THE PERFECTLY MANICURED lawn–every homeowner's dream–is too often pursued to the detriment of the environment with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and gas–powered mowers. For a four–step plan to green your lawn without hurting the ecosystem, we consulted landscaping expert Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual (Storey, 2007) and founder of safelawns.org. Here are his secrets:
1. USE AN ELECTRIC OR HAND–POWERED MOWER
An electric mower like Black & Decker’s Cordless Mulching Mower ($398; blackanddecker .com) is about 97 percent cleaner than gas. (According to the EPA, a gas–powered mower emits as much pollution in one hour as driving a car for 100 miles.)
A hand–powered machine,
which uses no energy (except the calories you burn), is best for grass shorter than three inches or lawns smaller than 8,000 square feet.
2.PLANT NATIVE GRASSES
Plants local to your area are more likely to thrive without pesticides.
If you live in the north, choose cool–season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fairway wheatgrass).
If you live in the south, opt for warm–season grasses (Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, seashore paspalum).
If you live in a centrally located state, pick grasses that do best in moderate "transition" climates (buffalo grass, little bluestem).
KEY TIP Tukey suggests buying organic grass seed from outsidepride.com or seedland.com.
3.CHOOSE ORGANIC FERTILIZERS
Organic fertilizer, derived from plants and minerals, protects your lawn from drought. That’s because the nutrients in organic fertilizer resist leaching, so they stay in the soil until they’re absorbed by the grass.
"Organic fertilizer helps plants retain water while building life into the soil," says Tukey. He recommends products such as Organica Lawn Booster ($26; organica.net).
KEY TIP Plant white clover in the grass. It generates nitrogen, an essential nutrient for soil health, and it stays green during droughts.
4.USE LESS WATER
Water your lawn in the morning, says the EPA. If you water at midday, when the sun and heat are strong, the water is lost through evaporation before it can nourish the grass. If you water in the evening, it lingers on the grass overnight, which can result in the growth of mold.
Conserve even more water by using "gray water," the wastewater from your shower, washing machine, and sink (check with your local government first).
Access gray water by connecting the discharge hose of your washing machine to a 50–gallon drum, says Tukey.
Collect rainwater in a rain barrel (available at garden supply stores or cleanairgardening .com); use it to water your lawn.
Close up of hand mower via Shutterstock