How to break your lawn’s addiction to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides

Looking out her kitchen window one day, Libby Scancarello watched as her three kids, two dogs, and one cat all gamboled happily together on her lush, green lawn—and freaked out.

“I just kept thinking that the chemicals we had sprayed on it every year probably weren’t the best thing for them to be playing in,” says Scancarello, who lives in Troy, Ohio. So she decided to do something about it. She fired her lawn-care company and hired PureLawn Organic Lawncare, a Cincinnati-based company that uses only chemical-free fertilizers and biological pest and disease control. “I haven’t looked back since,” says Scancarello, adding that her yard looks as lush as ever.

If the numbers of natural lawn-care services and products hitting the market are any indication, a lot of homeowners would like to do the same. To many of them, a mere glance at the “Keep out of reach of children” labels on most pesticides and herbicides is reason enough.

The underlying philosophy behind organic lawn care is this: Healthy, chemical-free soil begets robust lawns that can virtually take care of themselves. After years of being inundated by chemicals to fend off grubs, eradicate weeds, and green up the turf, the natural capacity of the soil to perform these tasks itself has ceased operation, practitioners say. Cut it off from the chemicals cold turkey, and you’ll get things running again—naturally. And once the soil’s healthy, you might never have to deal with pesticides, herbicides, even fertilizers again. “That’s the thing about going organic,” says Eileen Gunn of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group. “Not only do you get a nice, safe, healthy lawn, it is also a more sustainable one over the long term.”