Whether to stay on top of the trends or to fit with a eco-friendly lifestyle, many Central Ohioans are taking their lawns in a truly green direction

The greenest lawn in the neighborhood: It's an ideal of suburban America, a point of pride for homeowners and a source of frustration for envious neighbors. But today, having the greenest lawn refers to much more than the color of the grass.

A growing number of Central Ohio homeowners are going truly "green" with natural lawn-care products. Some have concerns related to potential health and environmental problems associated with synthetic lawn-care products. Others are simply staying on top of the trends.

For Rachel Hannon of the Northwest Side, who switched to an organic lawn-care service five years ago, going organic was a lifestyle fit.

"I love how you can get right back on the lawn after treatments," says Hannon, who in the past used harsher lawn-care chemicals. There was a waiting period before she and her two sons could play on the shaded turf.

The Hannons-with their desire for chemical-free lawn care products-are part of a growing trend.

"Since we began offering organic lawn-care services in 2002, it has grown exponentially," says Jenn Elfner, office manager for Elfner Organic Lawn Care in Delaware.

"It seems to have grown alongside the entire organic food and lifestyle movement," she adds. "Once someone learns the potential risks associated with using chemicals in one part of their life, it begins to open their eyes to how chemicals can also affect other aspects of their life."

Matt Cellura, co-owner and manager of Good Nature Organic Lawn in Columbus, concedes. "The driving interest usually is a combination of family and pet wellbeing," says Cellura, whose company treats the Hannons' yard. "Our customers also have the desire to maintain beautiful landscapes without chemical use."

The Organic Approach

Organic products generally come from natural sources with limited processing. For instance, corn gluten (essentially corn meal) is used to prevent crabgrass and other weed seeds from growing, while also helping to feed the grass.

The prime difference with an organic approach is the emphasis on soil quality. That's because most of what a plant needs to live comes through the roots, not the leaves. "Healthy soil equals healthy grass," Cellura says.

Various animal-manure fertilizers, compost and other natural substances encourage growth of the soil's beneficial micro-organisms. This improves soil quality, which helps roots better absorb water, oxygen and nutrients.

But the organic approach, like traditional lawn care, still requires periodic fertilizing, treatments for weeds and pests, and regular mowing to produce a dense lawn-the best defense against problems. Even organic proponents say there may be some weeds.

An organic approach may not be for everyone-costs for products and maintenance can be high. And patience is required, because it takes about two years to improve the soil quality enough for grass to thrive. Some weeds will still pop up, although organic herbicides have improved.

Know Your Lawn

While the principles are sound, standards are few when it comes to what constitutes organic lawn care. Experts on both sides advise homeowners to learn all they can before signing up.

"I don't think consumers fully understand it," says Jeff Bisker, president of Your Lawn Inc. in Ashville, Ohio. Being natural or organic is not necessarily a virtue in lawn care, Bisker says.

Bisker, who's worked in the lawn-care industry since the 1980s, suggests homeowners ask how grubs, chinch bugs and other pests will be managed. Weed control is another area of concern. He knows of "organic" services using the same synthetic weed killers he does in his traditional lawn service.

"Ask the lawn company for detailed information on every product that will be applied to your lawn," he says. "It's your right to know."

Hannon says she did a lot of research before switching.

"I think I was a doubter when we first started," she says. Looking at her lawn, which is just as green and thick as her neighbors', Bisker adds, "It can work."