grass yellowing after compost tea application

tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)April 23, 2008

Hi all,

I have a St. Augustine lawn that was put in 3 years ago when the house was built. First year it was beautiful, second was pretty good until the fall when I had some brown patch. I had it treated by a local company, and a fungicide of some sorts was applied.

In hindsight, I started developing a thatch problem about that time. Last spring there was a LOT of dead material left over and it made the new grass that was coming up look much thinner than all of the neighbors. (I hate that!) The rest of the year last year was pretty mediocre. I learned enough to cut back on watering some, but that was about the only effort I put into trying to solve the problem (except for a few weekends of trying to rake some of the dead material out).

This year is starting out exactly the same for me. So for the past several weeks, I've been scouring the web for hours on end making an honest effort to learn what's good and bad for a lawn.

Mechanical dethatching just seems like it will tear a St. Augustine lawn to shreds, so I've not been too interested in trying that. As of yet, I haven't found anyone that does aerating in town here... So I kept reading.

I finally found my way to several organic sites and the more I read, the more it makes complete and total sense to "be organic" when it comes to lawn care. I've been a Scott's user for many years. Never a soil test, just going by the bag's instructions.

So I do confess to some pretty poor decisions in the past now that I'm a little wiser. I just hope that the wisdom hasn't come too late.

I read that humates were good for helping the soil handle thatch better by making a better environment for the microbes. I purchased some Natural Guard Soil Activator and applied it at about 20 lb/1000 sq ft (bag indicated 20 - 30 lb if it was the first application). That was about 10 days ago.

So then I decided that I probably actually NEEDED microbes since decay wasn't keeping up with growth. I found compost tea at that point. I mixed up my first batch this past Thursday and applied it Sunday morning.

My compost came from Lowes as a bagged product. It was moist and smelled nice, so I went with it. I used a 10 gallon container, about 1/3 full of compost and the rest with water that I had "bubbled" with air stones for 24 hours to finish de-clorinating. I used 3 tablespoons of molasses for food when I mixed it all together. I stired it several times a day and always had two 5-inch air stones bubbling up through it. I brewed it outside in mild weather. About midway through, I added about 1 cup of corn meal (having dandelion problems this year... didn't "weed 'n' feed" last year).

I added a "whole house" chlorine filter to my waterhose to help limit chlorine contact with the tea... I have about 7000 sq ft of lawn and decided that a hose end sprayer would be ok to use with the filter.

I started spraying about 8:00am in beautiful weather, and was done by about 10:30. I applied roughly 6 gallons over 7000sq ft in this manner. I kept what I wasn't using aerated until the end. It had the "yeasty" smell that I had read to expect. It didn't smell foul at all.

Tonight, about 45 hours after applying, I went out and noticed that in much of the yard, there was a slightly different shade of yellow mixed in with the winter leftovers. I thought "wow, the little guys are already making a difference!" Upon closer inspection though, it's some of my GOOD blades that are turning yellow! Seems to be starting from the tip. I don't have just a whole lot of the green ones to spare, so I'm a little worried.

The weather's been very mild lately. The soil is still damp from the application a few days ago. I've cut way back on watering this year, but not to the point of drying the soil out. I was evidenlty overdoing it in previous years, so I'm probably closer to "normal" now in that department.

I did send off for a comprehensive soil test about 1 week ago and have not fertilized this year yet... Wanted to wait on the results. So it's possible that it's unrelated to the compost tea and I just have a defficiency that decided to make itself known at the same time.

If anyone's made it this far through my message, do you have any ideas, suggestions, or see flaws in my process so far? I know that I'm getting a late start on learning all of this... Should have been doing the learning over the winter!

Thank you for your time,


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I am relatively new to the whole organic process myself, however; I have my doubts that the compost tea is the culprit of your lawn turning yellow. You mentioned that you have not fertilized as of yet this year. I would recommend an application of Soy Bean Meal.

I too had a pretty serious thatch problem prior to starting my organic process. I started out with mechanical aeration which I now do every fall. From there I put down Corn Gluten in the spring, and throughout the summer I will alternate between soybean meal/milorginite/alfalfa..........or any other grain I can find. I still have a few spots of the lawn that still have some heavy thatch buildup but for the most part the situation as a whole has improved greatly

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 8:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dao4686(8 Houston, TX)

I agree with jlaak that the compost tea itself is not the issue. More possibly the fact that your weather is mild and soil is wet you are getting some fungus issues. I would put down corn meal instead of Soy Bean meal to fight any fungus. This shouldn't be as bad as fungus in the fall and as your temperatures rise, it should get better quickly.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 10:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

St Augustine seems to be a touchy grass when it comes to lawn diseases. The corn meal definitely sounds smart to me at the moment. Also, 10 gallons with air stones might be pushing it as far as having enough oxygen to distribute evenly throughout the container. I think a better route would be to do 4-5 gallons and then mix it with the other 5 or so gallons of dechlorinated water when you are ready to spread. Is there a long period of time from taking the air stones out to applicating? I try not to allow more than 20 minutes go by from the time the air goes off to where it is on the ground but you probably are OK with 45-60 minutes. The tea smelled OK though right? Did you just mix the compost into the water or did you have a filtered system like Deuley's? I have to say I've never seen good compost come from the box stores like I get at a nursery- they are usually some form of composted manure but maybe things are different at other locations.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 11:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Welcome aboard and get ready to have the greenest/healthiest lawn on the block.

I highly doubt the tea you applied has anything to do with the yellowing. My guess, Your lawn is Starving and needs some food ASAP. Warm season grasses should be fed 4x per year staring early spring thru fall. For example I will be applying my 2nd feeding of the year at the end of May. You just got a late start, but not to worry, your grass will be fine.

For my first feeding of the new year I like to apply both Soybean meal and Alfalfa Pellets. Both @ 10-15lbs per 1000sqft. In your case 2 - 50lbs of Soybean Meal and 2 - 50lb bags of Alfalfa pellets. Soybean meal has a High protein content which will provide your grass with much need nitrogen. Alfalfa's major benefit is the high availability of trace minerals and trianconatol, a natural fatty-acid growth stimulant. It also offers some NPK.

I would recommend applying both of these this weekend or asap and water them in with 3/4-1" of water.

As for water; a general rule of thumb 3/4-1" of water once a week in the middle of summer. To determine how long to run your sprinkler system to apply this much water, set out several coffee or tuna fish cans in each zone of the sprinkler system and see how long it takes to fill them to the desired depth. Be sure to check your irrigation system for uniform coverage at the same time.

Mowing; Set your mower to the highest setting a leave it there forever.

About the Tea; I agree with fescue_planter about the poor quality of most bagged compost. No harm done though. In the future use either Homemade compost or high quality compost from a nursery/supplier for best results.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 12:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Thank you all for the replies! I had actually SORT OF started coming to the same conclusion this morning. I went out and took a really good look, and I now think it was a case of me not paying close enough attention before the tea application. I did leave one little "control area" unsprayed and didn't notice the yellowing there, but I'm not calling that a hard fact right now. Need to watch it some more over the coming days.

I now think that what I'm seeing is not only "winter leftover", but an ongoing process of my grass greening up and dying off at the same time. Most of what I was calling "thatch" in the back yard actually seems to be more of a "top coat" of dead material than something going all the way down to the soil level. I do think there's a thatch issue in the front yard still (it is much taller/thicker/spongy than in the back), but it's the back where I'm noticing the yellowing now.

Something else that I've noticed for quite a while that I didn't mention in my first post was that we have a small dog who is very lazy about going outside to do her business. She'll make it anywhere from 0 to 15 feet off the back porch, but typically doesn't venture out into the rest of the yard. "Her" patch of grass around the porch is by far the best plot of grass in my yard. No thatch, no endless web of runners, beautiful deep green... Exactly what I want the rest of the yard to be. I purposely left this area of soil out of my mix that I sent in for soil testing, to hopefully get an unskewed idea of what the other 95% of the yard needs.

I do concede that the rest of the yard may be starving. I've just been afraid to go out and fertilize again for fear of that being part of the problem that got me here in the first place! I'm really hoping that the soil test results show up any day now... I suppose since it would be a slow release organic that doesn't also turn around and kill my new microbe friends that it probably would be ok to make an application... Should I maybe do a fractional application now and then try to true it up once the results are in?

I took some pics this morning to show some of the bad spots up close, the dog's good spot, and the yard as a whole... They are at (or the link at the bottom of this message) if it would be of any use in helping me plan a course of action (fungal vs. starving). There are some very close-up pics in the Apr 23 folder.

I'll go look a little harder for some better compost too... Was going to try to repeat an application pretty regularly (weekly-ish) for a month or two (as long as it didn't all die off after the first one!)

Again, I sincerely appreciate everyone's thoughts and taking the time to read through all of this!


Here is a link that might be useful: My sad lawn pictures

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 2:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

After looking at your pics, I take back what I said about giving your lawn a feeding this weekend.
I would give it a feeding TODAY!

I've just been afraid to go out and fertilize again for fear of that being part of the problem that got me here in the first place!

With feed grains your not applying fertilizer, technically speaking. Your applying a food source for your soil microbes. In turn the microbes will provide your lawn with the nutrients it needs.

When was the last time you fertilized?

I can't tell from the photos, but it looks as if your mowing too low. My lawn is cut @ 4.25" (measured from the ground to the bottom on my mowers cutting deck) and would be dam near the height as those landscape bricks in your pics. (click on my user name)

Also, your lawn mower blade needs to be sharpened. The blades of grass appear to be shredded in the close up photos. Sharp mower blades are an extremely important part of lawn care. A leaf cut by a sharp mower blade will heal faster and require less water than a leaf torn by a dull blade.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 2:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Thanks skoot for the solidified diagnosis. :) I will go on a scavenger hunt for some alfalfa pellets & soybean meal asap.

Yeah, I was noticing the torn blades this morning too. I started using a lawn service for mowing this year to be sure that it stayed cut on a regular basis... I'll neither confirm or deny that it may have gone a little longer than it needed to occasionally last year, but I wanted to take that out of the equation. I'll get 'em to sharpen up. They did cut close this past time to get some more of the dead material chopped up. They normally do 4" though.

I just looked at the link to your page/story. WOW. That is absolutely beautiful! I am very very very impressed (and jealous!). I hope by next year I can have something to be proud of!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 3:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Stopped off at a couple of the local garden centers in search of compost, alfalfa, and soybean meal. Struck out on the latter two, but picked up some compost by Lady Bug. Started my next batch o' tea this evening and can say (unprofessionally) that this appears to be a superior product. The Lowes flavor had a texture much closer to mulch. Lady Bug's is much more like potting soil.

Going to try the local Co-Op tomorrow for "meal" shopping. Hopefully they'll have something... Not sure where else to look localy. Not a lot of garden shops in town. May have to do a road trip....

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 7:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Where do you live? Texas I assume, but there are differences between Brownsville and Dalhart, El Paso and Orange. It makes a huge difference.

The only time I've seen thatch in St Aug was in a lawn that was watered daily. St Aug can grow completely above the surface of the ground if it gets enough moisture. When you start backing off on the water you have to be extremely careful, because the roots are mostly above the soil surface. Eventually the watering schedule you need is once a month for the winter and once a week for the hottest part of summer. The hard part is to get your roots to the ground and not kill the grass while you're doing it.

You were absolutely right not to dethatch. Preferably stop the raking, too.

Have you read the Organic Lawn Care FAQ over on the Organic Gardening forum? One thing you have hinted at is you are trying to apply your knowledge of chemical fertilizing to organic materials. You are going to have to forget everything you knew and start to relax. A couple things come to mind:

1. Forget about NPK and start thinking in terms of protein and maybe carbohydrates. Compost tea has no protein in it except for the protein in the bodies of the microbes and any left over protein from the undigested corn you put in it. These are important in the theory, but in the amounts you are getting from tea, they are not important in quantity.

2. Organic fertilizers can be applied any day of the year; any time of day; rain, drought, shade, or shine. They can be mixed with each other and mixed with other organic materials. They can be over applied by 100% or more without damage to the turf (you may get some smell, so that's mainly why the rates are set where they are).

3. The grain type organic fertilizers take a full 3 weeks to decompose to the point where you see significant greening. Any ground or pelletized animal feed type of grain can be your fertilizer. Corn, wheat, milo, cottonseed, soy, alfalfa, coffee, mung, rice, flax, canola, or any other ground up seed, nut, or bean will work. They all have protein.

While it is great that you are following an organic plan, the best things you can do to enhance the look of your lawn and minimize the work that goes into it is to water infrequently and mow at the highest setting on your mower. Not the next-to-highest setting, but all the way up. There is never a reason to mow St Augustine lower than the highest setting...unless your spouse forces you and then you are only allowed to lower it one notch ;-) Water is critically important to St Aug because it has no warm season dormancy like bermuda and zoysia have. St Aug will die out if it dries out. That's why you have to be careful working your thatch out and getting roots into the ground.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 11:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The best/least expensive place to find grains is a Farm/Livestock Feed store. Call around, prices vary.

I hope by next year I can have something to be proud of!

It will happen, be patient. St.Augustine is a tough grass and it recovers quickly when properly maintained. Be sure to ask many question along the way. If problems do arise, come back here for help

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 8:30AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Hi dchall, I'm over in College Station.

No, I hadn't found the FAQ yet (I don't think so anyway... Read so much lately!), but I will certainly go hunt it down.

On my first couple of posts, I was definitely fixated on NPK... Within a couple of minutes of my reply wondering if I should wait for the soil test, I found an article that turned on the protein/carbs light for me though exactly along the lines of what you are saying.

Although the light is on, it's flickering a little still though.... :) I see time after time where people are comparing the NPK of grains/meals. My current assumption is that the NPK of grains is still relevant b/c the microbes I'm trying to feed w/ protein/carbs are releasing it into the soil as they work on digesting the grain (along with lawn clippings, etc.)... So I may still have a little brain fog, but I'll keep researching and put NPK on the mental back burner.

I homebrew beer and there is a hops shortage this year, so I decided to plant some several weeks back. I dug up a new planter along the side of the house where I was seeing the yellowing the most. The grass is pretty well rooted. Not terribly deep, but certainly not above ground. (That weekend I would have been happy to have had such a bad problem that all of my roots were in a thatch layer!!! My back still hurts from removing all that grass!). So I do have room for improvement on the root depth, but I THINK that I have caught on to all of this in enough time to not be as bad off as I could have been and can continue to wean it off of water. I had reduced watering last year to about an inch per week, but I did it cold turkey. I've turned off the automatic sprinklers several weeks ago and am trying to just water when the soil is drying now.

On the homebrew topic, I read last night that spent grain (barley) is high in protein (but most of the carbs are pulled out in the brew process). I sometimes spread those out on the lawn (blindly thinking "this decays, it's probably good for the lawn"). I'll have to start doing that more regularly. I don't make enough to cover the whole lawn, but it's nice to learn that it is a safe supplement.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 9:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Well, the yard just got it's first helping of organic fertilizer!

I went to the local Coop today and wound up finding that they make a mix there that I decided to try. They don't give proportions, but the ingredients are:

Alfalfa Meal
Feather Meal
Animal Protein Products Sugarcane Molasses
Muriate of Potash

That wound up making a 6-1-2 mix (if I cared about that kind of thing any more... ;) )

Think that's livable? It was priced very nicely at $14.99 / 40 lb sack and had been pre-mixed before being pelletized. I applied about 20 lbs / 1000 sq ft.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 8:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)


Just learned that innocent sounding "muriate of potash" is potassium chloride and not good for the microbe friends I'm trying to make. Sigh..........

Maybe I should just pave over my lawn and paint it green........

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 10:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just learned that innocent sounding "muriate of potash" is potassium chloride

Dont worry about it. That small amount of muriate of potash is not going to be detrimental to your microbes. Over time it might cause some damage, but not this one time.

If they are mixing there own, why not ask if they can leave it out for you? Or suggest sulfate of potash instead.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 8:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Thx skoot. I'm just mad at myself.

I should have gone over there when I had more time. Tried to do it during lunch and wound up having a co-worker join me at the last minute for food. It was the first time I had been there and they're at the far other end of town from where we work.

They wound up having a very large lawn & garden section and I got side tracked looking at everything else (kid in a candy store!). There was a big line at the feed section of the store, so I settled for this instead of what I went over there for.

On the plus side, I think they're going to be my favorite new lawn & garden shop. I just need to plan a little better next time. :)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 8:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Once cut correctly, watered correctly, and fed correctly, St Augustine is a grass that will reward you handsomely. I have a feeling that within the next 30-45 days, you are going to be proudly showing us photos of your *beautiful* St Aug lawn.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

Honestly, I'll be happy if I can wind up this year's growing season with some optimism that next year will be a dramatic difference.

It took time for me to get it into this condition, so I understand that it will take some time to undo. I certainly would be elated to see huge improvements in the 30 - 45 day range, but I'll take what I can get!

Thank you all again for your guidance and patience with another newbie!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 2:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

+many on the don't worry about the potash. After all the pesticides used on the sugar cane, what's a little muriate of potash? :-)

There's nothing wrong with animal protein products. Heck, they have great nitrogen levels, decay fast, but stink in larger amounts.

If I were comfortable with it and there were a slaughterhouse nearby, I wouldn't mind applying dried offal. Because of the stench and likelihood of getting bacteria there that could infect me (not to mention mad cow disease), I wouldn't.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 8:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tex_jas(8b - College Station, TX)

You might be on to a new way to keep the door-to-door salesmen away.............. :)

Yeah, yeah.... Lesson learned. Let's just say that I'm just baby-stepping into organics now... Don't want to shock the lawn into a chemical withdrawal!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 9:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You can use both at once or double the organics if you feel like it. Just don't double the synthetics.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 10:41PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Best Organic Weed Control Ideas?
Hello, I am doing a project in which the objective...
Cow Manure
If I took fresh cow manure, made a tea out of it and...
PLEASE HELP - identify this weed
Hello all, I live in North Texas and just started organic...
overseeding help !
Hi All, I have a 5000 sft lawn with tall fescue, in...
Help, switching to organic lawn
So, I aerated and reseeded my bare(dead, dying, weed...
Sponsored Products
Arnold Leather Chair - Brighton Lemon Grass Yellow
Joybird Furniture
Area Rug: Caprice Collection Grass 5' x 5' Round
Home Depot
Backyard X-Scapes Black Rolled Bamboo Fence - 11BLACK
$72.99 | Hayneedle
Natural Fiber Green Rectangular: 5 Ft. x 8 Ft. Rug
$301.95 | Bellacor
Izmir FJ Pendant
Contemporary Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: Linon Home Decor Rugs Athena Natural and
Home Depot
Kathy Ireland Sandy Beach 9-Light Pendant Chandelier
Lamps Plus
Cali Sea Grass Basket - Set of Four
$79.99 | zulily
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™