Organic Lawn Care

Hunter49March 13, 2013

Thinking about going organic this spring. I have been a heavy user of chemicals for about 7-8 years now. My lawn is "nice" but hasn't quite looked as good for the past 2-3 years. I'm hoping that going organic will get my soil health back and enable me to have the lush lawn I once had. My local garden center has suggested the following program:
1. (Optional) Apply Natural Guard Soil Activator
2. CGM in early spring (I'm assuming Espoma Brand)
3. Espoma (Not sure which one)
4. Milogranite
5. Espoma (Not sure which one)
I do have a good local source of SBM and Alfalfa meal in 50lb bulk bags ($15 each). Would I be better off using the CGM from the garden center (can't find it local) and then using the bulk feeds for the rest of my program and maybe throwing in some Milogranite (available at Walmart)? I do want to watch my costs but in the end it may all cost about the same. I guess the real question comes down to is the bulk feeds better than the Espoma? Any help would be appreciated.

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Organic growing starts with the soil, so take a good look at your soil and that can aid you in what to do.
What is your soils pH?
How much organic matter is in the soil?
What kind of life is in the soil?
How well does that soil drain?
How well does that soil retain moisture?
Contact your state universities Cooperative Extension Service about having a good soil test done which will tell you abnout the soils pH and why it is where it is and what you may need to do to correct any problem as well as the major nutrient levels. Then dig in with these simple soil tests,
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.
which can help with oganic matter, drainage, soil life, etc.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 12:08PM
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You may also have thatch taking over your lawn, which would explain the decline over the past few years. If you have access to compost try putting that down and let it be your fertilizer for the summer.
Does water sit on top of your lawn for a while before it soaks in?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 5:41AM
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Water doesn't seem to stay on top. I have sent a soil sample in to my local Purdue extension. Once I get that back maybe I'll have a better idea of what is going on in the soil. I have an opportunity to get free biosolid compost from the city. I stopped by and looked at it and it seems to be really nice stuff. It is a mix of city leaves collected in the fall, some wood chips, and then the biosolid material similar to the Milogranite. It is screened and everything and has a nice texture. Do you think this is good stuff? I want to compost but am having trouble finding a good supply and the cost. This stuff would be great if it is good. Thanks for the help.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 10:16AM
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If your water is moving through the surface well enough then thatch may not be your issue.
The screenings from the city compost pile should be OK, but I wouldn't start out with too much, unless you're sure it is compostted or finished. Raw materials may cause an issue. My finished compost is no problem whatsoever and it really puts a spark into the lawn.
You may be able to get by with the screenings alone, if they're finished. No other fertilizer necessary. :)

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 8:47AM
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Sounds great and thanks for the advice. I'm going to wait and get that soil sample back and then I plan to get a few truckloads of that compost and spread a thin layer as a top dressing and see how that works (unless the soil sample suggests something different). They are telling me the compost is similar to Milogranite and is professionally managed and perfectly safe for its intended use as a soil supplement/fertilizer. That would be great if it has good results since it is free!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 2:44PM
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If you've got good safe compost for free, you definately have a great deal. Good luck with your soil test. :)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 7:49AM
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Ok, got my soil test back. I'm no pro at reading these.
pH is very high at 7.6 and Phosphorus is very high. Not sure if those two things go hand in hand but they have suggested a phosphorous free fertilizer 18-0-18 at an application rate of 22lbs per 1000sq feet annually. This would be split into at least 3 applications over the season. They are also suggesting that that fertilizer contain some iron. Also an application of sulfur at 10lb per 1000sq feet 2 times a year fall and early spring to help lower the pH over time. Organic matter was somewhat low. I guess I need suggestions on what type of fertilizer and/or if the compost I was speaking about above would still be a good idea. It sounds like I don't need any phosphorous thrown on the lawn at all. I want to be careful. Any help would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 12:15PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Go to the Organic Gardening forum and find the FAQs. At the bottom of the list is the Organic Lawn Care FAQ. Read that and get some other ideas for an approach to organic lawn care.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 4:19PM
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Compost is as good as anything for fertilizing grass. Phosporus is locked up in soils all over the world, so even the amounts on the soil test are not likely to be available to your grasses. (as I understand soil test results).

It is almost impossible to alter pH permanently so regular sulfer is a good idea, but also the compost and its organic matter will buffer the pH at the root hair,, as the soil organic matter builds downward into the soil profile.

I see no reason to take advantage of free compost, for as long as possible, while finding cheap sulfer and iron, as ammendments. :)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 8:20AM
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I think you are right. I started to research sulfur and soil acidity right away and notice that I'm not going to change things over night and trying to do too much may in fact be detrimental. I think I'm going to follow the plan on using the compost and then either use a non-phosophorous Espoma product or Milogranite since it has some iron. The lawn looks pretty good so I'm going to slowly work the organic products in. Thanks again all.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 9:05AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I disagree. Compost is not fertilizer at all. It is depleted fertilizer. The stuff that went into making the compost was fertilizer back then, but now that it is finished compost, it has been fully decomposed. The fertilizer value, compared to real organic fertilizer, is nill.

Back in the 1930s, J.I. Rodale proposed the idea that compost was the gold standard for organic gardening. That idea persisted until the 1990s when DNA testing on the soil revealed the true nature of soil. Prior to that testing, botanists had been able to grow about 12 different soil based fungi and bacteria in the laboratory. They figured there more than that actually in the soil and proposed that there would be as many as 50 different microbes. The first DNA testing revealed there were 30,000 to 35,000 different microbes. Subsequent testing in the 2000s revealed upwards of 100,000 different species of soil microbes. These are the guys which have been supporting life on the planet for billions of years. All of a sudden the teaching of Rodale was out the window. Feeding the microbes was found to be the solution to organic gardening. Compost has little to no food value left after the concentrated decomposition process. Instead the idea of feeding real food to the microbes came into vogue. The real food of choice is corn, wheat, soy, alfalfa, and other protein sources. These are usually available at your local feed store for $12 for a 50-pound bag and up. The application rate is 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. It can be applied at double the rate with no harm. It can be applied at double the rate every week of the growing season with no harm. The cost per application is about $5 per 1,000 square feet. Compost, on the other hand, can cost up to $75 per 1,000 square feet depending on whether you need to have it delivered. Most people over apply compost bringing the cost to $150 per 1,000. When you apply that much compost to a lawn, it will smother it leaving a bigger mess than ever. Thus I disagree with the idea that compost is as good as anything. It is worse than almost anything and costs a small fortune.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 12:50AM
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Some people have deteremined that compost is of little value because it tests for fairly low nutrient values. The soil tests we use test for fairly readily available nutrients, not total, so any soil test will not be a complete picture, only an indication.
As Sir Albert Howard learned over 100 years ago, and many of us "discover" yet today, compost added to soils does amazing things, much beyond what a soil test indicates it might do. What J. I. Rodale taught was simply what he had learned from people like Sir Albert Howard and that is still valid today. Some people appear to be misinterpreting what DNA has revealed.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:06AM
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I'm sorry about scientists and their DNA believing that compost has no food value at all for microbes, but my lawn and friends'lawns disagree with them.
It is too bad when people over apply compost and make a big mess of their lawn, so thanx for the warning. :)

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:09AM
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Hmmm.....seems to be some defering opinions here. I did go ahead and applt compost yesterday but not anywhere near the 1yd per 1000sq feet. I spread a fine layer and will try to continue to work it into the soil today by lightly raking. I personally don't think it will do any harm. If anything it seems like it would add microbes. I'll probably be adding cgm within the next week or so OR the espoma lawn food at 18-0-3 OR I could get the soymeal. I do want to get down a good protein base as the temps start rising here. I'll have to make the decision which to use soon.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 9:00AM
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Lawn food or is still good for your soil. You've fortified your microbe population and increased organic matter in your soil. Pretty sure worms love compost, another plus! The high nitrogen does sounds tempting for a lawn but I think you will be very impressed with the soy meal. Good nutrients for just a "sack of feed"....price wise it's good too as dchall mentioned. Gd lck

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 2:12AM
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Thanks for all the replies. I do believe I'm going to go with the SBM and Alfalfa pellets and maybe an application of Milogranite (for the iron) at some point. I'm just not sure if the cost of the CGM is justified. I think it will cost well over $100. I'm going to take it slow and see how the lawn responds. I like the idea of the organic bulk feeds because it sounds like I can mix it up a little with no harm. SBM, Alfalpha, Cornmeal, and them maybe some Milogranite. I'll keep this post updated with my results.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 10:09AM
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Can someone tell me where to purchase organic fertilizer for lawn (zoysia) and general purpose in Atlanta Ga. or in northern suburbs. Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 10:37PM
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You might use the liquid CGM which is cheaper. In Atlanta check for Bradfield which is a good product but expensive here in Florida.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 6:01AM
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Since the meal, of Corn Gluten Meal, is pelletized or grain pieces you cannot have liquid CGM although you can have liquid Corn Gluten. Apparetnly the liquid CG does have a bit better plant growth suppression properties then does the meal. However, cost is getting prohibitive.

Here is a link that might be useful: About Corn Gluten

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 6:50AM
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For me, the liquid is the only affordable option, so I'm going with it. The dry CGM is not readily available here in Orlando and very expensive to mail order.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 3:41PM
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