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Eco-Friendly Lawn Practices?

Q. My lawn and I wish to be greener. Do you know of any lawn services that use environmentally safe fertilizer and other eco-friendly practices?

A. The number of such firms in and around the city is increasing. Some are full service, providing ongoing lawn maintenance and fertilization; others just do fertilization and weed control. One full-service company is Eco Care Landscaping (773-459-9575; ecocareonline.com), chemical-free since its founding in 2003. Lawn services include clean-up, aeration, fertilization, mowing, edging, dethatching, and trimming.

“The biggest key to organic lawn maintenance,” says owner Joe Fattori, “is to mow the grass so it’s no lower than two and a half inches. Three is ideal.” Otherwise too much sun penetrates the turf and weeds start to grow. Fattori’s crews use gas-powered mulching mowers, which leave the chopped-up grass clippings on the lawn, providing nutrients. His mowers are the most energy-efficient on the market but he’s also researching battery-operated mowers. “I will use them as soon as they come out with one that can hold a long-enough charge,” says Fattori. “And if we can sweep, we will, to avoid using blowers.”

Fattori uses organic fertilizers and weed preventatives. He hasn’t yet found an organic answer to pest control, other than maintaining a healthy lawn.The rates start at $25 a week for mowing and $35 per fertilizer application, which is suggested three or four times a season. Eco Care services the North Side of the city, plus Lincolnwood, Skokie, Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park.

Another full-service company is Greenwise Organic Lawn Care (224-577- 9473, iamgreenwise.com), now in its second season of operation. Lindsay Stame, who owns the company with partner Marc Wise, says they are huge advocates of soil testing; they send samples to a lab to learn what nutrients your soil needs, and they use soil amendments such as compost, worm castings, seaweed, and corn gluten meal.

Stame says such materials make grass grow noticeably faster. “The payoff is worth it,” she says. “The lawn will start to take care of itself, with less watering and fewer weeds.” The company’s lawn mowers are EPA-certified in all 50 states, and are being retrofitted to run on propane, which, says Stame, burns cleaner than gas. Her crews will use a push mower if a customer insists, but Stame says they don’t give a clean look—and “they take forever.”

These practices result in a higher overhead, but Greenwise tries to keep prices competitive to make its services accessible to as many homeowners as possible. Lawn maintenance—mowing, edging, trimming, and removing debris in a typical city-lot-sized yard is $25 to $40 a week. Fertilization, depending on size of yard and materials used, ranges from $50 to $85 per application. Greenwise serves the north suburbs from Evanston to Lake Forest, and also Mount Prospect.

For a lawn service that takes care of fertilization and weed and pest control only, you can call Bill Leuenberger, soil and turf manager at Chalet (3132 Lake Ave., Wilmette, 847-256-0561; chaletnursery.com). He uses integrated turf-management techniques, combining organic products with a minimal use of chemicals to get the healthiest lawns. He will use organic fertilizer for shade turf where crabgrass will not grow, for example, but synthetic fertilizer with weed preventer for full-sun turf. He’s all about building good microbes that outperform bad ones. One application of fertilizer costs $70 to $80 and is recommended five times a season. Chalet serves the Chicago area from North Avenue to the Wisconsin border.

JUST ASK Have a design or renovation question? We’ll do our best to answer it.
E-mail us at chicagohome@chicagomag.com. Sorry, we cannot take questions by phone, or guarantee individual responses.

Related: Now and Zen


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