Trends in Home Lawn Care


Pick your type of lawn.

For most individuals their type of lawn often comes down to their budget, local rules, and what conditions the lawn will be growing in.

Organic Lawn Care

Fifteen to 20 years ago homeowners had few choices in managing their lawns besides what traditional lawn care programs were offered by lawn care companies and the products offered in garden centers. Like all other areas that surround our lives, lawn care products have evolved as well.  Fertilizer formulations, protection products have all improved, allowing for better effectiveness, more uniformity of application, and a safer environment than those of the past.

As society has come to recognize that we impact the environment around us, a growing trend in lawn care is the realization that there are organic alternatives now that were not available to the homeowner a few decades prior.

In Illinois, for example, if you compare lawns to field crops like corn and soybeans, lawns would be the third largest crop grown. What we apply to our lawns certainly impacts our environment.

Today organic lawncare has moved beyond trendy and become a mainstream technique for managing a home lawn or choosing your lawn care company. This website includes organic products that can be used on your lawn and will reference organics whenever appropriate and where a known product exists. Organic products can be produced from by-products of animal, grain and fish industries. They are formulated to provide macro and micro-nutrients, humus, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and enzymes that feed the living soil organisms, which in turn feed grass plants. Organic products can be applied as liquid or dry materials, very similar to the inorganic products we have known in the past. Homeowners can now make these organic applications themselves or have their lawn treated by lawn care companies offering organics.

Transitioning to organic lawn care from conventional will typically take two to three years.

The lawn will begin to respond to organic management better each year. Weeds can still be a problem in certain situations; yet organic weed control products continue to be developed. Many such as iron-based herbicides are still new to the research world but are currently offered commercially. University recommendations are working to keep up with an ever-expanding organic chemical market.

Proper soil preparation is critical for establishing a lawn by seed or sod. This includes having a soil test done to be sure the proper soil amendments if needed are incorporated into the soil bed. Other lawn care practices such as proper mowing, water management, soil aeration and thatch control are no different than what has recommended by University of Illinois Extension for many years. By following good management practices, your lawn will benefit whether you utilize traditional or organic products.

Phosphorous in Lawn Fertilizer

In 2010, Illinois legislation amended The Lawn Care Products Application and Notice Act that prohibits any commercial lawn care company from “applying a phosphorous –containing fertilizer to a lawn, except as demonstrated to be necessary by a soil test established that the soil is lacking in phosphorus ....”  Homeowners are exempted from this law, and there are other situations where a commercial lawn care company can apply phosphorous to a lawn. So does a homeowner need to apply phosphorous to their lawn? A soil test would tell you if your lawn was lacking any nutrients, but generally speaking across Illinois, our soils have enough phosphorus to support a healthy lawn. When selecting a fertilizer look for bags that do not contain phosphorus and focus on nitrogen applying only 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at any one time.


What’s the big deal? 

When phosphorus is applied in excess, run-off can occur. High levels of phosphorus in lakes and streams can lead to toxic-algae blooms. Several states have similar laws restricting phosphorus.

In cities and suburbs, the incremental runoff of phosphorus from sources like lawn fertilizer—whether organic or conventional—is a serious concern because it feeds algae and weeds in waterways. When it rains, paved roads, sidewalks and roofs rush pollutants into storm drains that lead to waterways. Research suggests that just one pound of phosphorus can feed 300‐500 pounds of algae in a water body. While most algae blooms are generally harmless to humans, decomposing algae and weeds take up oxygen in the water that is vital to fish and other animals.

Environmentally, it is in everyone’s best interest to lower the levels of phosphorous that are applied to the soil and may later migrate into our water resources.

No mow lawns

A new trend that seeks to reduce lawn maintenance and resources used on the lawn care is a No Mow Lawn. A No Mow Lawn is typically comprised of fine fescue species and recommended for areas that do not encounter much foot traffic. These lawns typically grow 6- to 12-inches tall. Despite the name of no-mow, these lawns still do require at least one or two annual mowings. This is often done in early spring to remove the dead grass from the previous year. Often this will require raking up the excess amount of clippings so as to not smother the lawn for the current year’s growth. Other no mow lawn options include buffalograss which is a native shortgrass prairie species. Buffalograss performance in Illinois is variable as it is more adapted to arid conditions. Turf breeders are working to create cultivars of buffalograss that perform better east of the Mississippi River.


No-Mow May

In an effort to provide early spring pollinator resources and reduce fossil fuel use on lawn care, some people may practice No Mow May. The concept of no-mow May originated in Europe, which has a slightly different climate than Illinois. Because of this, no-mow May is not well-suited to Illinois lawns.

If your lawn has few broadleaf flowering plants, not mowing will only allow the grass to grow taller, which won’t provide pollinator resources. Eventually, the lawn will need to be cut and removing more than one-third of the leaf blade will stress the grass plant. The lawn will likely require additional inputs to rehabilitate the lawn after a drastic removal of leaf surface. This may wipe out any fossil fuel savings from not mowing for a month.

If homeowners wish to participate in a no mow event, timing is important based upon typical climate and current weather. Ideal windows for Southern Illinois would be mid-March into mid-April. For northern and central Illinois the month of April would be a possible window for no-mow. This is commonly when we see early blooming plants like dandelion begin to flower.

A recommended alternative to no-mow May is to continue to mow your lawn as usual but reduce the lawn's size by installing pollinator-friendly landscape beds. Eliminate spraying herbicides on your lawn and tolerate broadleaf plants growing among the turfgrass.

You can find more information on helping our pollinators at Extension's Illinois Pollinators website.