Adding organic matter to lawn

baseballbobJune 10, 2009

What's the best way to add/increase organic matter in a 3 year old lawn? I have Palmetto St Augustine. My organic matter is 1.6%.

I have peat moss, peat humous, and compost. What's the best way to apply (I have 9,000sqft). And what's the best way to get it worked in and not just run off when it rains?

I'm new to this so thanks for any suggestions.

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

First of no harm to the organic matter you have. I'm referring to the microbes that live in the soil. They are the creatures that decompose stuff so that your plants can thrive. If you have any chemicals in your garage, get rid of them so you won't be tempted to use them. The microbes feed on food, not chemicals. Then start using organic fertilizer. Peat moss, humus, and compost are nice for many reasons but they do not replace organic fertilizer. The application rate for those materials you mention is 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. Adding more to grass will likely smother the grass. St Aug smothers easily. After you get it scattered, use a push broom, leaf blower, or the back of a hard rake to bring the grass blades up from the top dressing and push the top dressing down to the soil. Dragging a piece of chain link fence around is perfect for getting the grass back up.

You don't need to work anything into the soil. Apply organic materials on top like Mother Nature does in the fall. If you aerate in the fall, you could apply again then to simulate the activity of dung beetles which bury nutrients in the soil. Rain usually does not float organic material away unless it is torrential.

Have you read the Organic Lawn Care FAQ?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:46AM
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billhill(z5 MI - KBG)

One easy way is to mulch mow all your autumn leaves into your lawn. Collect other peoples leaves if you do not have enough. Compost is great stuff if you can get it cheaply. It us usually spread by wheel barrel and shovel. Just sling it around or dump little piles and rake or broom it into you lawn. Do not leave any piles. Blades of grass must be poking through.
Bill Hill

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 10:38AM
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Used Coffee Grounds are FREE from Starbucks. They act as a mild fertilizer and are great for increasing organic matter. Get some and fling them around your yard.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:47PM
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dchall - Thanks for the advice. I'd like to use organic fertilzers, but not sure what to use. My Extension Agent recommended 10-20-10 based on the soil analysis (below).

Nitrate-N 3 Very Low
Phosphorus 10 Very Low / Low
Potassium 108 Low

The recommendation was:

0.8 lbs N/1000sqft
2.4 lbs P205/1000sqft
1.1 lbs K20/1000sqft

By rounding, the Ext Agent arrived at 10-20-10.

Your opinion? And what could I use organically, to arrive at that ratio?

Again, thanks for taking time to help with this.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 2:11PM
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I don't think you're going to find an organic fertilizer with those ratios, but that doesn't mean you have to just use one fertilizer.

You could do 3 different fertilizers. Corn Gluten Meal for N, Rock Phosphate for P, Kelp Meal for K.

It doesn't need to be 10-20-10 either, it could be 5-10-5, 7-14-7. Or you could try to shoot for something closer to 0.8-2.4-1.1 (1.6-4.8-2.2) you get the picture. Just make sure you apply the correct amount to get the lbs of each you need per 1,000 sq ft.

Espoma has some good organic supplements that you can use to balance out the P and K.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 10:18PM
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Organic "fertilizers" will not have those kinds of numbers because the nutrients in those "fertilizers" are not readily available and so do not appear in the tests they use to deterimine readily nutrient levels. Organic "fertilizers", really soil amendments, go on to feed the soil bacteria that will feed the plants so the nutrietns do not need to be, and should not be, readily available.
What is the level of organic matter in your soil? Anything less than 5 percent means you need to add more organic matter and when that gets over the 5 percent range, and is maintained there, your soil bacteria, the Soil Food Web, will work on digesting that OM and will feed your plants what they need when they need it.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 8:25AM
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Great feedback guys.

Organicnoob - I thought that was the way it worked. Thanks for clarifying, and helping with what organic would meet the need for the N, P, and K.

Kimmsr - My organic level is low. It's 1.6%

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 10:58AM
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Guys - Thanks for the advice. I've added Corn Gluten, Rock Phosphate, and Kelp Meal in quantities to meet the needs as specified in the soil analysis. I've also added 1/2 inch of Organice Compost as a topdressing to begin bringing my Organic Matter up from it's current 1.6%.

Now I just have to wait and let nature takes it's course.

Thanks again for the help.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 1:22AM
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Make sure to take before and after photos to help you see how you're doing. Would be great if you could post them too.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 4:37PM
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I have a 15 yr old lawn of Kentucky Blue-Rye. That's the very pretty, but more finicky or fragile type of grass. (I love it though.) I used synthetic fertilizers for yrs, even sometimes pre-emrgents, but when my lawn became compacted, when it became impossible to deliver the correct am't of water and get it to penetrate, when overwaterihng resulted in an invasion by June Bug grubs (combatted with beneficial nematodes successfully) , I re-thought my strategy of lawn care and went organic about a yr ago.
I read Teaming with Microbes, and got some ideas to start with, although I'm not inclined to do the hot composting and get involved in all the aeration equipment and stuff to make "teas" - I have come up with some pretty good practices - my lawn is looking much better, and it'a all organic now!!!
I use an alfalfa based lawn fertilizer, I've applied humic acid by hose-end sprayer, and I've applied redwood compost (last yr), then fir bark compost (this yr). I also had it aerated, which I hope to be able to avoid as my soil improves.
I've used both "green" (alfalfa) and "brown" (bark compost) b/c the book explains the need for both fungally dominated material and bacterially dominated mat'l, so some of each. I do not want to go to the expense and trouble of getting lab tests, so I'm just playing it safe with both kinds.
Is there something else I might want to add to my lawn? I read about corn meal...
I'm thinking of overseeding with a type of grass that may be tougher and easier to live with(I have a mowing service, and there seems to be no stopping them from mowing when the rain has made it downright soggy, something I would never do myself since it worsens the compaction I'm trying to aleviate...)
Any suggestions about type of grass? Should I apply the fir bark one more time this yr, and can I seed on top of it?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 3:35PM
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I forgot to mention: a great way to add organic amendment to lawns is to allow the grass clippings to remain on the lawn when mowing- just remove the bag- it's effortless and it's free! I've been doing this for over a yr now. It doesn't make a mess, like ppl often ask. You can barely even see it.
On how to physically add the amendments you choose: I just used a large scoop and walked around with a container and just spread or scattered it around that way, shaking it off the end of the scoop, then went over the lawn with a push broom or rake to get the blades to stand up and push the amendment down to the soil a little. I didn't try too hard.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 11:57AM
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You added enough NPK as indicated in the soil test AND 1/2" of compost? Take some before pictures because you're going to have some very nice after photos.

Compost has some NPK value to it depending on what it's made from. 1/2" of compost is more than is usually recommended. 1/4-1/3" is more like it. I don't think you'll hurt the lawn but I would expect to see a lot of growth over the next month.

By the way, did your soil test give you levels for micro nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, sulfer, borates, etc?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 7:52PM
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I really enjoyed your post!
I've been gardening for 25 yrs (same yard) and I've gradually moved toward organic gardening, but I'm relatively new at 'all organic' practices. Organic or not, there's trying times!!!

By now I know my soil and sun conditions well, and know to get a headstart on weeds and snails (early start is a real timesaver for later!) and I know how to avoid many pitfalls -like overwatering, planting the wrong things together- but there are times when it does feel like armies of pests come like an endless parade!

Probably the most imp. things I've learned is planting things in the places they will most likely do well, and avoiding plants that are just too much trouble, and work to make the soil as healthy as possible - add lots of different types of organic matter, and mulch as much as I can afford! Variety is the spice of life here! But every year, there are new and different challenges, pest probs, etc I never had before, even though I may have grown that particular plant for years. Things change.

I like alot of really common plants that don't give me too much trouble: ivy geraniums, alstroemeria, impatiens, yarrow- are standbys and I've given up on the pest prone ones like tropical mandevillas, I stay away from things that too easily get powdery mildew, such as verbena, phlox, dahlia. I don't bother any more with camelias (can't deal with that petal blight which is unavoidable) and I only have one rose now - I converted my rose garden to herbs, which are incredibly rewarding and pest resisitant.
So it gets easier as you learn more and more, but there are plenty of times when I think I'm just going to give it up!!!! But I never do. As soon as the smell of warm soil hits my nostrils in spring, I'm back out there shovel in hand....

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 8:40PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Organic jeannie, welcome to the GardenWeb forums. Now I'm going to tease you a little says you're in zone 15. Is that on the surface of the Sun? (I think you are using a different system of zones than the USDA Hardiness Zones)

It also says you live in CA. That means you could live at 100 feet below sea level or 14,000 feet above, or anywhere in between. CA is too big a place to give you seed suggestions without knowing very precisely where you are. Even saying SoCal is not nearly enough info.

Also, and this is somewhat more serious, your question is different from the original question in this topic. People clicking on this topic are expecting to find out about adding organic matter, not which seeds to pick. I would suggest you start a new topic with your question. Go to the bottom of the page on each forum to start a new topic. Pick your subject carefully. "Help" does not get a very good response. "Need help picking grass seeds in Cucamonga, CA" would be better.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 12:07AM
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