How to cultivate a chemical-free lawn so healthy, your neighbours will want to know these secrets.

1. Clover is not a weed. This plant naturally takes nitrogen out of the air and transfers it to the soil where your grass can utilize it. Don’t kill clover with herbicides. You’ll save money in two ways: the clover will supply free fertilizer and you won’t need to buy any harsh lawn chemicals. Caution: even lawn care products listing so-called "inert," "other," "unknown" or "unlisted" ingredients, or are described as "organic-based," can contain pesticides, heavy metals, hormone-disrupting chemicals, non-benign surfactants (soaps) and other toxic materials. Buy only products that list all their ingredients (so that they add up to 100 per cent).

2. In spring, sprinkle any bare lawn patches with a seed mixture of ryegrass, with 10 percent (by volume) Dutch white clover seed and 30 per cent (by volume) of a low maintenance grass seed mixture and some soil or compost. "Low maintenance" or "low input" mixtures can thrive on low nutrient levels. This is what you are looking for. Fine fescues require less moisture and nutrients and tolerate shade better than many Kentucky bluegrass varieties. Clover looks more uniform and quite beautiful when it is spread evenly throughout the lawn by dispersing seeding. Add lime in springtime if desired.

3. Hand pull plantain, dandelion and other plants at least twice a year-once in May and once in the fall. Some gardeners use vinegar to kill weeds or hire students to do the work. You can also use a "Bernzomatic" propane weed torch sparingly on the growing points (this is a wand used while standing up). Adding 15 centimetres (six inches) or more of any clean, seed-free mulch suppresses weed growth in unplanted areas and nourish the soil at the same time, but be careful of unlabelled herbicide-soaked bark mulches.

4. Mow the grass frequently (once a week), even if growth is slow, but do not cut it shorter than eight centimetres (three inches). The generous height keeps the turf healthy and resistant to drought and weed invasion. Let the clippings lie. They will feed and nourish the lawn for free. Thatch buildup is usually only a problem in very dry climates or where lawn chemicals have killed off earthworms and other organisms in the soil that break down thatch naturally (and keep chinch bugs in check). The health of your soil will gradually improve when you stop using chemicals and pesticides.

5. Around the end of October or early November, apply a "dormant feed" organic fertilizer such as fully mature compost. The combination of (1) dormant feed fertilizer, (2) recycling of clippings and leaves by mulch mowing and (3) clover should be enough to keep your lawn as green as those fertilized several times through the season with chemical fertilizers, but without their negative effects.

For further information on non-toxic landsaping information, explore the Real Alternatives to Toxins in the Environment Website at chebutco.ns.ca/environment/rate/.