Why We Pretty Much Ignore Our Grass (& You Should, Too)

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

Why We Pretty Much Ignore Our Grass (& You Should, Too)

“Ugh, it’s the little white balls again.”

“I don’t like the little white balls – they’re yucky, right, Mommy?”

“Yep…they scare me. We could cross the street so we don’t have to walk through them but they have them over there, too.”

“We’ll wipe our feet really well when we get to our grass, right, Mommy?”

Do you know what we’re talking about yet?

This is a normal conversation between my 5-year-old daughter and me during a family walk in the spring…or summer…or even fall.

The “little white balls” are the result of other people fertilizing their lawns or spreading weed killers – and the tiny yard signs that say a company has just sprayed that day, “Children and Pets, Keep Off,” are just as bad.

It’s one of the major reasons I obsessed about my doormat and entryway enough to write an entire post about doormats a few years back (!), and I still think of our mudroom as “the yuck” and tell kids to keep out of there with socks on.

Would You, Could You, With a Bug?

Nope. At our house, we just don’t.

No fertilizer. No pesticides. Nothing on our lawn.

(gasp)

And we only have second thoughts about two weeks out of the year, when the dandelions get so tall we start to lose small children in our lawn and worry that the neighbors will ask us to move out of embarrassment.

Why We Embrace the Bugs

Sure, we could probably figure out some natural lawn treatments – homemade concoctions with beer as the base, “eco-friendly” options at the hardware store – but I hesitate to bother with the research.

First of all, I firmly believe people spend way too much time, money and effort on their lawns. There are so many more helpful things to grow (um, food?) and do with our time (play with children?).

Second, when you fertilize, your grass will grow faster, right? So that leads to more mowing and more time spent. I’m pretty happy with the green-ness and lushness of our lawn, so I’m not going to worry about feeding it more than water during dry periods.

Cutting more than 1/3 of the grass off stresses the grass (leading to more fertilizer usage), and leaving it long-ish not only feels great on bare feet, but also tends to quell weed growth by providing natural shade and thickness that makes it harder for other junk to grow. Those folks who mow super short 2-3 times a week? Counterproductive.

And finally, aesthetics.

Do the dandelions look horrible? Well, yes.

But just about the time we want to scream and grab some toxic chemicals, they go away. (Phew!)

And thankfully, our neighbors don’t hate us (that we know of) yet.

Why We Pretty Much Ignore Our Grass (& You Should, Too)

And Why I Embrace My Doormat

When everyone around me is still pouring/spraying/spreading chemicals on their yards, I have a pretty strict “shoes off” policy for the house, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my own lawn doesn’t carry all these potential side effects (of grass fertilizers and weed killers):

Nice, right?

Add to that the fact that my brown thumb and I attempt an organic vegetable garden each summer, and I really don’t want any chemicals on the lawn two inches from my tomatoes.

I also appreciate that my husband doesn’t have to spend an hour four times each summer spreading scary white balls on the grass, nor do we pay a few hundred dollars to have our lawn taken care of by professionals – I can think of plenty to do with four hours of husband time and a few hundred bucks!

The final bonus benefit?

Our garage and/or shed doesn’t hit your nose with an overwhelming chemical smell like everyone else who DIYs their lawn.

Three cheers for an “au naturale” lawn!

How much time/energy do you spend making your lawn pretty? Any natural methods you can recommend? 

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.
  • Megan

    We live out in the country. So the only bugs we’re really worried about are the ones that could hurt our family. Our biggest concerns are Ticks (Lyme disease!) and fire ants. As for the other bugs, as much as I dislike them, as long as they stay out of my house, I’ll leave them be.
    But I’m nervous about my toddler stumbling upon a fire-ant hill and getting bitten. And I know WAY too many people who have had Lyme disease in the last 2 years to take any chances with ticks. There’s my two cents. Other than that, I couldn’t really care less about my grass.

    • hsmom2004

      Something safe that you can put on your lawn is sulfur. It keeps away ticks, fleas, mites, and chiggers. Just by it by the bag, buy a burlap sack, and put on clothes that you don’t ever care if you wear again (or your old painting clothes). Just go out and shake the sulfur on the lawn and those disease carrying critters will stay away. If you get a lot of rain, sadly we haven’t in the past few years, you may want to do that monthly, but we’ve only had to do it annually.

      As for the fire ants, we’ve tried grits, turning the fire ants against each other by swapping piles of fire ants, and Amdro. Amdro works really, really well. There is another post about mixing confectioner’s sugar and baking soda. I have not tried that as it came out more recently, but I’m certainly game to try it as I, too, would prefer natural solutions. (Texas A&M also found an insect that attacks and kills ONLY fire ants. If that holds true and they don’t kill other types of ants or beneficial insects, I would be happy about them.)

      Fire ants have demolished our red ant population, which in turn means no horny toads. I think they are the likely reason that we see so few fireflies any more. They have also devastated our quail population as they nest on the ground.

      I do spray the house because we have scorpions and brown recluse here. Can’t stand those things. One hurts like crazy and the other is deadly poisonous, especially to young children.

      • Gayle

        chickens work wonders on bugs, As far as my backyard I have goats(my husband calls them lawnmowers) and chickens. Don’t have to mow or use a lot of bug killer. Yes I live in the country. But I have also used Diatomaceous Earth for ants they won’t cross it and if you put it on them they end up dying.

  • Joanne

    I have never had a problem with dandelions. Or the violets, grape hyacinths, and clover that grows in our yard. As for bugs, I agree with Megan, as long as they stay out of my house I’m fine.

  • Dianne in the desert

    I live in the desert of the US southwest. We do not have a lawn. Yay! However, we do have problems with weeds, bugs, and other “critters”. We do need to use insecticide around the house, however, because scorpions, black widow spiders, and such are dangerous to me; as I am allergic to the venoms. We pull weeds by hand. we compost to get feeding soil for the plants we do have. All plantings are away from the structures to keep bugs from entering the house, but they come in anyway unless we spray. Spraying with insecticide is much less expensive than an emergency room visit and being super sick for a week or so afterward.

    • Katie Kimball

      Sounds like a good call, Dianne! Yowza! Have you looked into the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth spread around the perimeter of your house on those particular nasties, or Greenbug, a natural spray? Those are two I’ve heard of, but I don’t exactly battle anything larger than a nickel… :) Katie

  • Sarah D.

    Our lawn is “au naturale”, too! Like you said, it’s a little scary when it’s tall enough to lose small children, but our yard is a lot greener than the neighbors’ who mow 3+ times per week. =) And, we don’t want all those chemicals right next to our garden, either. Good post!

  • Sarah

    I’m hoping to convince my husband of this wisdom of this method now that we’re in a house with a gigantic lawn. Fertilizing and killing weeds would cost a fortune!

    • Katie Kimball

      For sure, cost has to be a factor, Sarah, and “au naturale” is much less expensive! ;) Katie

  • Sue Mazza

    I agree totally. I live in a neighborhood that has meticulous lawns, other than mine. I have 5 kids, 2 labs and all the neighborhood children. I will not put chemicals on my lawn either but thank you for the door mat info. I don’t have people take their shoes off. I believe that will change today.

  • Beth @ Turn2theSimple

    My husband’s favorite comment with regards to our lawn is, “We are raising children, NOT grass.” Thankfully, we live in a rural area and no one minds that we don’t kill weeds (and only mow 1/4 acre of our 2 acre yard)!

    • Katie Kimball

      Love that quote, Beth!!!!

  • Greta

    It is terrifying, isn’t it? I wish I could think of a way to politely start a conversation with my MIL, who lives on a beautiful 5 acres, much of which is sprayed for dandelions. I cringe every time our children visit and just want to do what kids do in the grass (seems like lots of rolling!). I don’t want to offend my mother-in-law, but I want sick kids, even less! It’s scary when there’s so much out there that we just can’t control.

  • Bob_Bodd

    Agree wholeheartedly with your viewpoint. Well done for sharing.

  • Donna

    I have just recently become aware of a company called Spray-N-Grow they have several different products fr lawn care and some for pest control. I am not affiliated with this company, I just recently got a catalog ad googled them and found they have a lot of positive reviews. Just a little FYI.

    • Katie Kimball

      Donna,
      Are they naturally made? My husband has started asking if he has any recourse at all against the weeds other than manual removal… ;) Katie

  • http://www.divagoesorganic.com/ Diva Goes Organic

    This is a constant battle at my house! My dad is a golf course superintendent and avid user of chemicals (much to my dismay!). Sometimes he convinces my husband that we just need a little fertilizer. I had a full on mommy meltdown last week when he applied some fertilizer to the yard. I don’t want my 14 month old daughter near that in any way. My husband thinks I’m a little overboard, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Hopefully that was the last fertilizer application to ever touch our lawn!

    • Katie Kimball

      It’s hard to strike a balance, I hear you! I think the fertilizer, though, is probably much less of a real risk to human health than the weed and pest killers. I’m just guessing, but maybe don’t stress too much? :) Katie

  • Jenny

    We live in SW Florida and have so many fireants. It really keeps us from playing outside as much as we would otherwise. I have three children under three years old. We have put diatomaceous dirt on the fire ant hills and it does kill them but more just come and make new homes. Has anyone every just sprinkled it everywhere in their backyard? I think I read somewhere that you don’t want to do that because it will kill everything including the good ants. Like you Katie, I don’t believe in putting chemical fertilizers or pesticides on our lawn but because we don’t… are lawn is splotchy and not completely covered with grass which then allows the fire ants to make their homes. Whereas, if we could just get the grass to grow and keep the weeds out, we would keep the fire ants away. Does anyone know of a great natural product to kill weeds and grow grass especially in a difficult area like SW FL? Thanks.

    • granny

      This year I am going to try the Medina Orange Oil mixed with water, and a little liquid soap (they recommend Dawn). However, you need to study about it online.

      • Livia

        We always have a number of ant mounds in places that put people at risk for getting badly stung, so I studied online and made a few different orange-oil-and-soap concoctions. They did a great job on the ants, but killed the soil in spots – dead weeds and then dead bare soil that has been very, very slow to recover. I don’t mind a few bare spots, though. If I wanted I could dig out the dead topsoil and and fork in some good stuff from my compost beds, I imagine. Just hasn’t been a high priority yet.

    • Rachel

      You might consider looking into prairie/native to your area grasses. The last time we were in a house (in north Texas) we planted short varieties of native grasses that only needed 5-12 inches of water a year. It saved on our watering bill, easily filled in patches, and stayed green without fertilizer for longer than adjacent conventional lawns. If I could have gotten away with a garden I would have done that instead (boo HOA) but the native lawn was the next best option!

  • sharon

    Some of those weeds are edible too. Dandelions may not be my favorite food, but when they’re at their best in the early spring, I’m desperate for fresh greens. I also have a lot of wild strawberries in my backyard.
    More “weeds” also means that the yard stays greener in the dry spells of late summer.
    One of the great things about living at the slum’s edge is that no one around here uses lawn chemicals, and no one’s uptight about having a yard that looks like a golf course! and no one minds vegetables in the front yard either– and if a passerby helps himself to some green beans that’s fine with me.

    • Katie Kimball

      Great attitude, Sharon! :) katie

  • Emily

    We don’t use any fertilizer on our lawn but we did use an organic fertilizer on our fruit trees and bushes. Do you know if this has some of the same risks?

    • Katie Kimball

      Emily,
      It would all depend on the active ingredients – likely, no. But some organic stuff can have risks, too – I think fertilizers have more potential risk to the soil than to human health (but just guessing). As long as your soil is healthy and mineral-rich and not only supported by the fertilizer, I’m guessing you’re doing great. :) Katie

  • Lindsay

    We just bought what’s called a weed dragon that burns weeds (or anything) from a propane tank. It’s great for weeds in a bed, among rocks, or prep for laying sod or new plants. It obviously doesn’t work well for weeds in a lawn, you’ll burn some grass. As an added bonus, the husband loves using it (fire!) which means I don’t have to hand pull the weeds before they take over my planting area. It really is a win win.

  • Sheila Connolly

    And when you think of the runoff of pesticides, herbicides, even nitrogen fertilizer, and what it does to our waterways …. not even a question! If you don’t fertilize, sooner or later clover will arrive and fix nitrogen for your grass. They’re symbiotic, and you destroy that symbiosis when you take over the clover’s job with fertilizer! And clover is softer on your feet than grass anyway.

    Luckily none of our neighbors mess with their lawns. This is redneck land, no one cares what their yards look like.

    If the dandelions bother you, pay your kids ten cents to pull them up! Me …. I eat them. They’re crazy good for you. (Warning: pick dandelions for eating first thing in the spring, before they’ve bloomed. Old, tough dandelions are yucky. And find a good recipe — I love them in scrambled eggs, with parmesan.) So I actually *encourage* them to grow in my yard.

    • Katie Kimball

      Oh, I’m already too late to enjoy the dandelions this year! :(

  • Charli

    We live in the country so we don’t do anything to our yard except mow it when you can start losing children and pets. That said, we have neighbors that own the land all around us and once a year they use a crop duster to put out chemicals that kill the mesquite trees. The pilot tries to stop spraying before he reaches the homes in our little area, but you can still stell when they spray. You can taste it. It’s those times that worry me the most.

    • Katie Kimball

      Ack! time for a vacation out of town on those days? ;) Katie

  • Rebecca Ramdeholl

    YES!!! My lawn is quirky and misshapen, and refuses to grow like other grass. It just doesn’t like my area, especially with the large trees, so instead little forget-me-nots grow, fluffy dandelions that my little one loves to play with, and crazy ass Burdock running rampant. I’m fine with all that…and the bumblebees certainly love it! The man is still thinking conventionally and wanting to cut with a motorized lawn mower, blah blah blah. I put the kabosh on that and got a push grass cutter, and we rarely use it. Just change the way you think, and things aren’t as necessary, like this grass cutting, pruning, seeding nonsense. I’m still trying to get him to let me put in some veggies in some spots of my lawn, but he thinks the neighbors and weirdos will come up to the house and loot them : / Sadly, I doubt a lot of people around here will even know what I’m growing…

    • Katie Kimball

      Rebecca,
      I’m so sure you’re right – especially if you grow kale and greens which are more shade tolerant anyway. No one would know! :) Katie

  • Emily

    We ignore our yard for the most part, too. The only thing we have major issues with right now is moles. ugh! We also have free ranging chickens and are in the woods, so our yard really isn’t that much of big deal. I know my husband would like to to be nicer looking, but we have other things to worry about most of the time anyway. :)

  • Jenny Foster

    I am glad you are standing up for natural lawns… I feel the same. My lawn is completely filled with wild mint, clovers galore, lush dandelions and grasses. I feel like dandelions are beautiful and that they actually look great!! However, in society we are told that they are nasty ugly weeds, when in fact if you have a spray free yard then you can eat the dandelions, eat the roots, eat the leaves, ferment the petals and so on… many many natural remedies. Dandelions have an enormous list of natural healing powers… just google it and you will be amazed! You are spot on in the perspective that people spend way too much time and money and worry stressing about their lawns when in all honesty they are doing this too look good or to meet an expectation that society has presented to us as acceptable… to me the chemical lawns in our neighborhoods are unacceptable, they are degrading to our environments, they are hazardous to our health, they are contributing to huge amounts of herbicides and so forth being put into our water tables and into our drinking water… and the chemicals used in lawns are killing the bees, which is now scientifically proven… wow! So yes, I am thankful that you are speaking up about this… We need MORE people to do this… to speak up… our perspective on a yard needs to change, edible lawns are all the rave. Ya!!!

    • Katie Kimball

      The drinking water part I forgot about…ick…it’s such a shame that I can’t really escape the poor choices of the rest of the world!! :( Katie

    • Tony

      The domestic version of dandelion is called endive, right?

  • Wendy

    There’s something great about digging dandelions as a family while taking turns reading a great book aloud; or tearing out clover with a child who has let a few bad habits creep into his life; after all, we weed on our knees, right? :)
    A realization really hit me this year, though… if you’ve looked into the by-products of phosphate mining at all (same goes for the other chemicals, more-or-less), there’s a whole new dimension in the reasons NOT to go the chemical route: leave that uranium and fluoride gas where it is: it’s not a good trade-off!

    • Katie Kimball

      Love your attitude about that, Wendy! :) (not sure I want to know about those gases, yikes…)

  • Kelly

    For the last 7 years or so, we have used a company called In Harmony.
    They are a sustainable landscape company committed to educating people
    about eco-friendly practices. We use their lawn care service, which is
    seasonal feeding with kelp and organic fertilizer, micronutrients,
    beneficial microbes and corn gluten for weed seeds. They do aeration
    and overseeding once a year and will hand pull some dandelions if you
    have them during their seven visits. They do allow an option to spot
    spray broad leaf weeds only 1-3 times per season, but they educate and
    recommend other methods or simply some weed tolerance. (Hence the hand
    pulling.) Our lawn has some clover and a lot of moss (Pacific
    Northwest) but it is lush and green. We hardly ever even water. I let
    the front go dormant for a month in summer – back side of the house
    stays green all year due to more shade. It totally greens up within a
    day or so of the first fall rain. Our neighbors switched to In Harmony
    because they were so impressed with the health of the lawn area, and our
    worm population is super high. And my kids can run barefoot in the
    yard all they like! Our lawn mower guy sets his mowing deck high for
    the health of the grass too, so we’re good there. I watch neighbors up
    the street struggling for hours on end every week with sickly lawns,
    chem-lawn trucks, reseeding and dead patches and I am tempted to explain
    to them how dead their soil is. If they care about their lawn so much,
    natural is the way to make it love them back.

    • Katie Kimball

      Kelly,
      That’s awesome!! I am going to see if they have a franchise in our area, yay! I’d rather not spend money on our lawn, but if my husband gets too fed up with it, it’ll be worth it to keep the peace. :) Thank you! Katie

  • a.rogers

    we mow high as well and keep it pretty long… with a couple acres it just takes to much time that could be spent together… and your right it does feel better on the feet and makes for a cushier spot to lay a blanket on… you won’t be feeling all the bumps in the ground during a family picnic in the yard…. the sad thing is if all your neighbors are spraying and you live in the suburbs your yard is already ‘tainted’ not as much as if you did it yourself but still pretty coated which stinks b/c you don’t want it. Glad there are others who let their lawn grow some…it makes me feel better about our choice:)

    • Katie Kimball

      I know, it’s such a bummer that my neighbors’ choices effect me so much. :( I was at a neighborhood party and a gal from a different street was saying that the house next to them was always renters, who didn’t spray their grass of course, and so they had to use twice the sprays to keep their lawn nice! I was dying inside and also thinking, “I hope the people on either side of US don’t use double!!!” That would sort of diminish the advantages of what I’m doing!

  • susan hall

    Google the use of dandelions – they are good for you!

  • lastrohm

    We don’t put any chemicals on our lawn, either. My hubby does, however, have a nifty little tool that picks the dandelions out of the lawn by the root. He goes out for a few minutes every day and picks them and we have the best lawn on the block. Hate the chemical truck when it comes by and stops at a house in the neighborhood. I know we’re getting a dose of chemicals in our water system from the eventual runoff.

    • Katie Kimball

      Right…forgot that reason in the post. There are always more reasons to avoid the toxins, aren’t there?

  • Elisabeth

    Nowhere in nature do you find only one plant or only one animal growing in one place. To grow only grass on your lawn means that you’re actually fighting against the rules of nature that God put into place. It’s not worth the hassle just because somebody decided it was pretty.

    • Katie Kimball

      Love the way you phrased that, Elisabeth!! :) Katie

  • Betsy

    We cut our grass about every 10 days or so during cutting season. No fertilizers, etc. and chickens take care of the bugs. We do live in city limits. No real weed problems in front yard, and we view the dandelions in the back as pretty little pops of yellow against the naturally lush green grass. Do not understand why people make so much more work for themselves by putting all those chemicals on their lawns, not to mention the health effects.

  • KD

    We’ve been cutting our grass high for the last couple years because we read that a healthy grass will naturally deter weeds, and this year is the first year I was able to count on one hand all the thistles in our yard. And we have about 4 acres of mowing yard. We have a TON of dandelions, but we use them for tea, use the leaves in salads, they’re great for bringing the butterflies and honey bees around. Plus there’s tons of crafts you can do with them for little kids…hint hint, a head band, bracelets, “belts”, you name it!

    We LOVE our long grass :)

  • grammyprepper

    I don’t worry about the grass or the weeds…my problem is with the fleas and ticks…and we are continually searching for natural ways to treat as opposed to chemicals…

    • Tere Van Mater Thomas

      Natural remedy for fleas and tucks are guineas! They are great “watch dogs” too!

    • Katie Kimball

      Have you heard of diatomaceous earth? Might be a way to help!

  • Jenny

    There’s an ad for TruGreen between this article and the comment section. Ironic, no? Lol.

    • Katie Kimball

      Oh no!

      Yes, ironic…those ads show up without prior approval…

  • Goaty

    This year our lawn mower is two milk goats, cut and fertilized in one pass. Our lawn
    has never looked better.

  • Evin

    I see dandelions as a mark of pride. Lawns without dandelions belong to people who are poisoning our planet, children, and pets. I’m grateful my neighbors have dandelions :)

  • http://www.servingfromhome.com/ Lauren Mirecki

    Heh. I was JUST pulling my hair out yesterday over our lawn! ARGH! But this has helped change my perspective a bit. Plus, keeping the dandelions gives the kids an extra little job to pick off the heads ;0) Though we DO need to get rid of the thistles- ouchie!

  • Beth

    While looking for a “natural” product to apply to our yard, we were given an invaluable tip by a master grower pro at the local nursery. In the fall, when the leaves come down, don’t rake them and put them out for the city to suck up. Instead, mow them. This makes sense in so many ways. No more raking and inhaling the molds that dead leaves harbor. While this is definitely a plus (my kids hate raking and I am allergic to molds), there is an even bigger plus. The chopped up leaves actually “feed” the lawn naturally. It allows the soil to become aerated by way of the decaying leaves, therefore the grass roots can reach deeper and the grass grows thicker, thereby preventing most weeds from growing up and weed seeds actually getting through the grass to the soil below. It works and our lawn is one of the most beautiful in the neighborhood, sans chemicals.

  • Tony

    Our “lawn” that I mow, is a mixture of grass, dandelion, clover, ground ivy, plantain, crab-grass, henbit, and a few others.
    I do not waste $$$ on chemicals.