Organic lawn care facts

Preparing the Soil for an Organic Turf Program

The main Key to a successful organic lawn program is in the soil. It must be alive with wide variety of beneficial microorganisms and bugs. Beneficial microbes both feed and protect the plants from disease-causing microbes. All the organic gardener really does is feed the beneficial microbes and let them do their work. Healthy microbes result in healthy soil which results in a healthy lawn.

Beneficial microorganisms include bacteria and fungi found in finished compost. There are two ways to get the microbial benefit from compost. The best way to get a complete dose of beneficial microbes is by including finished compost in the soil preparation before laying seed or sod. Preparing the ground right beforehand is preferred to applying after the grass is established. Plans for a new lawn should specify that compost be mixed with the top 4 inches of topsoil, half-and half, when the land is renovated for grass seed or sod planting. This ensures that the microbes will be in the root zone as the grass seed germinates. However, if your lawn is already established and you want to go organic, you can add compost to the lawn as a top dressing. This means physically dropping compost on top of the turf and then sweeping it off the grass plants and onto the soil where the microbes will be washed into the soil. A careful watering of the lawn after the application of compost will hasten this process. Care must be taken to avoid topping with too much compost. Many other issues are important to the success of an organic lawn.

What is the Best Way to Apply Compost to a Lawn?

Spread it around in piles on the lawn with a wheelbarrow. Sling it from the piles onto the grass with a shovel. Then use a push broom to sweep it off the grass blades and down into the turf. Water it in to activate the compost microbes and wash them onto your soil. Apply compost to grass at a rate of no more than 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. This results in a thin layer about 1/3 inch deep when spread out uniformly.

How Do You Fertilize Organically?

Commercial organic dry fertilizers, such as Ringers, Espoma, Green sense, and Texas Tee, are protein based and must be digested by soil microbes before the nitrogen becomes available to the roots. The ingredients of these commercial fertilizers include ground corn, alfalfa, cottonseed, corn gluten meal, soy, other grains, as well as blood meal and feather meal. Any ground seed or bean is good as an organic fertilizer including used coffee grounds. You can often find these same ingredients in bulk form at farm or feed stores. A good application rate for these grain based fertilizers is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Organic fertilizer may be applied any day, any time of day, and at any amount without fear of hurting the turf. Give it 3 weeks for the microbes to process the protein before the benefit is seen in the grass.

Where can You Get Protein Fertilizers?

Commercial brands can be found at organic garden supply stores and at some farm and feed stores. The commercial brands might go as high as $30.00 for a 30-pound bag. A typical retail price for 50 pounds of bulk alfalfa pellets or corn meal is $3.00 - $7.00 at a farm/feed store. Call around, as prices will vary depending on the availability in your area.

What is Wrong with Chemical Fertilizers?

Chemical fertilizers provide an "empty" type of food directly to the plants. This is like the empty calories we get from eating pure refined sugar. Microbes provide full service to the plants. They decompose dead plant and animal residues to humus; combine nitrogen and carbon to prevent nutrient loss; suppress disease; produce plant growth regulators; develop soil structure, tilth, and water penetration/retention; clean up chemical residues; shift soil pH toward neutral; retrieve nutrients from distant parts of the soil; decompose thatch; and control nitrogen supply to the plants according to need. Besides that, if a chemical fertilizer contains NPK of 10-10-10, nobody knows what the 70% of unlisted stuff is in the chemical bag that is not fertilizer.

How Should I Water my Lawn?

Watering should be done in the mornings. Deep but infrequent watering encourages roots to penetrate deeper into the soil. Watering in the evening encourages pathogenic fungus disease so try not to let the grass blades have water on them after dark. Water for one to two hours at a time when you do water.

When Should you add Manure to your Lawn?

Never use fresh manure directly on your lawn. You may use compost manure, but compost that has many other ingredients makes better compost.

If a dog goes to the bathroom on your lawn, unless it is cleaned up, the grass will die under the dropping area. The same thing will happen with fresh manure.

How often should you Apply Compost?

Many people use compost every year. A highly respected compost manufacturer has only applied it to his own grass twice in 30 years. The answer probably lies somewhere in between. If you have had a flood or a turf disease, you should reapply.

How do I Get Started with an Organic Lawn Care Program

Getting started is as easy as stopping the use of chemicals. You can easily replenish the microbes with a thin layer of compost. The next thing to do is start using protein-based fertilizers like corn meal, alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, soy meal, cottonseed meal, sorghum meal, or what ever you can get inexpensively at your local feed supply store.

What is the Organic Annual Plan?

Spring: Any time before your grass starts to turn lush in the spring, apply a protein-based fertilizer at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Water it in when you want to.

Summer: Leave it alone. Water in the morning once per week with enough water to get one inch per week in most zones.

Fall: About 3 weeks before your grass stops growing, apply a protein-based fertilizer at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet.