health of your lawn, but it’s a long game.
Organic Herbicides Can Be Less Effective
Organic weed killers work, but synthetic herbicides may be more effective. A UC Davis study found that several popular organic herbicides effectively controlled small weeds, but struggled to kill larger mature weeds. They didn’t prevent new weeds from growing, either. Luckily, there are several other ways you can control weeds in your yard, including:
Baking soda (which is biodegradable)
Pulling out larger weeds by hand
Promoting healthy lawn growth and a strong root system
Organic May Not Be Truly Organic
There’s no legal definition of organic, so it can be difficult to figure out which products are healthy rather than harmful. Some lawn products that claim to be organic, natural, and environmentally friendly contain harmful ingredients. With organic fertilizer, you can spot the fakes by taking a look at the ingredient list. If it has an NPK ratio larger than 15, it’s probably not as natural as it claims to be.