Multiple Issues - Need Advice and Encouragement (long post)

highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)May 23, 2009

Three years ago, we moved into a new home with a dirt yard. I saw a few patches of some kind of vining weed before the landscape company leveled the yard with a Bobcat and laid down the sod. If I had known it was bindweed, I would have dug it out, or resorted to some sort of chemical annihilation, but anyway, now the entire yard is infested with it. My first question is this: Is using the mulch mower, as is recommended for organic lawn care, making the problem worse? Or is it more likely just spreading the usual ways, through underground runners, and prolific reseeding? I spent over three hours pulling the stuff this morning, and I am not even half way done with the front yard. It is overwhelming! I realize that there isn't anything that will kill bindweed, that won't kill the grass, so short of ripping the entire lawn out, eliminating the bindweed root system, and starting over, I know that it will never go away. I'm just looking for some way to manage it, that doesn't require me to spend hours every day pulling it. I seem to remember someone mentioning a mite that is specific to bindweed. Does anyone know where I can find that?

Next problem: Grasshoppers

I live in a high desert climate, and we have grasshoppers in plague proportions every year. Last year, I used Semaspore, which didn't seem to decrease the population, though it did seem like they died out a little earlier than usual. I realize that there are not a lot of organic options for battling grasshoppers. My question is how much damage to a lawn do they actually cause? Once they are 1" or larger, they tend to move into the perennial and vegetable beds, but I'm not sure how much they eat while they are young.

Third issue: There's a fungus among us!

Large areas of my lawn are dying from what appears to be a fungus. Down at the base of the affected areas is a white substance that I am assuming is some type of fungus. What are the options for dealing with fungus organically?

Lastly: Roly Polies (Pill bugs)

I have read that they only eat decomposing material, but I have also read that they will damage the root systems of young seedlings. There are many thousands of them in the lawn. Are they there because the fungus, grasshoppers, etc. are killing the lawn, or are they part of the problem?

Honestly, I am completely discouraged. I had a lush, green lawn three years ago. Now, after using soybean meal, and corn glutean meal as fertilizers, moving high, mulch mowing, and watering deep and infrequently, my lawn looks horrible. No wonder so many people resort to chemical lawn care!

Someone please tell me there is hope!


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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

There's hope!

I'm just curious, do you have so many grasshoppers that the roads are slippery with their dead carcasses? Or somewhat less than that? In any case, birds are usually the answer to grasshoppers. If you can have chickens, guineas, or ducks, they will keep the garden free of grasshoppers...and pill bugs, ticks, snails, and slugs. The eggs from meat eating poultry are far better than from scratch fed poultry. Alternately you could install a bird bath, bird houses, and bird feeders to attract wild predators.

In addition to birds, toads and lizards are the care takers for pill bugs. You should have some pill bugs but not thousands.

Turf fungal diseases are usually cured by ordinary corn meal, not corn gluten meal. Ordinary corn meal is much less expensive than CGM, so that should be a little bonus for you. Corn meal is a fertilizer, too, so you can back off on the soy bean meal. If you have a disease, then the app rate for corn meal is 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. As with all grain-based organic materials, it takes 3 weeks to see results.

As far as the bind weed, I don't know of an organic solution. I think I know of two chemical solutions that should work quickly to let you get back to the longer time, organic care. You already know of one that will kill your grass, too, but I think there is a brush killer that will not kill the grass. If you are interested in chemical solutions, you might search the GW forums for "bindweed" and see what you find.

If your grass has deteriorated every year, you might need to have a soil test done. Since you don't know me, I virtually NEVER suggest getting a soil test unless all hope is fading away. You're doing everything right and getting poor results. Hope is fading so get a soil test done. The least expensive route is through your local county agent. He can set you up with that through a university in Colorado; however, I'm not a big fan of university soil tests. There is a soil test lab in South Texas that has performed miracles with soils from around the world. They are the Texas Plant and Soil Lab. Their owner died last year and since then they have changed their test pricing so much I cannot keep up with them. They used to have one test that cost $35 and gave you a lot more results than university tests. Now they have a menu of tests. You want the comprehensive soil test with salinity, and I think you want boron, too. Tell them you are organic and they'll give you lots of options. Sometimes they will give you chemical solutions that are needed first before the soil will support substantial biological life, so watch for that. The advantage of TPSL is that they do the "exotic" tests every day. Universities would have to order the chemicals and brush up on the techniques in order to do what TPSL considers routine.

Do your neighbors have trouble growing a nice lawn?

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 4:15PM
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The mite you're thinking of is the bindweed mite, I believe. I think they're available in Colorado for free (or a low price) from the extension offices. If you go that route, I think you need to get the bindweed healthy first, then apply the mites. I think they take a year or more to really work and they may not completely eliminate the bindweed, but should keep in in check pretty well.

I think somebody on the RM garden forum got some and had at least some success using them.

I got rid of the bindweed in my lawn by pulling it as soon as I saw it, but you have to get every bit of it as soon as it pops up. If you spent three hours and aren't half done with your front yard, you've got a worse problem than I had. If you want to control it by pulling, what I would do is go out every day and start with the part that is bindweed free and go over it to make sure it's still bindweed free, pulling any that comes up. Then spend a little time in the next section of the lawn. Eventually, you will have covered teh entire lawn and the whole thing will be bindweed free. But then you'll need to walk the lawn every day (literally) picking any bindweed that comes up. If you do this long enough, you basically starve the roots. But the seeds are viable for years, so it can germinate down the road. Once you don't see any for a few weeks, you can probably stop looking for it on a daily basis, but I would still look at least once a week and pull any that I see.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 6:03PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Thanks for your responses!

Dchall, I live in a small town, but the subdivision has an HOA, so I'm pretty sure chickens are not allowed, though I would love to have some, if we ever move to a larger place. The only birds I've seen eat the grasshoppers are Magpies, and we only have a few of them around here. As far as how many grasshoppers we get, when I walk through the yard, or drive down the alley in June or July, it looks like a parting of the Red Sea, if that helps any. Part of the problem is that the subdivision is only part of the way built out, so most of what's around me are fields, or empty lots. So even if I used some kind of chemical to knock them down, more would just move in from the fields once the summer heat kills off the weeds there. The one house across from us, just put in sod this week. There is one other house next to us, which has been there a couple of years now. They put in a native grass, not the waterhog blue grass like we did (I didn't know any better at the time). They didn't put in any irrigation though. I guess they didn't realize that even native grasses have to be watered until they're established. Anyway, they are not big on yardwork, so their yard is usually weedy and overgrown, and they use Roundup liberally in the rock mulch and perennial beds. I did notice a TruChem flag in their grass today though, so their yard should start to look better with the help of some serious chemical applications!

On the corn meal, I just put down soybean meal today, so can I apply that right away, or should I wait a bit?

BP, I don't know if I can buy the idea that I can get rid of bindweed by pulling it as soon as it pops up. In the vegetable bed, I pull it every day, as soon as it starts to come up, and get as much of the root system as possible, and every day more comes up. It seems worse, not better each year. It is like the "Terminator" of weeds! I'll check with my county agent on the bindweed mites though.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 7:28PM
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One problem with bindweed is that it has very extensive roots, so it's possible that you're getting weeds in the garden that originated in your lawn (or your neighbors' lawns). I may have used glyphosate and/or 2,4D to get rid of some of the bindweed (it has been a long time and I was using more chemical control back then). So I may have killed most of the bindweed using chemicals before going vigilant (or did I go vigilante?) on what I saw pop up.

There is (or was) a thread on the RMG forum that was active for probably 5 years about bindweed. If it hasn't fallen off, it wouldn't surprise me to see it surface again.

If you search bindweed on the RMG forum, you'll probably find some info on the mites and how to get them. I know at one time, they were readily available in Colorado and not available in Utah at all. I think they're available in Utah now, but I'm not sure.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 9:50PM
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Start by contacting your county office of the Colorado State University USDA Cooperative Extension Service about having a good, reliable soil test done and then dig in with these simple soil tests,
1) Structure. 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. 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 drains 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 you 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.

Grasses grow best in good, healthy soils that are evenly moist but well drained, and your soil is the place to start trying to make a good lawn.

Here is a link that might be useful: CSU CES

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 7:49AM
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