- Revive a Bad Lawn in a Weekend
- Project Directions:
- Lawn is Filled with Weeds
- How to Kill Masses of Weeds in Lawns
- Begin with Broadleaf Weeds
- Identify and treat other Weed Types
- Buffalo Lawn and Weed Killers
- Ongoing Weed Problems
- 16 Ideas To Try On Weeds
- 1. Pull Them Out
- 2. Cut Their Tops Off
- 3. Smother Them
- 4. Block Their Light
- 5. Feed Them Sugar
- 6. Spray Them With Citris Juice
- 7. Make Your Own Weed Killer
- 8. Use Cornmeal
- 9. Cover Them in Oil
- 10. Use Boiling Salt Water
- 11. Pour Vinegar On Them
- 12. With Fire!
- 13. Use Alcohol
- 14. With Baking Soda
- 15. Use Bleach
- 16. Use Herbicides
- How to Improve Your Soil
- A Faster Solution
Revive a Bad Lawn in a Weekend
Before you establish this beautiful new lawn, be sure to do any hardscaping or landscaping—such as retaining walls, patios or tree planting (Check out these 12 Great Tips for Landscaping Your Backyard)—that might tear up your new lawn with heavy equipment or excavating. If an in-ground irrigation system is in your future, install that beforehand as well. You’ll avoid damaging your new lawn by trenching in irrigation lines and sprinkler heads, and you’ll have the benefit of using the system to effectively water the new grass. Flag the sprinkler heads to avoid hitting them with the aerator or power rake.
Reseeding Saved My Pathetic Lawn
One of the best things about working at The Family Handyman is having lots of pros at my fingertips. This time it was Joe Churchill, our lawn expert. Last summer we met in my backyard, and he told me exactly how to restore my ugly lawn. And by fall, I had the best-looking lawn in the neighborhood. Aside from the weed killing and watering, the restoration took just one weekend, and the results speak for themselves!
— Vern Johnson, Art Director
Get Better Grass
Grass has improved dramatically in recent years, with varieties bred for better color, thicker turf or shade and drought tolerance. So reseeding doesn’t just fill in the bare spots; it also improves the mix of grass varieties in your lawn.
Save the Existing Grass?
The steps we show here are for a lawn that’s at least 50 percent grass. Take a close look at the lawn. If you see plenty of healthy grass among the weeds or large areas of good grass throughout the lawn, you can save the existing grass and fill in the rest of the lawn by planting new seed. That calls for applying a broadleaf herbicide, which kills the weeds but doesn’t harm the grass. It should be applied three to four weeks before starting the project. A hose-end sprayer with concentrated weed killer is the fastest, easiest application method (Photo with step 1). But if your lawn is hopelessly bare or completely covered with weeds, it’s best to go “scorched earth” and kill all the vegetation with a nonselective herbicide like Roundup and start over. If after two weeks, some weeds reappear, apply another treatment to the survivors.
Late Summer or Early Fall is Best
Timing is important when it comes to lawn reseeding. When summer heat begins to wane, it’s much easier to stay on track with watering newly sprouted grass shoots because they won’t be stressed by high heat and humidity. Plus, there will be plenty of time for the grass to get established before winter.
You’ll be far less successful planting and growing grass from seed during spring and summer. If you must seed in the spring, wait for soil temperatures to reach a consistent 55 degrees F. Also watch for weeds! They can outcompete new grass seedlings as they both vie for space, sunlight and water. Using a seed-friendly herbicide is recommended in the spring or early summer if you have to treat emerging weeds after reseeding. And when choosing the starter fertilizer, look for one containing siduron or mesotrione preemergent herbicide, or be prepared for disappointing results.
Rent an Aerator and Power Rake
There’s no reasonable way to prep the soil by hand, so you should plan to rent an aerator and power rake (also called a dethatcher) for about $100 each per day. Lifting them into and out of the pickup will require a helper, but operating them doesn’t require an athlete’s physique. The worst part is that you’ll be marching around the yard following the self-propelled machines for many, many passes. Unless you have a small yard, plan to aerate it in one day, then return the aerator the following day and rent the power rake to finish the heavy work. Day two would also include planting, raking and fertilizing. Plus, make yard work easier with these 12 tools.
Reseeding can be a crapshoot. A big thunderstorm could wash your seed away. So pay attention to long range forecasts and plan accordingly. That’s especially true if your yard is sloped enough that it doesn’t take much water to wash away seed. Before you start the soil prep, set your mower to its lowest setting and give your yard a buzz cut.
1. Kill the Weeds
Use a hose-end sprayer to spray the lawn with a broadleaf weed killer at least three weeks before you plant the new grass seed. Wear eye protection, gloves, a long-sleeve shirt and pants, and waterproof shoes.
2. Aerate the Soil
Aerators pull small plugs from the soil and deposit them on the surface. That loosens the soil, making it easier for roots to grow deep into the soil. The plugs will be pulverized in the next step, power raking, to form loose soil for the seeds to germinate in. The holes you create will allow fertilizer and water to penetrate deep into the soil for better retention. When you’re using a core aerator to prepare soil for reseeding, the key is to make at least three passes—more if you have the stamina—each from a different direction.
3. Prepare the Surface
Power rakes spin metal tines at high speed to scarify and loosen the soil as well as break up the aerator plugs. They also lift thatch from your lawn. Go over the whole lawn from two directions, then rake up and remove dead debris if it completely covers the ground and would prevent seed from contacting the soil.
4. Outline Garden Beds
In most cases, a broadcast spreader is the best choice because it evenly distributes seed or fertilizer for thorough coverage. If you have a large yard bordered by flower beds or vegetable gardens, use a drop spreader to spread the seed near them before doing the majority of the yard with a broadcast spreader. Since the seed drops straight down, you won’t be casting grass seed in your gardens by mistake.
Whichever spreader you use, set the feed rate at half (or less) of the recommended rate. When using the drop spreader around border gardens, overlap subsequent passes slightly for more even seed distribution.
5. Seed the Large Areas
Spread seed with a broadcast spreader in large areas away from gardens. Use half the recommended drop rate to spread the seed in one direction. Additionally, when using the broadcast or drop spreader for the open areas, make two or more passes from different directions for even distribution. This is especially true when you’re using a drop spreader so you don’t wind up with a striped lawn. If you don’t own a broadcast spreader, buy one—don’t rent it. You’ll need it to keep your new lawn in tip-top shape after it’s established.
6. Rake in the Seed
Applying too much or too little seed is a mistake. Here is a little hands-and-knees observation to let you know if you’re applying the right amount. Picture a square inch of area on a freshly seeded area and count the seeds. Strive to get about 15 or so seeds per square inch. After spreading, lightly rake the seed into the soil for good contact. It doesn’t have to be completely buried. Some of the seed can still be showing.
7. Distribute the Fertilizer
Fertilizers used to contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. But due to water pollution concerns, many states no longer allow phosphorus in ordinary lawn fertilizers. However, phosphorus is very helpful for root development, so it’s important for starting new seed. At the garden center, look for fertilizer labeled “Starter” or “New Lawns.” Your state may allow its sale for establishing new lawns or in gardens. Spread starter fertilizer over the yard. Follow the directions on the bag to determine how many pounds per 1,000 sq. ft.
8. Water Daily
An oscillating sprinkler works best for getting your lawn started. It covers a large area with even, light streams of water to prevent washing away seed. You’ll only need to water for about 20 minutes at a time depending on your soil type. Unless it rains, you’ll likely need to water at least twice daily. On hot or windy days, you may need to water even more frequently.
Closely monitor the soil to keep it damp, not saturated. Strive to maintain soil dampness to a depth of about 1/2 in. You’ll need to do this for at least three weeks. If you’re not diligent, you may throw away all your hard work and money. One dry, hot sunny day is all it takes to wipe out a new lawn. A $25 timer for your hose, available at any garden or home center, might be helpful if you can’t be home to water as needed. After the grass is 3 in. high, you can start mowing and begin a normal watering regime.
Plus, check out these 10 lawn care myths you really need to stop believing.
Soil Watering Gauge
Your goal is to water to a depth of 1/2 in. As a test, water for about 20 minutes, then drive a spade into the ground and look for the dark line near the surface indicating water penetration. That’ll tell you if you should water for longer or shorter periods.
Lawn is Filled with Weeds
How to Kill Masses of Weeds in Lawns
When faced with a lawn full of weeds it can seem like a daunting task of how to completely kill lawn weeds in such overwhelming proportions. Whether you have just been too busy in today’s hectic world, or you have moved into a new property, it’s not difficult to bring the lawn under control. It can take just a simple step-by-step approach.
Begin with Broadleaf Weeds
The term Broadleaf Weeds is a very broad and general term, and covers hundreds of different weed types which can all be successfully killed by Broadleaf herbicides.
Broadleaf herbicides are one of the cheapest weed killers to purchase, as well as being the single herbicide that can kill more weed types than any other. So this is the obvious first choice.
Purchase and apply a Broadleaf herbicide to the lawn, and allow 2 weeks to see full results. Don’t expect all weeds, including Broadleaf weeds, to be killed with a single application. After 2 weeks – check the lawn weeds and look for signs of weeds that have browned-off but haven’t yet died. The lawn may than require another application of Broadleaf herbicide.
Identify and treat other Weed Types
After waiting for the second 2 week period after the second herbicide application, you then look to identify the remaining weed types.
If the remaining weeds are small in numbers, then the best option may be to spend a little time in pulling or digging them out. However, if there are still a large number of unaffected and healthy weeds in the lawn, then it could be prudent to purchase a specific herbicide to kill them.
If you’re well versed with weed types, or are up for a bit of online research, this can be a very simple task. Otherwise it would be wise to pull out some of the remaining weeds and take them to your local Nursery for identification, and a suitable weed killer purchased.
It is important to always identify weeds properly, buy the correct herbicide and always apply at manufacturer’s specifications.
Buffalo Lawn and Weed Killers
Be aware that many herbicides are specific for Broadleaf weeds and can damage or kill Buffalo lawns. Be sure to purchase the specific herbicide designed for use on Buffalo lawn, and always check labels carefully before purchasing.
Ongoing Weed Problems
Even if you have managed to kill all the weeds in your lawn, it must be expected that new infestations will continue to occur for the next few years. This is because all those masses of weeds have set down thousands of weed seeds into the lawn.
These weed seeds can continue to germinate over the next few years until the seed bank has exhausted itself. Simply treat and kill these new weeds as required, repeating the steps in this article.
A beautiful lawn is truly a work of art that takes a lot of work to achieve. After all the hours you spent spreading seeds, watering the grass, and cutting it in the dead of summer you deserve a spotless, perfectly lush lawn. Unfortunately, weeds have other plans for your yard.
Are you sick & tired of looking out your front window and seeing pesky dandelions, crabgrass, and other weeds ruining your perfect curb appeal? Do you want an easy way to rid yourself of these nuisances to make your lawn the best it can be?
Here are 16 ways to tackle the weeds both naturally and with a little bit of scientific intervention.
16 Ideas To Try On Weeds
1. Pull Them Out
Rip Them Out by the Stem A little old-fashioned elbow grease! One of the simplest ways to get rid of weeds is to pull them out so they can’t grow.
Simply grab them as close to the root as you can and pull until you have as much of the perpetrator as possible.
gardendiy.co.uk recommends overseeding after pulling up the weeds, this fills in the empty spots and stops the weeds growing back!
2. Cut Their Tops Off
If you really cant get the whole root, then cut you can cut off as much of the accessible plant as possible.
You mainly want to remove the head so that any seeds are removed and cannot be replanted. Do this with any tool that allows you to get as much of the weed as possible, but try not to spread any seeds.
3. Smother Them
Smother Them If a weed is going to be intruding on your lawn or garden, it will need to grow upwards & outwards.
To solve this, you can smother the plant with materials like newspaper or biodegradable cloth so that they can’t poke through the soil and rear their ugly heads.
Is Your Grass Turning Brown? Learn how to revive dormant grass.
4. Block Their Light
Block Their Sunlight Like any other plant, weeds need sunlight to grow. Fortunately, in many gardens or tree beds you can easily cover the area around the plants you want with a material like mulch or straw to block sunlight.
This allows your grass or vegetation to grow without fueling the undesirables.
5. Feed Them Sugar
Pour Some Sugar on Them No, we’re not singing to you. Adding a little sugar to the weed’s roots will lower the nitrogen they have available, causing them to wilt.
6. Spray Them With Citris Juice
Citris Acids are great at killing plants by stripping protective membranes off of their stems.
Mix lemon juice or other citrus juices with a little water and get spraying! Without the coating, they’ll dry out in the sun in no time.
7. Make Your Own Weed Killer
A homemade weed killer solution can be made and sprayed on any weeds that pop up.
Mix vinegar, dish soap, and salt together for a solution that strips the membrane on the weed and dries it out so that it dies.
8. Use Cornmeal
Cover Them with Cornmeal If you notice a weed coming in or have a problem area, you can use cornmeal as a preventative to stop the future growth of seeds.
Just scatter it in the area and it’ll stop seeds from sprouting into weeds by limiting available nutrients.
9. Cover Them in Oil
Cover Them in Plant-Based Oils If you want a very eco-friendly method, covering weeds in oil is a natural way to kill weeds without damaging the soil they are in.
The oil will block the weed’s ability to complete photosynthesis and will cause it to die shortly after.
10. Use Boiling Salt Water
Pour Boiling Salt Water Make sure you wear oven mitts! While many plants thrive in direct sunlight, they don’t fare so well when boiling hot water is poured on them!
This option works best for edges of your lawn like the separation from driveway to lawn or dirt bed to lawn.
Simply pour the water onto the weed-filled area and allow the heat and salt to strip the outer membrane and leave them to dry out & die.
11. Pour Vinegar On Them
Drench Them in Vinegar You’ve probably got a jug of white vinegar sitting around for cleaning, so why not put it to work?
You’ll have to be careful because vinegar is notorious for drying out plants, so only spray the vinegar on the weeds to avoid causing damage to your lawn.
12. With Fire!
Kill Them with Fire Probably the most fun option, you can get a “weed torch” that will allow you to singe the weeds just enough to damage & dry them out so they can wither away.
Just hover over the weeds until they begin to wither and then move on. NEVER use this method near dry grass or weeds, as you could start a fire!
13. Use Alcohol
Dry Them Out with Alcohol Plants need water to survive, and alcohol removes water from things (hello, hangover!).
With a mixture of some rubbing alcohol or your favorite vodka and water, you can spray or douse the weeds with your mixture until sufficiently coated and watch them die.
14. With Baking Soda
Sprinkle Baking Soda in Crevices If your weed problems extend into your sidewalk or driveway, sprinkling baking soda will dry the weeds out thanks to the high sodium content.
Be careful though, as it can kill your grass as well!
15. Use Bleach
Pour Bleach into Infested Cracks What can’t bleach do? The chemicals in bleach can strip away the protective membrane of dandelions, crabgrass, and more that grows in difficult areas.
It’ll kill anything it touches though, so keep it away from anything you want alive (including pets and children!).
16. Use Herbicides
Don’t feel like making your own concoction at home?
Fortunately, there are many herbicides to choose from at your local gardening supply store that you can put on your lawns to kill the weeds.
It is important to choose the right chemical, so be sure to consult an expert.
Some (such as Scotts Weed and Feed) even kill weeds AND feed the good grass you want to keep! Click here to learn more.
How to Improve Your Soil
By Joe Lamp’l – Gardening Expert and Host of Growing a Greener World®
March 27, 2017
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it does. I’m talking about the performance of my lawn and garden. While I’ve been gardening personally and professionally for most of my life, over the past several years, I’ve had a chance to really settle in to my forever landscape (and horticultural laboratory) and improve soil wherever I want plants to thrive.
I’ve always practiced what I’ve preached. But now I finally have time to put all that advice I teach and demonstrate on television and writing, into full-on testing here at the Garden Farm—my personal home garden and landscape. It’s also the filming set for our national television series, Growing a Greener World®.
For years, we’ve demonstrated all this great wisdom in everyone else’s garden or landscape. Finally, we’ve been doing it at my place long enough to really see the tangible results of our practices.
Can I just say it’s pretty amazing—but not surprising?
The vegetable garden astounds all who visit. Plants seem to jump out of the ground with growth and vigor. Even seasoned gardeners are surprised.
The organic lawn has never looked fuller or greener.
And my tree, shrub and perennial installations have adapted beautifully. As with my veggies, they too seem to have tapped into some incredible energy source that has them.
So what’s behind this across-the-board vigor?
If you didn’t know me, you might think lots of synthetic fertilizer. Not that. I’m an organic gardener. Perhaps it’s time-consuming hours of watering. No, not that either.
The common denominator to why all my plants and lawn are thriving is the soil.
When I think about planting, it’s not so much about how deep or wide to dig the hole. Although that’s very important, I’m planning well in advance to improve the growing conditions. That means giving plants the best foundation possible through great soil.
Yes, it takes some forethought and patience, but the rewards are ongoing. No matter what type of soil you have to start, whether it’s loose and sandy, or heavy clay (like mine), doing what you can to incorporate organic matter will give it body, porosity, texture, and crucial microorganisms your plants need to really thrive.
So let’s break that down.
What is organic matter? That’s the not-so-secret ingredient to improving any soil. In a nutshell, organic matter (my definition anyway) is the natural earthy material that when decomposed, makes up the non-mineral part of soil.
Examples include rotted leaves, shredded bark or wood chips, aged manure, degraded straw, hay, grass, and yard debris. But the holy grail of all organic matter is compost. It’s made up of any or all of the elements listed above, and possibly food scraps, paper, cardboard, coffee grounds, and more.
Over several months, these ingredients break down into the perfect soil amendment for your lawn or garden, complete with nutrients, and billions of beneficial microorganisms that serve as the workers in your soil in a symbiotic sort of way to help your plants thrive as nature intended.
You may be surprised to know that in nature, organic matter only makes up about 5% of native soil. About 50% is air and water, and 45% is minerals (sand, silt and clay in some combination).
Take comfort in knowing only a little bit of organic matter goes a long way to making any soil better. My suggestion is to mix all the natural inputs you can into a heap or bin and let them break down all together first. When it does, you have finished compost.
Then, use it in your landscape or garden. At my place, I make all I can and add it in my vegetable garden, working about a half-inch slightly into the soil. The addition of compost (or other organic matter) will improve your soil which in turns, helps whatever is growing there.
And there’s one other player that I attribute to the success of my lawn and landscape: Milorganite®. The slow release nitrogen in this fertilizer product is itself a direct result of billions of microbes that safely add an extra boost to help stimulate my plants and lawn to grow.
As an organic gardener, whatever ingredients go into making my soil productive can’t be negated by inorganic inputs. That’s why Milorganite fits so well into my soil-building protocol. Healthier plants mean deeper roots, better water filtration, and drought tolerance. That leads to a healthier soil environment and overall improved vigor in everything above ground.
For your lawn, rent a core aerator and run it over your lawn first. That will extract soil plugs, leaving a great place to top-dress with compost and organic fertilizer. I do this twice a year in spring and fall.
In vegetable and landscaped beds, I work about a half inch of compost into the surface, add Milorganite as directed and top dress with mulch.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten the picture that it doesn’t take much to achieve big results over time.
Try to repeat this process twice a year if possible. While you should see good results quickly, the best results will occur over time. But I assure you, it’s worth the wait.
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
Here’s something of a Zen puzzle for you. The key to a healthy lawn is healthy, organic soil. And the key to healthy soil is a healthy, organic lawn.
Confused? Don’t be. Organic lawn care starts and ends with healthy soil, soil that is full of nutrients for both grass and the microorganisms that call your dirt their home; soil that is not compromised with toxins and synthetic chemicals that destroy those microorganisms. And nothing contributes to the health of your soil more than a thick, rich organic lawn, one that returns organic nutrients to your soil. In this win-win situation, organic lawn care can actually give you a more vibrant lawn than you would have with regular applications of commercial fertilizer.
To put it another way, the organic lawn is a self-sustaining lawn.
An all-natural organic weed and feed for use on lawns. Derived from corn gluten meal, bone meal and potassium sulfate, Concern® Weed Prevention Plus (8-2-4) provides a fast green-up and will not burn. Each 25 lb bag covers 1500 square feet.
Take it from Paul Sachs, whose books on organic athletic fields and golf courses, have started something of a green playground revolution. “When you feed the life of your soil, those growing populations of microorganisms begin to accomplish many jobs that now consume great amounts of your time, money and energy.”
Sachs lists the advantages of encouraging microorganism populations in your lawn’s soil — rather than killing them with herbicides and pesticides — by showing what they do. Microorganisms “…fertilize, by fixing nitrogen from the air, mineralizing soil organic nutrients, generating carbon dioxide (the plant’s most needed nutrient), and dissolving mineral nutrient from rock; de-thatch, by decomposing thatch and other organic matter into valuable nutrients and humus, which in turn increase the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil; aerate the soil; and control many lawn pests and disease problems by competition and predation.” And these are only some of the advantages that a healthy population of microorganisms bring to your lawn’s soil.
In brief, having healthy soil that’s rich in microbial life saves you money, time and effort; it means less fertilizing, less watering, less time and money spent on weed and disease control and, equally important, it means less harmful chemicals being spread into the environment through run-off and pesticide application.
But how do you encourage microorganisms to multiply in your soil? Simple. Start adding more organic material in the form of compost and grass clippings. And stop adding herbicides and other pesticides.
The first step in creating a healthy lawn with an abundant supply of beneficial microorganisms, whether it’s a new lawn or an established one, is to test the soil. The soil’s acid-alkaline balance — pH level — is as important for growing grass and its supporting soil microbes as it is for growing vegetables. Levels of nitrogen, phosphate, potash and other nutrients are also important and worth testing. (It’s also good to know how much organic matter is in your soil, but not all lab analysis will tell you this.) Having the proper pH level will encourage grass to grow in vibrant fashion. Healthy grass, with its roots spreading deep and wide providing places for oxygen to collect, with its blades growing well-nourished before natural mulching back into the soil, will provide great conditions for soil microbes.
A SAFE alternative to RoundUp. AllDown® Organic Herbicide — a 20% vinegar weed killer, plus citric acid — is the product to reach for when you’re tempted to give up or resort to chemicals. Available in a 32-oz. ready-to-use bottle or a concentrate in gallon and 2.5 gallon sizes.
Easy, accurate and inexpensive pH testing kits are available for home use. Follow the directions carefully and, depending on the size of your yard, take several samples to a depth of five inches from different locations (this also applies if you’re sending samples for more detailed analysis into your local extension service or other testing service). Most cooperative extension services will ask you to combine your samples into one after removing grass, roots and other living matter. Follow their directions to the letter (you can find a link to your state’s cooperative extension service here).
Soil pH for lawns should be neutral to slightly acidic, a measured range of 6.5 (slightly acidic) to 7.0 (neutral) is ideal. Slight variations are acceptable. Alkaline soils with a reading higher than 7.5 may lead to a condition known as iron chlorosis, an inability for the turf to take up iron. This results in grass that is shading towards yellow, not the rich green that we lawn lovers prefer. Some grasses, according to the Kansas State University Research and Extension, are more susceptible to iron chlorosis than others, with Bluegrass and Zoysia grass being very susceptible and Tall Fescue being the least. Buffalo grass, Bermuda grass, and perennial ryegrass, they say, falls somewhere in between. Organic sources of sulfur can be applied to reduce the alkalinity of soils over 7.5 and increase intake of iron.
Avoiding chlorosis is one of the reasons why pH testing is crucial. You don’t want to go to all the trouble putting in a new yard only to have it come up pale and sickly. Another reason is to encourage microbial growth. Soils close to neutral pH are best for this. And soils with a pH near neutral allow grasses to readily take up the macro nutrients they need. You may have plenty of phosphorous in your soil but it will be unavailable to your grass if the pH reading of your soil is 6.5 or lower.
Your testing agent or test kit instructions will have guidelines on just how much lime (if your soil’s too acidic) or sulfur (if it’s too alkaline) you’ll need to apply. Either way, adjusting soil pH is a tedious process that involves follow-up testing after time for the additives to be taken by the soil. Lime is especially slow to be incorporated into your soil and it’s easiest to apply lime to soil before a lawn is planted or sod laid. If you are adding lime to an established yard, try aerating first before applying and then water the yard lightly. Repeat the aerating process again a week or so after. The key technique required for successfully changing the pH of established lawns is patience.
No matter if you’re installing a new lawn or working with established turf, use high-quality additives. Oyster shell lime, because it’s produced by a living source, will neutralize acidity more quickly than crystallized sources. Dolomite lime often contains magnesium (about 11%, but this can vary) and can add this important mineral to your soil. If your soil tests high in magnesium, try aragonite, a lime supplement that doesn’t contain magnesium.
Pelletized lime makes for easy handling and spreading. Burnt or quick lime will move through soil quickly but it is highly toxic and should be avoided by the organic gardener. Hydrated or slake lime can also be hazardous and difficult to spread.
SAFE FOR PETS!
It’s SAFE to play on! Dr. Earth® Lawn Fertilizer (9-3-5) promotes a hardy root system and controls thatch buildup. Best of all, it contains mycorrhizae, beneficial fungi that enhance your lawn’s ability to absorb nutrients and water, to ensure that nutrients are made available to the grass roots, even under high stress conditions. Each 40 lb bag covers 4,400 sq ft.
Your county extension agency soil test will also yield results for macronutrients (phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium) and, possibly, micronutrients (zinc, copper boron and iron). The organic gardener who makes thorough applications of compost to his yard won’t have to worry about adding micronutrients. And once a healthy yard is established, the regular return of grass clippings, along with a yearly application of compost, will naturally recycle macro and micronutrients back to the soil. But if testing has shown your soil to be badly deficient in certain nutrients, it’s time to supplement. Again, quality additives are the key. Those derived from kelp or other ocean sources will provide well-balanced nutrients as well as modest amounts of nitrogen.
Nitrogen should always be applied carefully. Using fertilizers high in nitrogen on new lawn soils may discourage seed germination while encouraging the growth of weeds. After germination, excess nitrogen will encourage blade growth at the expense of a deep root system. Frequent applications of nitrogen on established lawns can lead to shallow root growth and an inability to over-winter or survive drought. According to the Ohio State University Extension Service, fall and late fall are the best time to apply nitrogen in most areas. Spring and summer nitrogen applications of the sort promoted by commercial lawn services lead to disease, rapid growth requiring frequent mowing, shallow rooting, weed encouragement and other problems.
Safe, organic sources of nitrogen — corn gluten meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal and a variety of organic manures — can be worked into the top four to six inches soil well prior to planting to maximize integration and avoid run off. These same sources, minus the manures which may burn grass with too much nitrogen (even if they are labeled “composted manure” — PDF), can be applied to established lawns that are in critical need of nitrogen. Integrate them into the soil through watering and or aerating. Comprehensive natural lawn fertilizers, ones that contain nitrogen, phosphate and potassium (potash) should have a rough N-P-K ratio of 3-1-2 or something close, say 8-2-4 . Always apply inclusive fertilizers according to directions. Be careful not to over fertilize with nitrogen. No more than roughly one pound per 1,000 square feet of yard is needed. The best way to add nitrogen to your established lawn and encourage microbial growth is to spread compost once every year (more on this below).
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In addition to nitrogen, your lawn needs macronutrients to stay healthy. Phosphorus aids seed germination in new lawns and encourages strong, pervasive root growth in established lawns. If testing shows your lawn to be significantly deficient in phosphorus — and traditional, non-organic lawns that were treated with high amounts of nitrogen often are — you should add a good organic source such as fish emulsion or seaweed derived fertilizer, bone meal or soft rock phosphate. Again, the amount you apply is dependent on your test results. Phosphorus, if not entirely absorbed into your soil can be damaging to the environment. Apply it carefully, and in small amounts. You don’t want it running off your lawn and into natural water courses where it can contribute to algae blooms and other aquatic problems.
Potassium is health food for your turf. It makes your lawn more resistant to heat, cold, drought, disease and the wear-and-tear from frequent use. Again, seaweed and fish emulsions are good suppliers of potassium, as is greensand and some mineral supplements like sulfate of potash-magnesia (K-Mag). Wood ashes have traditionally been used to raise potassium levels in soils but are especially prone to runoff and can raise soil pH in the quantities required (wood ash may also contain other toxins).
Most of the other essential macronutrients, calcium and magnesium, will be supplied by the good-quality organic supplements you use — principally seaweed and liquid fish emulsion — to increase phosphorous and potassium. The application of dolomite limestone you used to adjust your soil’s pH will also help supply magnesium. Sulfur levels will usually take care of themselves unless you lawn has a history of high-nitrogen fertilization. Trace minerals including manganese, copper, boron, zinc and molybdenum will likewise take care of themselves, especially with applications of sea-derived fertilizers. Because these micronutrients are required in such minute amounts it actually can be harmful trying to supplement them directly. Best, of course, is a balanced compost.
Lawns Love Compost
For maximum growth and soil health, a lawn should be at least three percent organic material. Some extension services will test for organic material in your lawn’s soil, some will not. No matter how much organic material is already in your soil, adding compost using the guidelines below won’t harm it.
Before a new lawn is seeded, work three or more inches of compost into the soil. In cool climates, this is best done in the fall to avoid spring germination of weed seeds. Giving grass a chance to get started in the fall gives it a head start on the weeds they’ll be competing with once winter is over. Weeds are on a different schedule in warmer, Southern-state climates, often germinating late in the season. Spring plantings will be more effective in crowding them out. It is worth testing the pH of your compost, especially if you’ve made it yourself and included large amounts of highly alkaline components like wood ash or highly acidic ones like pine needles. You wouldn’t want to upset the balance you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Balance your compost pH rating as you did with your soil, using lime to counter acidity, sulfur to counter alkalinity.
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Established lawns benefit greatly from a single yearly application of compost, even more greatly from two. Spreading compost on your lawn isn’t as easy as pushing your old chemical fertilizer spreader around. Depending on your lawn’s size, a wheelbarrow and a shovel may be the best way to distribute compost around your yard, followed by a good raking (a push broom will also work) to distribute it more evenly. Though hard to find and troublesome to use effectively, a compost wheel or peat spreader can distribute compost across small yards though they can be difficult to push and need to be refilled often.
However you spread compost on top of an existing lawn, don’t apply too much. Compost should be spread no more than a half-inch deep. The idea is not to bury grass blades, smothering them and keeping them from sunlight. If that means less than a half-inch of compost, then reduce your application. You want grass blades exposed to oxygen and sunshine. Applying compost to problem areas will also help cure them.
Compost not only feeds the beneficial microbes in your soil, it introduces new microbes. Make sure the compost is well-finished and gives off only a rich, earth-like odor. Unfinished compost will not only smell but may rob your soil of oxygen. Best times to apply, according to Sachs, are in the spring before the grass begins to green and/or in the fall after the grass has gone dormant.
The Cutting Edge
Once your soil has reached its optimum pH with the right balance of macronutrients and your organic lawn is established, it’s easy enough to maintain if you’re making a yearly application of compost. Most of the additional nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and all the organic material and micronutrients you need to maintain a healthy population of beneficial microbes in your soil will come from something you’ll do anyway.
Mowing without a collection bag, allowing your clippings to fall back into the yard, will supply the nitrogen and other nutrients your lawn needs to stay healthy during the growing season. Estimates, again from Ohio State University Extension, suggest that grass clippings can supply at least 25% of your lawn’s nitrogen needs. That, coupled with a yearly application of compost, should be enough to keep it healthy and green. You can supplement this amount by running your mower over the lawn after the leaves have come down in the fall, adding even more organic material that will decompose over the winter while serving as a mulch for your grass and protecting your soil (it may take two mowings to reduce the leaves to compostable size).
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Fears that leaving grass clipping on your lawn may lead to thatch are unfounded. Because grass clippings are composed mostly of water, they decompose quickly. Thatch consists of dead and compacted turf roots and nodes as well as other organic matter such as dead weed stems, twigs and whole leaves. These tightly bound materials provide safe haven for pests and disease while crowding out beneficial microbes and limiting their movement. Indeed, soil microbes are your best defense against thatch and will keep your soil friable and porous. They’ll help decompose dead roots and other organic material that could become compacted. Adding grass clippings to your lawn will only help prevent thatch by keeping your soil and your lawn viable.
This same process will help keep weeds from germinating and spreading as well as discouraging insect pests. William Dest, associate professor of turfgrass studies at the University of Connecticut, compared lawns that left grass clippings as opposed to those that didn’t. His study showed that lawns on which clipping were left had 45% less crabgrass, 66% less disease and 45% more earthworms. These lawns also showed greater resistance to weeds because of their 25% greater root mass. Watering was more effective with 60% more water reaching grass roots. Lawns that left grass clippings uncollected reduced their need for nitrogen fertilization by 50%.
Don’t let those figures encourage you to drop your mower’s height in an effort to add even more clippings to your yard. Grass needs to gather sunlight and conduct photosynthesis. The more surface it exposes to the sun, the better able it is to do this. Taller grass also conserves water by shading soil and helps crowd out weeds. The rule of thumb is to never cut more than a third from your grass blades. Generally, this means leaving 3-1/2 to 4 inches of blade. This will be enough to not discourage root growth while leaving behind small clippings that will decompose more quickly. Keeping your mower’s blade sharp will avoid rough cuts that allow grasses to loose moisture quickly and become vulnerable to disease.
Once you have a rich population of soil microbes working for you, caring for your organic lawn will be easier in all ways. But, just because your soil is well aerated and friable, because it’s retaining moisture, because strong root growth is discouraging lawn pests and thick, above-ground grass is crowding out weeds and all those grass clippings are adding nutrients back to your soil; all these benefits don’t mean that you’ll completely avoid problems. You may have to add modest amounts of nitrogen at the end of the growing season so your grass will have what it needs in the spring. You will still have to water, especially in times of less rainfall, just not as much. You will still have to bend down and pluck out the stray weed. But you’ll have a healthy, organic lawn thanks to healthy, organic soil. And you’ll have healthy organic soil thanks to your organic lawn.
Clay soils can create problems in lawns. They are dense and compacted and have poor drainage. They stay soggy when wet, and turn rock hard when they dry out in the summer. When soils are this “tight”, necessary air, water and nutrients cannot move through them. Roots are stunted and the grass is stressed, weakened, and more prone to thatch, disease, insects and even weeds.
So it makes a lot of sense to do what you can to improve the clay conditions if you want your lawn to be healthier. If you were dealing with a garden bed instead of a lawn you could simply mix or deeply till in lots of organic matter – such as compost, peat moss, leaves etc… and this would result in a much improved and more bio-active soil often within just a season or two.
But we are dealing with a lawn now, not a garden bed. There is no way to till in organic matter into and below the root zone without tilling up and destroying the lawn. The standard advice is to “top dress” the lawn with compost, leave the clippings, fertilize organically and wait…and wait…and wait for all of that organic matter to eventually decompose and improve the soil. But the denser the clay, the longer it will take for this to occur – often many years.
The reason it takes so long for clays to improve when top dressed as above is that the soil microbes necessary for decomposing organic matter are “Aerobic” – meaning they need air/oxygen to survive. Clay, which is made up of microscopic-sized particles tightly bonded together, has very little air in it. A good garden topsoil has 20-25% air in it. A clay soil might have only 3-5% air in it, and most of that is near the surface instead of into and beyond the root zone. Even if you use liquefied organic matter for soil improvement the lack of air in the clay soil slows down the improvement dramatically.
A Faster Solution
If you could increase the amount of air in the clay by just a small amount, while at the same time putting organic matter deeper into the soil, you would encourage the beneficial soil-building microbes to generate and grow in numbers. For this purpose we have developed a product called Aerify PLUS – Liquid Soil Aerator and Bio-Activator. It is a combination product containing a strong soil penetrant and rich, concentrated organic matter.
Aerify PLUS breaks apart some of the clay bonds in the soil to create microscopic air space in the clay. Each application builds on previous ones. It also adds liquefied Seaweed and Humic Acids (Carbon) to help generate and feed beneficial soil microbes of all types (including mycorrhizae). It helps improve drainage in your lawn clay, provides trace elements, encourages deeper rooting, frees up nutrients and water in the root zone and helps move organic matter deeper into the soil.
Additionally, once your lawn clay begins to open up, the soil becomes healthier and earthworms will start to appear in your soil in greater numbers. Earthworms will enhance and speed up the soil improvement process because they aerate the soil as the tunnel up and down. They also digest thatch and other organic matter in the soil and convert it into humus and rich, fertile castings.
If your lawn is growing in a poor clay soil, it will always be prone to the problems that come with clay. Improve the clay and you will improve the lawn. It is as simple as that.
FYI, I treated my own lawn organically for many years and top dressed with compost as well. Though the top 4-5 inches eventually got pretty good, the clay underneath remained gray and sticky. After a few seasons of treating with Aerify PLUS, it was as if all the organics that I had put in the soil finally were able to be utilized down deep where I wanted them to go. My lawn clay soil became dark and crumbly more than 1½ feet deep – and earthworms abound.
S. Franklin, Pres.