To maintain an eco-friendly lawn or garden, you need to start with healthy, fertile soil. Determine what kind of soil you have so you know what you’ll be working with. There are clay soils, loam soils and sand soils. Loam is usually ideal because of its moisture retention and efficient drainage. Clay contains a lot of nutrients, but doesn’t drain as quickly as loam. Sand drains quickly, but doesn’t retain as many nutrients or as much water.
Pick up a handful of your soil and squeeze it. If it crumbles when you open your hand, you have loamy soil. If it doesn't crumble, you have clay soil. Sandy soil will fall apart immediately. Knowing what kind of soil you have will help you figure out how much organic fertilizer and soil amendments you'll need for a naturally successful crop. Someone at local True Value hardware store can help you determine what you need.
Do a pH test. Your soil's acidity plays a big part in the success of your plantings. For the most part, plants grow best in soil with a neutral pH. You can pick up a pH test kit at local True Value hardware store.
Decaying organic matter is a must for fertile soil because it fights erosion and provides a favorable habitat for beneficial organisms like earthworms. It also creates carbon dioxide as it decays, which helps plants absorb minerals from the soil. Without this, the soil cannot support healthy, thriving plants. Synthetic fertilizers can help, but plants will not grow as well as if they were in naturally rich, nutrient-filled soil. Natural organic amendments like compost and manure are essential to create such a nutrient-rich environment. Compost is a key factor to healthy soil. When making new flower beds or seeding a lawn, add compost to strengthen the soil. Compost aids the growth of useful microbes, neutralizing soil pH and supplying nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Best of all, you can make it yourself. See Use a Compost Bin below.
Mulch is a layer of organic material like chopped leaves, wood chips, compost or grass clippings that is spread to keep soil healthy in flower beds, gardens and lawns. It protects soil from the sun and holds in moisture. It also keeps out weeds and prevents erosion. You should add a thick layer (3" maximum) of mulch in flowerbeds and around trees every year.
Another aspect of maintaining an eco-friendly lawn includes aerating your soil to cut down on thatch and improve drainage. Aerating your lawn in the fall will give you healthy grass in the spring. Aerating allows for greater movement of water, fertilizer and air. It also increases the speed of mulch decomposition and encourages deep root growth, so be sure to aerate before applying fertilizer. You can aerate your lawn with a hand cultivator or a mechanical aerator.
For moderately compacted soil in a limited area, systematically dig holes in the soil with a spading or digging fork. Holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. If you're dealing with a larger area or you want to make the task easier, there are several types of push spike aerators you can rent or purchase. Some models look like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. Others are designed as attachments that fit behind a power mower. For medium-to-large areas, you'll want to rent a gas-powered spiking aerator.