Try these simple organic lawn care and garden tips when you need a quick and easy outdoor upgrade.
1. Try a snazzy cut.
Instead of cutting in straight lines, cut your lawn at angles for that that golf course or baseball field look. For a square or rectangular lawn, start in one corner and cut across the middle of the lawn to the other corner. "Corner-to-corner is the first pass you want to make, then keep every pass with the lawn mower parallel to that corner-to-corner," explains Mark Smallwood, executive director of the Rodale Institute, an organic research farm in Pennsylvania.
You can also use a stryper apparatus (a rolling device you hook up to your mower that helps create a striped pattern on your lawn) for a similar effect—that's what golf courses and baseball field landscapers use.
2. Mow wisely.
Even if you don't opt for a golf course–like cut, there are steps you can take to quickly create a more inviting lawn. Smallwood recommends raising your lawnmower deck to at least 3 inches, which is usually as high as most residential lawnmowers go. "This height will eliminate a lot of broadleaf weeds," he says. Mowing your grass too low could turn your green grass brownish and eliminate taller grass's weed-suppressing shade.
3. Apply a quick, chemical-free lawn feeding.
If you're tempted to coat your lawn with chemical fertilizers to give your grass a boost before guests arrive, don't. For nontoxic lawn nourishment, broadcast one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch of high-quality compost over your lawn using a shovel. Compost nourishes beneficial soil microbes and doesn't contain harsh salts the way many chemical fertilizers do, and you could see some improvement in just a few days.
4. Burn out weeds safely.
Instead of reaching for Roundup or other harmful synthetic pesticides to kill weeds creeping up through sidewalk or driveway cracks, try using BurnOut, an organic weed killer made of food-grade vinegar and clove oil. Just be sure to spray it directly on weeds on a warm, sunny day for the best effect.
You can also use BurnOut to quickly and organically kill weeds in the yard; however, it will temporarily leave a brown spot, and you'll need to reseed the area to shade out new weed growth. (You might want to save that project for after your guests leave.) Smallwood recommends reseeding with Pearl's Premium grass seed. It thrives without chemicals, and once established, you don't ever have to water it.
5. Give your lawn an edge.
Tidily edged beds and sidewalk areas give a landscape a professional look. "Whether the bed lines are straight or curved, they'll look better crisp rather than ragged," says Doug Hall, senior editor of Organic Gardening magazine.
A round-point spade is among the most effective tools for edging lawns. Hold it at a right angle and insert the spade into the soil right along the garden border or sidewalk, and push it along the edge for a clean cut similar to that of a powered electric edger. (But without the pollution.)
6. Make the most of mulch.
Apply a fresh layer of untreated mulch to your flower beds for a fresh, clean look, or simple rake the existing mulch lightly for the same groomed effect. Just stay away from synthetically dyed mulches, and if you have dogs or your guests do, avoid cocoa bean shell mulch—it's potentially toxic to pooches. For more info, read How—and Why—to Mulch the Heck out of Your Garden.
7. Create one focal flower pot.
"Instead of diffusing your efforts all over the yard, plant one big, beautiful container, and place it on the deck or patio, or wherever the guests will congregate," suggests Hall. "Instant gratification."
Organic Gardening magazine offers the following recommendations for choosing the right container plants:
• Choose plants that will last all season in your container, such as summer annual flowers or tropical plants with bright foliage, as opposed to spring ephemerals or bulbs.
• Consider the light exposure where the container will be placed, then select plants for that exposure—sun or shade.
• Since soil in small pots dries out faster, larger containers are easier to keep watered when the weather turns hot; however, big pots are heavy to move, so put the container in place before filling it with soil.
• Tap OrganicGardening.com for container planting design and plant combination tips.