Organic weed control keeps lawn healthy without chemicals

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Many gardeners are looking for natural alternatives in the landscape. The lawn can be one of the most chemically laden areas around our homes. Herbicides and chemical fertilizers are of concern, and any chemical applied to the grass affects the life below and possibly above.

The most often used chemical weed control is 2,4-D, which is a derivative of Agent Orange.

Grass can thrive with chemical treatments, but it also can become reliant on them. Remove the treatments and the lawn suffers.

There are plenty of organic products available that will give homeowners the perfect lawn without chemicals. They build the quality of the soil over time to a point where a small application of organic fertilizer or organic matter is all that's needed for the grass to thrive.

Weeds can also be dispatched without reaching for chemicals. One of the most exciting new introductions for organic weed control is chelated iron. It's one of the first products natural gardeners can turn to for broad- leaf weeds like dandelions, clover, thistle, chickweed and a long list of others. The product basically overdoses weeds with iron but leaves the lawn unaffected. In fact, the grass loves it and it's safe for the environment. It's available locally as Lawn Weed Killer from Whitney Farms (Scott's organic brand) or online from Gardens Alive as IronX.

Nothing can outgrow grass when it's happy. That's why we work so hard to keep it out of our flower beds and vegetable gardens. Organic gardeners like to say, "feed the soil, not the plant." Amending the lawn with organic matter and organic fertilizers will keep the lawn growing strong. But the pH must be right for the grass to access all the nutrients. Get a soil test from Penn State Cooperative Extension to determine both fertility and pH. It's an inexpensive tool that provides vital information about the lawn and the only way to know what needs to be done to get it growing well.

Keep the grass tall, 31/2 inches. This will help shade out weeds. Do not remove the clippings; they are a good source of nitrogen. An organic lawn never needs to be thatched. Earthworms and other the soil life will eat the thatch, turning it into fertilizer for the lawn. One of the biggest advantages of a chemical-free lawn is that all the things thriving underground help keep it healthy. From worms down to microscopic organisms, they make the job of a well-maintained lawn a little easier. When doused with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides, many of these creatures can't survive.

Aeration is another great tool for any lawn. A machine takes plugs out of the lawn about the size of a finger and the resulting holes allow fertilizer and water to get down to the root level. Aeration every other year helps fight compaction in the lawn.

Always water in the morning and soak the grass when rain is scarce. It's important to provide enough moisture to encourage deep root growth. Most lawns need 1 inch of water per week. Put a shallow can on the grass while you're watering. When it's filled to an inch, you've done your job.

For more information about Lawn Weed Killer, go to www.scotts.com. Gardens Alive offers natural alternatives to any garden problem at www.gardensalive.com.

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Doug Oster: doster@post-gazette.com or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog at www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug. Twitter: @dougoster1. First Published April 12, 2012 5:15 AM


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