Mow high and use organic fertilizers

What is a beautiful lawn? Is it always a uniform, two-inch tall field of emerald green without a single pesky dandelion in sight? There may be no right answer, as beauty is mostly a matter of opinion. But there is only one definition of a healthy lawn, and that is one that is green in both color and character. A healthy lawn thrives in harmony with its surrounding environment, and in our area that means Fishers Island Sound.

When we use chemical fertilizers on our lawns, stormwater washes them into the nearest waterbody, where they feed the growth of excess algae. These algal blooms block sunlight from bottom-rooted plants like the eelgrass that shelters growing shellfish and other marine life. When the algae die, they fall to the bottom, covering many inlets and coves with smothering “black mayonnaise.”  Excess algae foul boat engines, diminish our enjoyment of coastal waters, and harm the fishing, shellfishing, and tourist industries.

Chemical pesticides kill weeds and harmful insects, but they also kill beneficial insects and soil microbes. Pesticide runoff can kill immature fish as well as the aquatic insects and other invertebrates they feed on. Organic lawn care practices can eliminate weeds and harmful insects without sacrificing the environment.

The key to a healthy lawn is healthy soil, the foundation for healthy plants that are less susceptible to pests and disease. And the key to healthy soil is natural turf management– just as simple and effective as the traditional four-step synthetic fertilizer program and less expensive.

Here’s How:

  • Use organic fertilizers on flowers, shrubs, trees, and grass.
    • Click here to see a list of products recommended by Chip Osborne (of Osborne Organics, Inc.), the top national expert in the field of natural lawn and turf management.
    • Click here for a list of businesses in our region that carry these products.
  • Test your soil in March or April to determine its health.  A soil test is easy, quick, and cheap!
    • See below for instructions on how to sample and where to send your samples for analysis.
    • Have your soil test interpreted by someone who knows how to convert the recommendations from synthetic chemical to organic products. For help, contact CUSH or any of the accredited organic lawn care companies on this list.  Apply only what the soil test indicates that your lawn needs.  If needed, lime may be applied in early spring and early fall.  The most critical times to apply organic fertilizers are late May and late September.
  • Mow high (three to four inches instead of two).
  • Water only if needed and no more than one inch per week including rainfall.
  • Use compost and compost teas to build soil health. Just a quarter-inch application of a good organic compost once a year will do wonders.
  • Overseed in spring or fall to bring new life to existing lawns and fill in open spots.
  • Aerate to introduce air and space.  Grass roots need space to grow in, and beneficial microbes need air and space to thrive.
  • Contact CUSH for help in changing to organic lawn and turf management practices.

Home Ground Soil Sampling Instructions

Download and fill out the Soil Sample Questionnaire for Home Grounds and place in mailing envelope or a small box along with your sample and check for $8.00 per sample payable to UConn. Mail to: UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, 6 Sherman Place, Unit 5102, Storrs, CT 06269-5102.

Lime and fertilizer recommendations based on improperly taken soil samples may injure your plants.
Follow the instructions below to obtain a representative sample. Submit about ONE CUP of soil.

  1. Areas differing in appearance, slope, drainage, treatment or intended plant usage should be sampled and tested
    separately. Example:
    a. The lawn should be sampled separately from the vegetable garden.
    b. The blueberry patch should be sampled separately from the perennial garden.
    c. Areas under shade trees should be sampled separately from the lawn surrounding them.
    d. That portion of the vegetable garden recently limed should be sampled separately from the portion not limed.
    e. The upslope, dry part of the lawn should be sampled separately from the downslope, wet part of the lawn.
    f. Areas around shrubs should be sampled separately from the lawn.
  2. Where poor growth exists, take samples from both good and bad areas, if possible, and submit them separately.

How to Sample

  1. Using a spade, trowel or bulb planter (illustrated above), take cores or thin slices of soil from 10 or more
    random, evenly distributed spots in your sample area, to the appropriate depth indicated above.
  2. Put the cores or slices of soil in a clean container, and thoroughly mix them. Transfer at least ONE CUP of the soil
    mixture to the plastic bag and seal. Place the plastic bag in a mailing envelope or a small box along with this
    questionnaire. (If samples are excessively wet, dry them at room temperature before putting them in the plastic
    bag. Do not dry samples on a stove or radiator.)

University Of Connecticut – Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory
University Of Massachusetts – Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory

Those of us privileged to live near the water have a particular responsibility when it comes to gardening and landscaping. Not only do we need to be mindful about using organic fertilizers and natural pest controls, we also need to choose the right plants for the right places. It is critical for us to plant so as to minimize storm runoff, because that runoff and anything carried with it will end up in the Sound.

  • Plant rain gardens and shoreline buffers. Locate flower beds and shrubs where they will intercept surface runoff.
  • Use mulches and dig in compost to create a rich soil that will feed your plants, slow the infiltration of rainwater, and capture pollutants to keep them out of groundwater—and out of the Sound.
  • Plant a variety of native species suited to your landscape. Both shoreline and upland areas need plants that can tolerate our summer dry spells as well as rainy periods. If you live right on the shore, choose species that can also tolerate the salt breezes. For more information about coastal landscaping on Long Island Sound, click here. For detailed information on planting a rain garden, click here and here. A handy app can be found here.
  • Check your local garden supply store for organic pest controls. See below for Companion planting and other good ideas can be found in Organic Gardening magazine’s pest control center.
  • Work with organic lawn and landscaping companies.

List of Companion Plants

Here follows a list of some of the plants that grow well together, for the vegetable garden.





Tomato, Parsley, Basil



Most Herbs & Vegetables



Aromatic Herbs, Celery, Beets, Onion Family, Chamomile, Spinach, Chard

Strawberries, Tomato, Dill


Peas, Lettuce, Onion, Sage, Tomato



Nasturtium, Onion, Cabbage, Tomato



Beans, Peas, Sunflower, Raddish

Aromatic Herbs, Potato


Bean, Collard, Raspberry, Rose

Bean, Pea


Carrot, Radish, Strawberry, Cucumber



Beets, Carrot, Lettuce, Cabbage, Rose

Beans, Peas


Tomato, Asparagus



Carrots, Raddish, Turnip, Cucumber, Beans

Onions, Potato


Beans, Cabbage, Horseraddish, Marigolds

Sunflower, Cucumber, Tomato


Peas, Nasturtium, Lettuce, Cucumber



Strawberry, Faba Bean



Onion, Marigold, Asparagus, Carrot, Parsley, Cucumber

Cabbage, fennel, Potato




The benefits of companion planting is not only visible to the naked eye, but also the improvement of the micro-organisms in the soil.