How to have a healthy lawn

Like many Canadians, you probably take pride in having an attractive lawn. Find out how to care for your lawn as easily as possible, while reducing the need for pesticides!

Many people use lawn care products like herbicides and insecticides to maintain their lawns. But "cosmetic" pesticide use is now restricted and even banned in many communities across Canada.

There are ways to have a healthy lawn without using pesticides. And when you do have to use pesticides, there are ways to use them safely.

Top tips for a healthy lawn

A green and healthy lawn is easy to achieve with a bit of work. A little effort now will save you a lot of effort later, because healthy lawns are less vulnerable to pests, weeds, drought, and other problems.

Follow these seven tips:

  1. Mow high -- Cut your grass to a height of 6 to 8 centimetres (2.5 to 3 inches). This height (instead of cutting shorter) will promote growth, prevent weeds, and discourage insect pests.
  2. Water deeply -- Water your lawn deeply (but not too often) to promote the growth of deep roots. Apply about 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) of water, only when needed (usually no more than once a week). Place a small pet food or tuna can on the lawn to help you measure how much water has been applied. Stop watering when the can is full. Too much water starves the soil of oxygen and invites disease.
  3. Feed -- Feed your lawn with compost. Let grass clippings stay on your lawn to provide nutrients.
  4. Aerate-- Aerate compacted soil, ideally in the fall. This helps water, air, and nutrients reach plant roots more easily.
  5. Overseed -- Sow new seed over thinned areas, or choose other ground covers for tough spots.
  6. Replace -- Replace grass with paving stones or mulch in heavy traffic areas.
  7. Check -- Check your lawn often to detect pests and other problems early.

Fact sheets

For more help, check out these facts sheets, written to help you grow and maintain a healthy lawn:

Tips to reduce pesticide use

Set realistic goals

Whether you hire a professional or care for your lawn by yourself, having a healthy lawn and reducing your need to use pesticides requires making decisions. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of lawn do I want?
  • Can I tolerate a certain amount of weeds or other pests?
  • How can I prevent weed and pest problems?

Be practical about how you want your lawn to look. It may take a season or two of improving your lawn care practices to get the results you want.

Prevent problems

Preventing problems is the best way to maintain a healthy lawn:

  • Use correct fertilizing, aerating, mowing, top dressing, overseeding, and watering practices, as described above.
  • If a few weeds appear, pull them by hand.
  • Beneficial insects (like ladybugs and parasitic wasps) can keep pest insects in check.

Check for and identify problems

Check your lawn regularly, so that you can find pests and other problems early. Make sure to identify lawn problems correctly, then decide whether action is needed.

  • Plant damage may not be caused by pests. Plants can be injured by poor growing conditions, poor maintenance, road salt, or dog urine.
  • A few weeds or insect pests in healthy lawns is usually not cause for concern.
  • Knowing about the pest and its life cycle will help you decide if and when to take action, and how to prevent further problems. See Pest control tips for more information about controlling specific pests.

Use a variety of ways to deal with problems

Pest problems that keep coming back are often a sign that your lawn care practices need to change. These changes can include:

  • correcting drainage or fertility problems
  • adding lime
  • increasing mowing height
  • removing thatch

For help in dealing with common problems like weeds, pests, and diseases, see Dealing with lawn problems.

Include a mix of plants

Be sure to include a mix of many different plants and grasses in your lawn. A diverse landscape is better for the environment and can be easier to maintain, because it prevents pest problems from spreading to the whole lawn.

For places where it is hard to grow a lawn, try plants more adapted to the area. See Plant diversity for more information.

Protect animals and insects

It is important to protect birds, beneficial insects, earthworms, and other organisms that play an important role in keeping your lawn healthy.

  • Birds and predatory insects (like nematodes) feed on grubs and other pests.
  • Insects, earthworms, beneficial fungi, and other micro-organisms break down thatch and aerate the soil.

The best way to protect these beneficial animals and insects is to only use insecticides and fungicides when absolutely needed. See Understanding your lawn's lifecycle for more information.

Choosing a lawn care company

If you don't want to do it yourself, there are many companies that maintain lawns and control pests. Some may include services marketed as organic or pesticide-free.

To choose the option best for you:

  • Find out what programs and prices companies in your area offer, and what results you can expect.
  • Avoid lawn care programs that apply pesticides even when pests are not present.
  • If pesticides are used, make sure that they are used as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.

Important!

If you use a pesticide on your lawn, read the label to make sure you are choosing the right product for the right insect or weed. Follow all label directions and warnings carefully. Always look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label so you know the product has been approved by Health Canada. See Use pesticides safely for more safety tips.

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