Chicago lawn care expert: Going organic takes time

Chicago lawn care expert: Going organic takes time

Environment has been Jeff Swano’s business ever since he cut lawns as a teenager. He studied environmental economics in college and spent 20 years as an environmental consultant. In 2004, he brought all his experience together with landscaping and formed Dig Right In Landscaping Inc. in Brookfield, Ill. “We were green way before it was cool to be green,” Swano says.

What's the difference between organic lawn care versus the chemical alternative, and what are some pros and cons to each?

Organic lawn care is a distinct alternative to chemical-based lawn care. It's about getting away from the chemicals that have a lot of downsides, such as chemical waste, carbon footprint and runoff into lakes and streams.

Organic lawn care is as much a strategy as a process. Chemical lawn care is instant gratification — apply the chemicals and your lawn is green and weed-free. Organic care takes time. So we educate the customer on what to expect, and tell them to be patient.

The root of the strategy is reconditioning the soil. Chemicals kill the food web in the soil — the fungus, bacteria and beneficial organisms that naturally fertilize the soil. You don't see anybody fertilizing the forest.

So we reintroduce the food web. We do that with a compost tea we brew ourselves. We add microorganisms and apply them to the lawn with a sprayer. We aerate the lawn and overseed it. Overseeding stuffs your lawn with grass so there's not room for weeds to get a foothold.

Test the soil before doing anything. How do you know what your soil needs if it hasn't been tested? That's one of the big problems with chemical fertilizing — you just apply the chemical, whether you need it or not.

The biggest misconception about organic lawn care is that it doesn't work. We're trying to overcome years of chemical dependency. It takes time, and it's a little more expensive. You're paying for something that's better for the environment, and you're paying for expertise and knowledge.

There aren't any legal requirements about what can be labeled organic. Customers have to be especially savvy when hiring someone to do organic lawn care. Ask about the company's background, talk to the people who will be delivering the services, and ask about the products they're using and what's in it. If they can't guarantee that it's 100 percent organic, you should keep looking around.

There's a lot of things you can do yourself to take care of your lawn naturally. Water is the ultimate nonchemical fertilizer. If you give it one inch of water a week, you'll grow a thicker, stronger root system, which keeps out weeds. I recommend people go to safelawns.org to educate themselves.

If you've been a customer of Dig Right In Landscaping Inc., please submit a report about your experience.


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