Organic Lawn Care Part 2
Now that you've read how to test your soil in part 1, you'll know exactly what your lawn needs to be at its best. Generally people add fertilizer, but before we discuss that, let's take a look at a couple of soil amendments that will help to adjust the pH of your soil if it needs adjusting.
Lime is the supplement of choice for soil that is too acidic. Lawns grow best when the pH is between 6.0 and 7.0. The ideal is between 6.2 and 6.5. If your soil's pH is below 6.0, an application of lime in the late fall or early spring will help to move it into the perfect pH range. To learn more about the use of lime, see our previous newsletter Strengthen Your Soil with Agricultural Limestone.
The most economical method of applying lime is NutriLime Pelletized Lime. It can be applied with any garden spreader, and, unlike pulverized lime, it will not generate any lime dust and is not messy at all. Each bag covers 4,000 square feet.
If you have a small lawn, smaller bags of Hi-Yield Agricultural Limestone or Espoma Organic Traditions Garden Lime, will get the job done. Each of these smaller bags of lime will cover approximately 100 square feet.
If your soil is too alkaline, the treatment of choice is to add sulfur. This has the additional benefit of being a natural insecticide and fungicide. It is also helpful to add acidic organic matter such as pine needles, shredded oak leaves, or our BioMax 3-in-1 Garden Mix, which contains sphagnum peat. Such mulches will help to slowly lower the pH of your soil, but don't expect immediate changes.
Fertilizer: Organic vs. Inorganic
Fall is an excellent time to fertilize, and if you're starting a new lawn, you'll certainly want to add fertilizer before seeding. At Garden Harvest Supply we endorse using organic fertilizers, and we'll take this opportunity to try to explain some of the reasons why.
Chemical fertilizer quickly releases necessary minerals into the soil but some of those minerals inevitably get washed away or leached because chemical fertilizers are concentrated and highly water-soluble. Besides being wasteful, this runoff causes problems wherever it goeseven once it finds its way into the sea.
Did you know that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is a direct result of chemical fertilizer runoff from the fifty million tons of chemical fertilizer that are applied to lawns each year? The phosphorus in the runoff caused algae to bloom and then it died and decomposed. The resulting blanket does not allow anything else to grow over an area the size of Connecticut.
In contrast, organic fertilizers slowly release their minerals because they contain natural substances that break down into those minerals rather than being a direct concentrate of the minerals themselves. Once in the soil, microbes act on these natural substances and they slowly break down and supply the nutrients that your turf needs.
There are many advantages to this. First of all, your turf continues to receive nutrients over a period of time rather than all at once at high levels. Second, you don't have to worry about burning your turf, which is something that chemical fertilizers will do if not applied exactly according to instructions and in the correct amount. Third, the problem of leaching and runoff is greatly reduced. Considering that more land is devoted to maintaining lawns than to growing corn, if more homeowners went organic, it would greatly benefit the eco-system.
We are excited that one of the most trusted names in organic gardening, Espoma, has launched a line of organic lawn fertilizers. Need another fertilizer for your fall lawn care plan, we also recommend Neptune's Harvest, a marvelous organic fertilizer made from substances from the sea. One gallon will cover 8,000 sq. feet.
Some final advice about fertilizer is to not use too much. Many homeowners think more is better, and it simply isn't true. Besides the ecological consequences, over-fertilization encourages the development of lawn diseases such as leaf spot and brown patch. Also keep in mind that a shady lawn will require less fertilizer than a sunny lawn.
As you can imagine, insecticide runoff also spells trouble, especially for birds, bees, and fish. What's more, it's often over-applied or used where it's not needed.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension gives this wise advice: “Healthy turf may (and should) contain a variety of beneficial or neutral (neither pest nor beneficial) insects. Some of the beneficial insects include ground beetles, rove beetles, predatory and parasitic wasps, non-pest ants. Some insects may be beneficial and prey upon harmful ones or just be neutral to the turf environment. Predatory beetles and some small flies can be predatory on turf-consuming caterpillars. Unnecessary pesticide use may reduce the insects that are actually suppressing the pest caterpillars”.
Homeowners often fear that the presence of a pest insect requires treatment. However, insect pests are often found in a lawn at population levels below what would produce damage or be worth treating.
If you are having a pest problem with your lawn, take note as to whether it is all over or contained in one spot. To save money and save the environment, you only need to treat the problem area. For advice about choosing a natural insecticide, consult our previous newsletter on Natural Pest Control.
Seeding or Reseeding
You are now ready to apply the grass seed. Grass seed grows well in fall because the temperatures are perfect for cool-season grass and because it has less competition from annual weeds. Just be sure to give the lawn enough time to establish itself before winter weather hits.
We sell a variety of spreaders. When you're ready to sow your seed, make sure your spreader is adjusted to the right setting. Generally what you want to do to ensure even coverage is to spread the first half of the seed by walking in one direction and then spread the second half crisscross.
After you sow your seeds, it's a good idea to top-dress the seed with a light application of peat moss or BioMax 3-in-1 in order to retain moisture.
After that, it's time to irrigate. The first watering should penetrate at least half a foot, but be careful not to wash away or drown the seed. From there on, irrigate lightly and frequently until you see that the seeds have begun to sprout. These irrigations only need to penetrate an inch or so but they should be done frequently to ensure the soil around the seeds will not dry out. Moisture is essential at the very beginning because seeds will not germinate without it.
As the grass starts to come up, reduce the frequency of watering but be sure to keep people, pets, and other animals from trampling your tender grass shoots. As the grass becomes established, you can cut down to watering twice a week, and later once per week, but be sure that when you water, you water deeply (6-8 inches).
When your grass is 3 to 4 inches high, it's time for the first mowing. Choose a day when your grass needs watering and mow it first, then water it afterwards. Mowing is always better done on grass that is not too moist.
That's all for now. Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!