The basics of natural yard care

As project manager of the City of Renton’s Natural Yard Care program, solid waste program specialist Spencer Orman knows a lot about yard maintenance done green. Spring is upon us, which means it’s almost time to start improving the health of your lawn. Orman recommends waiting until May to start on your lawn, to ensure the soil has warmed up.

  • Monday, April 7, 2008 10:59pm
  • News

Spencer Orman demonstrates how to remove a dandelion on the yard outside Renton City Hall. A solid waste specialist for the City of Renton

As project manager of the City of Renton’s Natural Yard Care program, solid waste program specialist Spencer Orman knows a lot about yard maintenance done green. Spring is upon us, which means it’s almost time to start improving the health of your lawn. Orman recommends waiting until May to start on your lawn, to ensure the soil has warmed up.

Following are basic steps every lawn-owner (or renter) should take to ready their yard for spring and summer. Do all of the steps, or pick and choose, Orman says.

• Aerate – This means poking holes in your grass to improve drainage. Worms will do the job if your soil is healthy. Otherwise, you may have to give nature a hand. If you have a small yard and want exercise, do the job manually with a two-pronged tool. Or rent an aerator or hire someone to aerate.

• Sprinkle your lawn with grass seed. Orman says a mixture of perennial rye grass and fine fescue is best suited for Pacific Northwest weather, and will result in the best-looking lawn. These two grasses are sold in a mix. Orman highly recommends using more than one type of grass seed, because lawn problems spread faster in just one type of grass. Perennial rye grass and fine fescue are a good combination because the former is best in sunnier areas and can better handle wear, while fine fescue is best in shaded areas and can better handle moisture.

• Immediately follow up the grass seed with compost and/or a slow-release natural/organic fertilizer. Orman highly recommends compost, but says fertilizer often isn’t necessary. Spread half an inch to an inch of compost atop the lawn. This helps break up and improve soil and drainage. Make compost yourself or buy it at your local nursery. If using fertilizer, apply it after the compost.

• Set your lawnmower higher. Many people set their mowers too low, Orman says, which inhibits root growth. Mowers should be set to two and a half to three inches.

• Lawns should be mowed once a week, and grass clippings left on the lawn. Clippings feed the lawn, acting as a fertilizer.


• Orman recommends gardeners mix in an inch or two of compost into their soil to improve drainage and add nutrients, making it easier for plants to grow.

• Gardeners should also layer mulch atop their soil. Mulch can be compost, wood chips or shredded leaves. Mulch keeps in moisture and buffers heavy rains. It will also break down over time, acting as a compost.

Weeds, pests

• Prevention: Carefully decide on the proper location of each plant in your lawn and garden, and ensure your soil is healthy. These steps will greatly reduce any lawn or garden problems. “The most important thing people can do in their yards and gardens is make sure their soil is healthy and know the conditions best suited for the plant,” Orman says.

• Identify: Before deciding on a method of removal, Orman says people should identify the problem.

Weed treatment:

• The first step is identifying the weed, Orman says. Some weeds are actually good for your garden. Clover, for example, helps add nitrogen to the soil, feeding your lawn. Dandelions, however, are a classic pest, and should be removed.

• Most weeds can be removed manually, by using tools like a long-handled weed puller. Orman discourages the use of herbicides or fertilizers, and urges using less toxic products whenever possible.

Pest treatment:

• Let nature run its course: Some pests can be dealt with by simply letting nature run its course, Orman says. “What can be a pest is also food, and beneficial to an insect or an animal,” he says. “If you leave some, you’ll get insects that will come into your yard and take care of them on their own.” Birds eat worms, for example, and ladybugs eat aphids, which are the green, black or gray bugs that suck juices from plants.

• Pick or hose bugs off: If nature doesn’t run its course fast enough, Orman says people can simply pick off the offending bugs, or use a hose to wash them away. Slugs can be killed naturally by removing the slimy creatures and dunking them in a dish of beer.

• If nothing is working, people may resort to organic or less toxic insecticidal sprays. Orman recommends a soapy vegetable oil spray that dries insects in place. This spray is available in most garden stores.

Emily Garland can be reached at or (425) 255-3484, x. 5052.




• For tips and information on water quality, waste reduction, yard care and recycling, visit the City of Renton’s Web site at and click on the living tab and then the environment tab.

• For more on where to recycle all kinds of materials, visit the King County Solid Waste Division Web site at

• Spring Recycling Day 2008 is May 10 fro 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in the north parking lot of Renton Technical College, at N.E. Sixth Place and Monroe Ave. N.E.

For accepted items and more information, call 425-430-7396 or visit the City of Renton’s Web site at and click on the Living tab and then the Environment tab and recycling events.

Natural yard



• Northwest Natural Yard Days is April 15 – May 15. Sixty-four retailers are offering discounts on natural yard care products during this time. Find out more at

• The City of Renton typically holds four natural yard care seminars a year: two in fall and two in spring. Watch for mailings and the City’s Web site ( for more information.

• For more information about natural yard care, contact the Garden Hotline at 206-633-0224 or, or call Spencer Orman at 425-430-7396.

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