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How to have a safe and healthy lawn

Many towns are passing town ordinances regulating the use of pesticides and fertilizers. The goal of these ordinances is a mandate to protect the health of people and pets, and to protect the environment, the soil, drinking water, and waterways. Runoff of chemicals and high nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers into streams, rivers, and the ocean are of concern.

Mitigate negative impacts of pesticides and fertilizers

Incorporating best management practices for the use of pesticides and fertilizers is an important and impactful step to mitigate the negative impacts of these products. It is the responsibility of the homeowner and the treatment applicators to follow best management practices (BMP) when applying these products. The homeowner should inquire of the applicator about the schedule and type of treatment that is being proposed over the course of a lawn season. The homeowner should be aware of what the applications are for; i.e. pesticides, weed killers, high nitrogen and or phosphorus fertilizers. Weed control should be done by spot treatment only, and if only absolutely necessary.

Successful organic lawns begin with installation

A successful organic lawn can be achieved with proper organic methodology, especially in the installation process. New home lawns may have highly compacted gravel and blasted rock fill from the construction process. The first step is to loosen the compacted construction soil on site using mechanical means to a depth of 6-10 inches depending on the site. The key to a successful organic lawn is the development of a deep and thick root system, and that requires the right soil. The first step is a good soil mix of loam and compost, at least 4” deep over subsoil, and 6-7” deep over sandy base or rocky base. This soil depth and composition enables deep root growth and holds more moisture. A starter lawn fertilizer and a quality grass seed are a must and more importantly is to keep either the seed or a sod installation with sufficient watering.
Post new lawn installation and in the maintenance of an existing lawn, aerating the lawn, topdressing with compost and over seeding will help to add more organic matter to the soil and subsequent additional root growth. An organic fertilizer applied spring and fall are recommended based upon a soil test which may recommend additional amendments. Several years may be needed to accomplish a successful transition from a chemically treated lawn to an organically maintained lawn. The homeowner may also need some flexibility in tolerating a few weeds during this time.

10 things you can do for a safe & healthy lawn

The Town of Kennebunkport developed a “Lawn for Lobsters” educational program, “10 Simple Steps toward a safe & healthy lawn for people, pets & lobsters”. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Leave at least a 25’ buffer zone between lawn areas and sensitive vegetation and waterways.
  2. Test your soil to determine what products your lawn really needs.
  3. Know the size of your lawn and only use the quantity of fertilizer needed.
  4. Water wisely and infrequently to encourage deep root growth.
  5. Regularly over seed your lawn to develop dense roots to out compete weeds.
  6. Mow high and leave clippings.
  7. Apply fertilizer in the fall if only one application annually.
  8. Apply fertilizer when rain is not predicted for 24 hours to avoid runoff.
  9. Manage pest problems with targeted area applications.
  10. Be patient for the transition from a chemical lawn to an organic, the Conservation Commission face book page

We hope that you will consider the health of your family, pets, and the environment when deciding on your lawn care. Visit the Kennebunkport Conservation Commission’s page at (click “appointed boards”) for more information on best management practices for lawn care. The Conservation Commission also has a facebook page, which posts links on environmental issues and organic land care. You can also email the Conservation Commission at