How to set achievable, but challenging goals for your organic lawn or garden…

MGG’s Ryan Anderson explains goal setting, tolerance thresholds, and other planning mechanisms to use for management of your yard.

Photo Courtesy of EarthWorks Turf

Photo Courtesy of EarthWorks Turf

The last time I wrote for Midwest Grows Green and the IPM Institute of North America, I focused on a Google calendar event for Friday, March 20th. The event recorded my first Appalachian Trail thru-hike stop of “Hawk Mountain Shelter” with the description “Mile 8.1”. Before thru-hiking the AT, I planned out each stop on my Google calendar, until I reached Baxter State Park in Maine on August 16th. In addition to mileage, the event descriptions included information on restock points and phone numbers of hostels.

I devoted time to planning and setting daily mileage goals and targets, because I knew it would help me achieve the ultimate goal of hiking more than 2,000 miles in under six months.

I believe that we as organic, sustainable, or natural land managers should, also, carefully select achievable and challenging sub-goals and targets to reach or exceed our ultimate goal.

Why We Need to Set Achievable Goals

I expect we all have the same overarching goal with managing our lawns and gardens. We want to grow thriving plant life without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.  Natural lawn care and sustainable landscaping can accomplish this overarching goal, but only if we set achievable sub-targets and goals.

I receive many questions about managing a weed-free lawn in year one of transitioning from conventional to natural lawn care (NLC).  I compare this request to losing 15 pounds overnight.  Certainly achievable, but it requires expensive liposuction surgery that might have negative effects. Similarly, achieving weed free lawns in less than a year without synthetic herbicides often calls for ripping up and replacing the current vegetation with new sod. Managing grass with proper cultural practices of aeration, mowing high, watering properly, and overseeding costs significantly less than a major lawn replacement.

Why we Need to Set Challenging Goals and the Importance of Tolerance Thresholds

If you transition to natural lawn care on a limited budget, you need to accept that weeds usually come with the package for the first couple of years. However, we can’t accept a lawn completely overrun by weeds, because at that point we are no longer growing turfgrass.  MGG highly encourages using tolerance thresholds for weeds to help set challenging aesthetic targets that benefit turfgrass growth, but ensure that you can cost-effectively meet these targets when implementing natural lawn care.  MGG defines tolerance thresholds as the maximum pest or weed pressure that you can tolerate for an area before control.

MGG has observed that managers frequently apply generic tolerance thresholds for weeds. The most common generic threshold statement goes something like this, “I see a lot of dandelions, so I’m going to control for them.” This threshold may work for NLC management of a small lot, but weed control labor and costs will grow if we use that generic threshold for a larger lot size.  MGG’s shares a more specific and measurable weed tolerance threshold in its NLC Workplan. The threshold calculates the percentage of weeds in an area based on the number of weeds per square yard or per 100 square feet.  The workplan only calls for control if weed density exceeds a certain percentage. For example, if you set a dandelion tolerance threshold of 15% for your lawn, you should not control for dandelions unless the density exceeds three dandelions per square yard or 35 dandelions per 100 square feet.

Keeping Weed Density Below our Tolerance Thresholds

Followers of our natural lawn care approach understand that weeds symbolize a symptom of underlying problems with your lawn or garden.  Dandelions love compacted soil.  Crabgrass takes over low mowed and drought-affected lawns.  Creeping Charlie grows in low-lying and poorly drained areas.

To keep weed density below set tolerance thresholds, homeowners need to set specific compaction limits, soil quality benchmarks, mowing height minimums, watering amount maximums, and more targets to address each of these underlying problems.  MGG has many resources to help with establishing these targets including our “Guide to Growing Environmentally Friendly Lawns & Gardens” and blog posts covering strategies of aeration, overseeding, soil testing, watering, and more.  If you have specific questions about setting proper targets and goals, please email me at or contact any of our Midwest natural lawn care providers.

Remember, We Cannot Achieve All Our Targets

I started with my Appalachian Trail anecdote, because in the end I never reached the trailhead.   I missed a pandemic in my targets and goal-setting.  My experience proves we cannot account for every factor or scenario in our planning. For lawns and gardens, the year could bring drought, flooding, or a grub infestation that no level of organic or conventional planning can overcome to meet each of our targets and goals.

Covid-19 presented one of the greatest unforeseen challenges for the advancement of NLC and sustainable landscaping in our communities.  Large land managers have faced budget cuts, park closures, and strategic plan changes. MGG did not plan for Covid-19 in 2020.  However, we did devote a large portion of 2019 to developing resources that large land managers and homeowners alike can use during these uncertain times.

We highly encourage you to read through our homeowner resources at If you like these resources, please take our pledge for monthly tips on managing your lawn without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

We, also, have resources and services to offer for park districts, school districts, municipalities, and other large turf managers at  This new website contains case studies, templates, graphics, and other tools to cost effectively implement NLC on sports and recreational fields.  For a fee of $25 at, MGG will send you the’s two templates of the “NLC Workplan” and the “Generic IPM Policy”.  Track us on Facebook and Twitter as our team helps communities across the Midwest implement these templates starting this fall. To learn more about these services, please email me at Thank you and please stay healthy!