As Forest Park shakes off it’s winter wardrobe of snowy streets and chilly days, as the days of frosted over lawns give way to Spring-like weather, budding trees and green lawns, so comes the time in every homeowner’s year when planting and lawn care are a top priority.

This year, in Forest Park, the changing weather also brought with it a new business that promises to solve the Spring-cleaning, lawn-mowing craze”with a natural twist.

The business, Gathman Natural Lawn Care, is a family-owned and operated, 100 percent organic lawn care service located at 409 Beloit Ave.

Its owner, Mark Gathman is a middle-aged man who has turned his love of lawn care into a successful business with an already growing and loyal following.

“It is a ma’ and pa’ landscaping business,” jokes Gathman. “Our mission is to use only 100 percent organic fertilizer on people’s lawns.”

Gathman’s new business is truly family operated, as each customer’s lawn is serviced by a team that includes at least one of the owners.

This “ensures more personalized service, higher satisfaction and more affordable prices,” writes Gathman in his brochure.

To care for an average 5,000 square feet lot, using the company’s signature five step processes, Gathman said, will cost approximately $250, depending on the conditions of the lot.

Gathman started out in the retail and automotive industry, but said he always loved working on his lawn. Upon retirement, he decided to turn his hobby into a business.

“All middle-aged guys at this point want to start their own small company, doing things you like to do,” he said, smiling in his office, surrounded by his natural products.

The products he uses contain no herbicides or pesticides. Instead, the program relies on making the soil healthy as “healthy lawns grow on healthy soil.”

The five step program uses proper soil preparation and lawn maintenance to build a healthy soil and deep-rooted lawns that are “more resistant to disease, tolerate some insect and drought damage, and will out-compete many weeds.”

The process, however, takes longer and customers shouldn’t expect the ‘instant-death in 60 seconds’ that chemical weed killers advertise on television.

“It does take longer for this to get what you want from your lawn,” Gathman said. “It is almost like when you stop smoking”it takes a while for all the bad chemicals to get out of your system.”

The problem with the chemical solutions, Gathman said, is that they are dangerous and can be poisonous.

For example, Gathman said, one of his current customers told him her cat got sick from eating grass that had chemical fertilizers in it.

In fact, Gathman said, a lot of his customers had stopped using fertilizers until Gathman Natural Lawn Care came around.

Unlike the chemical counterparts, “this is safe for pets, children and wildlife,” he said.

Gathman’s devotion to natural lawn care is not new, though.

“I always tried to do things at home”recycle, etc.,” he said, adding that he always used natural products on his lawn. From this environmentalist streak in his own personal life, came the inspiration to use these products in his business.

“What I am trying to do is to educate people that by using 100 percent natural products, you’re not going to hurt the environment, children, pets or wildlife,” he said. “We were going to use a product from a company that sells to golf courses, but I subscribe to a lawn care magazine, every week we get a new product.”

The new product, it turns out, was from a company out of Londonberry, New Hampshire, and is a fertilizer you can only buy from a seed distributor.

Gathman did his research and said he was impressed with the product, but getting it to Forest Park turned out to be a problem.

Gathman had to contact distributors in the area, that were listed by the company as authorized dealers. He then contacted each of the distributors, only to find that nobody in the area had ever sought the product. After much searching, he finally found one who agreed to order the fertilizers for him and Gathman Lawn Care was born.

Environmentally safe products, however, are not just hard to get, but they can be a hard sell to new customers”especially in this fast-paced world.

“Not everyone is going to relate to it,” he admitted, adding that the majority of his customers come from Oak Park.

He hopes to build up his clientele in Forest Park, though, and has begun advertising in Forest Park.

Gathman provides several packages to potential customers. One program is the spring clean-ups program in which the Gathman team removes leaves and other winter debris from lawn areas and shrubs, then mows the lawn.

Another program is the power aeration program, which “does for the soil under turf what tilling does for other garden soils.”

Gathman and his team lighten the soil by extracting 2 inch to 4 inch plugs from the lawn, making space for the roots to get air, water and nutrients, he said.

They also provide de-thatching, using a power rake. In his pamphlet, Gathman explains that the thatch”a dense layer of non-decomposing grass clippings, roots and stems formed between the soil and base of the grass plant”reduces pesticide effectiveness and provides safe havens for insects and lawn disease.

Gathman and his team will use a power rake to limit the size of the thatch to half an inch, twice a year, in the spring and in the fall.

In addition, Gathman provides power seeding and weekly mowing services, trimming and removal of grass clipping services.

Their signature program, though, is the five-step fertilization process, called the five-step organic lawn care program.

In this program, Gathman said, he and his team will go and use a spring fertilizer, that contains “heavy rates of balanced pellet fertilizers with nitrogen.”

The fertilizer, he writes, “inhibits the germination of crabgrass, creeping bentgrass, dandelion, smart weed, redroot, pigweed purslane, lambsquarter, foxtail, barnyard grass and Bermuda grass.”

In the summer, the team returns with their early summer fertilizer. Mid-summer, the team returns for a summer inspection, followed by a late summer fertilizer.

Finally, at the beginning of the fall, they returns with a fertilizer that contains “heavy rates of balanced fertilizer to prepare the lawn for winter.”

Gathman has a four-man crew and will work up to 8 hours on a single house.

“You are working 12 hour days, five days a week,” he said.

As for the winter, he plans to do residential snow removal and natural ice control, but said he hopes to continue working on lawn care through Thanksgiving this year.

The new career, he said, also provides more free time with his family, as his down time coincides with Christmas.

“December is a good time to take off,” he said.