Pesticide-Free Lawn Care

River Friendly Lawn Care: The Basics

Over 600,000 people in the Greater Hartford area and Farmington Valley receive their water from the Farmington River each year. Protecting water quality in the Farmington River is in the region’s best interest and it starts in your backyard. Click here for an overview on pesticides in Connecticut.

Did you know that how we care for our lawns can impact the health of our waterways?  Below we’ve outlined 6 simple things you can do to improve the health of your lawn and help protect the drinking water and ecological diversity provided by the Farmington River.

Diagnose your lawn problems with this chart and read our 6 basic steps for river-friendly cures.

1. Get your soil tested. Find out what your lawn actually needs by getting the soil tested.  Visit UCONN’s Soil Testing Lab to find out information on sending in a sample.

  • Excess fertilizer can run off of lawns and into waterways. Once in the water, the nutrients designed for a lawn can cause algal blooms and fish kills.
  • The best fertilizer costs nothing; just run your lawn mower over the leaves grinding them as they come down in the fall. This puts nutrients and organic matter into the soil, thus helping build up the lawn, and making it healthy and softer under foot.
  • Add clean compost too, and if you must use fertilizers, make use of organic ones that are low in nitrogen. This saves water bodies from hypoxia (a loss of oxygen) that causes fish to die.
  • And remember, clover provides free nitrogen

2. Don’t mow too low or too often.

  • Keep your lawnmower blade well-sharpened (every 4-6 weeks). A dull blade tears blades of grass exposing them to disease and damage.
  • Cut no more the 1/3 of the length of grass each time you mow.
  • Leave grass clippings—they provide essential lawn nutrients.

3. Irrigate your lawn no more than 2 inches a week. Rain counts.

  • We do not recommend watering but if you must, water in the early morning and make sure the water seeps deep into the ground. This encourages roots to grow deep, thus requiring less water. A well-established lawn should not need water.
  • Lawns peak and look best in early spring and fall and go dormant in middle of summer.

4. Keep your lawn aerated. Core-aeration works best. A pitchfork works too.

  • What is aeration? Aeration means poking holes in the turf so that water, oxygen and nutrients can reach the root zone. Depending on the size of your lawn, you can use a pitchfork, aeration shoes, or a power aerator.
  • Why aerate? After years of mowing, walking, and play, lawns can become very hard. Aeration may be the best way to improve the lawn’s health and reduce contaminated runoff.

5. Seed or Re-seed once per year and feed with compost.

  • Overseed with drought-hardy perennial grass seed in early September to crowd out weeds. Apply compost, dehydrated manure or peat moss on newly seeded areas, especially bare spots, to hold moisture and help establish new grass.
  • Seed in early fall or spring with fescues and/or ryes.
  • Consider using endophytic-enhanced grasses (contains a fungus that enhances the success of the plant) – some are naturally toxic to pests.

6. Be Reasonable! Allow for some spots to be less than perfect, your lawn (and the river) will thank you!

Interested in learning more? Aimee Petras offers semiannual workshops on managing your lawn naturally without using lawn chemicals of fertilizers.

To learn more about how communities across Connecticut are working to improve water quality, head to River Smart CT and sign the River Smart Pledge today!


A Year of Natural Lawn Care

Early SpringRemove winter debris; Overseed thin areas; Obtain soil test; Dethatch if necessary.
Mid to Late SpringOverseed weedy or thin areas; Aerate if needed; Add soil amendments if needed; Begin mowing when grass is above 3”; Leave grass clippings.
SummerContinue mowing to maintain 3” lawn height; Avoid irrigation during extreme heat.
Late SummerRepair damaged lawn areas; Look for white grubs and apply nematodes; Apply natural fertilizer to prep soil for winter months.
Early to Mid-AutumnStop watering completely as temperatures drop and rainfall increases; Apply lime if indicated by soil test.
Late AutumnRemove leaves during peak leaf drop; Shred remaining leaves into lawn; Mow grass short (2”) once growth has slowed.
WinterContinue shredding remaining leaves into lawn.