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The Natural Lawn Care for Healthy Soils Challenge
Teams combat climate change with lawns and by replacing impervious surfaces with grass.

Top 12 Reasons for More Emerald Bracelets in Our Towns by Not Spreading Quick-Release Fertilizer on Lawns


Announcing a challenge to restore the ecological function of our grass lawns with healthy soils and a myriad of life in the rhizosphere beneath the turf.

Winners are the teams with the highest percentage of households pledging not to spread quick-release fertilizer or harmful chemicals. Teams are scored by total number, by town and by watershed.

Lawn Challenge 2022 featured on WCVB Chronicle Magazine. We’re at 2:30 minutes into the broadcast

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Join a team or form your own team

or just 

Take the pledge to go natural lawn.

“Mowing less frequently is practical, economical, and a timesaving alternative to lawn replacement or even planting pollinator gardens. Given the pervasiveness of lawns coupled with habitat loss, our findings provide immediate solutions for individual households to contribute to urban conservation.” Contosta UNH. Mystic River Photo: R Moir

Natural lawns build soil, draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, stop harmful algal blooms, restore local water cycles to slow sea level rise, better protect homes from extreme weather events, and provide flowers for 93 species of Massachusetts bees.1

Let your lawn be. The grass will strengthen symbiotic relationships below, pull down more carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and push out as root exudate carbohydrates (liquid carbon) to build soil.

Grass can create an inch of soil a year, about 150 tons of soil per acre of lawn.  With every ton of liquid carbon added to the ground, grass pulls from the atmosphere more than 4 tons of carbon dioxide.  For the average Massachusetts yard (about 14,871 square feet) that could be a reduction of 138 tons of CO2 that is no longer smothering us as carbon in the atmosphere.

Fight climate change with grass lawns, naturally. Save money while making life better for robins, rabbits and wildlife.

Join a natural lawns team or form your own

Stop the use of quick-release fertilizer on established lawns. When it’s  spread, grass plants “green up quick” with thin blades separated by thirsty roots that sprawl on the surface. In between, exposed dirt spots called “sunspills” bake and harden. Fertilizer and compost (excess nutrients) kills soil-beneficial nematodes. Carbon in the ground oxidizes, micro-organisms die, and soil turns to dirt. Printed on the bag are instructions to apply five times a year.  Any more applications or more than recommended will burn the grass. Any less and the grass grows better. The lawn care industry hawks “overseeding” to fill in the gaps along with grub prevention and weed control (problems created by the application of quick-release fertilizer).

Much of the fertilizer put on lawns is washed into waterways to feed harmful algal blooms and create ocean dead zones. Natural lawns don’t pollute.

Pledge to Rescue Lawns, Restore Local Water Cycles, & Slow Sea Level Rise

Why a natural lawn?

Grass plants develop symbiotic relationships with fungi and bacteria to form vast networks of mycorrhizae that reaches out beyond the turf to benefit other plants and become the largest organism in the world. (One application of Roundup will kill about a quarter of the mycorrhizae network.)

A healthy microbial network carries nutrients and essential minerals prepared by bacteria to plants. Individual plant cells are connected by hyphae and can signal whatever is needed.  The signal is picked up by bacteria specializing in that compound and the transaction is completed.

Letting your lawn go natural, and pledging to not spread harmful fertilizer, helps healthy grass to grow, and leaves little room for unwanted weeds. The lawn will likely consist of more than one type of grass, with other low plants such as clover mixed in.

Restore natural cycles

Restore water cycles in our neighborhoods by not fertilizing the lawn. Let your lawn build more chemical-free soil where micro-organisms, nematodes, mites, springtails and worms move about creating space for water retention.

A lawn with four inches of healthy soil below will hold seven inches of rain water.  Plant stomata release water to cool and condense water with the morning dew to give off heat.  With less water runoff, there is less erosion and ultimately less sea level rise.

Bring back to balance carbon, nutrient and water cycles. Let your lawn go natural to have more soil, healthier wildlife, greater diversity, and a better quality of life.

Pledge to Rescue Lawns, Restore Local Water Cycles, & Slow Sea Level Rise

Join a Natural Lawns Team 

Choose a watershed or town

For more information:

Why Stop Using Quick-release Fertilizer?


What is Slow-release Fertilizer?
The four most recommended slow-release fertilizers are Gro-sure All Purpose 6 months Feed, ChemPak Slow Release Feed+ Forget Garden Plant Year Long Fertilizer, Osmocote Controlled Release Plant Feed, and Miracle-Gro All Purpose Continuous Slow Release Plant Food.


How does fertilization affect my lawn’s soil food web?

Natural pest repellent lost with fertilizer application

What is soil compaction, and what does it have to do with fertilizer?

How does fertilizing affect water use

Harmful Algal Blooms, Eutrophication and Dead Zones

Westford Wildlife Watch — caring for nature means chemical-free lawns, Eagle Independent, June 27, 2021

Where We're Working On This
The Natural Lawn Care for Healthy Soils Challenge. See where we're actively working on this.

How You Can Help
The Ocean River Institute provides individuals around the world with specific opportunities to make a difference saving wildlife, protecting ecosystems, in environmental education, science, and conservation.