Need some help moving to organic

ryan_sjJune 2, 2007

Summarizing my lawn: 2nd year of KBG sod, self-installed on site of new construction - 50% of the topsoil left from former home and 50% imported. Performed soil tests in 4 quadrants, typical low Jersey pH, lacking nutrients, variable percentage of organics, and soil ranged from sandy loam, to loam, to silt loam. Tilled in lime and peat moss to address. Followed sod farm's recommendations to the letter for fertilization and watering during first year. Sod was gorgeous and roots were 5-6 inches deep by year's end.

This year, green up was slow, but we had a warm winter and my winterizer might have been too early, but then two severe ice storm events, back-to-back, just before spring kept the lawn under ice for 2 weeks each storm. I fertilized once this year in mid-April using a combo fertilizer and pre-emergent (Lesco product) and the lawn responded OK, but didn't look as thick and lush as last year. Also, I have considerable thatch, which I've been told is common to KBG, especially sod. This tells me I don't have enough micro-organisms to keep up... I know I have earthworms, which is good, but I think I need more of the little guys working.

I was given the advice to apply a "soil activator" which seems to be nothing more than food for the microbes. I bought and applied Nature's Magic from Nature's Lawn (humic acid and kelp).

If I follow the synthetic schedule, it's time for an application, which would be 24-5-11 that is 50% slow release nitrogen and includes 5% iron. I can tell you my sod is starving for nitrogen because it's very obvious where my dog has visited - lush, thick green. I'm not surprised as I know my soil type tends to leach. I have also been bagging my clippings for the last month because I have some poa annua I don't want to spread. I will return to mulching when the heat kills off the poa annua. I water at a rate of 1 to 1-1/2 inches per week in the spring and fall in two applications and 2 inches of water per week in the summer with three applications (my lawn is 90 percent full sun).

Now the questions. What should I do to move towards and organic program now? Reading the threads, soybean meal seems right... I can get it at the local Agway, well probably anywhere in Jersey considering our soybean farming. However, if corn gluten meal is a better choice, that might be impossible to find. As a kid I worked at Schalick Mills in Elmer and slung 80# sacks of it all day long, but they don't have it now. Can't say I'm surprised with dramatic decrease in farming and stock raising here in New Jersey where once thriving fields are now replaced with farms of McMansions...

Please help guide me to a better lawn!

Thank you!

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I think you're probably overwatering. I try for about an inch a week (but probably don't apply that much), and I live in an area that would be desert without water. Most of my lawn is 100% full sun. If your soil can absorb 1 inch at one time, I'd try watering just once a week. You may well find that's enough, especially if your grass has roots 5-6 inches deep. I have an automated sprinkler system, and I use it for most of my watering needs, but if I have a section of the lawn get stressed, I hand water that section, rather than water the entire lawn.

CGM can be a fertilizer, but the main reason it is used in an organic program is as a pre-emergent. It keeps seeds from germinating (but all seeds, so don't use it if you plan to overseed your lawn).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 2:34AM
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I agree completely with bpgreen but wouldn't drop back the watering all at once (particularly in this weather). If you're currently applying 2" per week in 3 applications, pull back to 1 1/2" a week in two and let the lawn adjust.

In a month or so, drop back to 1" when it wilts (which will be longer than 3 days by far--mine can go 11). Yours may only be five days to start, but should increase over time (months to a year) as the roots deepen and tap moisture down lower.

I didn't notice a mowing height, but mow as high as you can stand it. That'll reduce your water usage. Then mow no more than 1/3 of the blade at a time.

Soybean is great. Alfalfa is great. CGM is a pre-emergent and generally more expensive anyway. I usually consider soybean to be a 7-1-2 fertilizer, alfalfa a 3-2-2. Those numbers are completely and utterly arguable.

Soybean has better bang for the buck to get that 1 pound per thousand square feet of nitrogen down. But if alfalfa is what you can get, run with it. Both will do very well.

Add what you can get, down to and including the free coffee grounds from Starbuck's. All (grain or bean) organics are good organics.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 12:34PM
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Thanks for the tips guys! I'll try to start cutting the water back. It's tough because the stress occurs very quickly along my sidewalks and driveways - I live on a corner and have over 1000 lineal feet of sidewalk and a four vehicle driveway - all white Portland concrete, which I like to call the cookers given they absorb the heat of the sun all day long and keep the soil measureably warmer (yeah, I'm one of those with a soil thermometer). So the "body of the lawn can go 5-6 days without watering, but the edges stress after 4...

Now here is where I am confused. I have been told that the thatch-humus layer must remain moist to promote decomposition. If it dries out, then decomposition halts and it will need to ramp up again. So, is it not counter-productive to let the lawn dry out, or am I misunderstanding you guys and when you say wilt you don't mean when KBG gets that grey-green stress color but just to the point the blades droop?

I mow using a bell curve approach - first cut is 1-1/4 inch to wake the lawn and I ramp up each subsequent cut until I reach 2 inches in the spring and then ramp up in June to a height of 3-1/2 to 4 inches for the summer and ease back down starting in late August to a final winter nap height of 1-1/4 inch. Very rarely to I miss a cut, so 1/3 at a time is the norm, even when on synthetics and the rapid growth means mowing every third day...

I try to use every trick in the book because I'm on the public water supply so my irrigation system costs me a few bucks... Unfortunately, the builder tore out ALL of the trees when he subdivided the lot and the only shade I have is from the house itself on the one side once mid-afternoon hits. That barely shades Looks like I'll be picking up a pallet of soybean meal on Monday...

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 2:00PM
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If the grass only needs to be watered along the sidewalk, I'd get the hose out and water along there in between watering the rest of the lawn. That uses a lot less water.

Unless I'm getting ready to overseed, I mow at the same height year round and mulch mow. If I'm overseeding, I cut it as low as I can before seeding and rake the clippings..

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 2:05PM
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So the "body of the lawn can go 5-6 days without watering, but the edges stress after 4...

Yep, the edges near my driveway go first as well. I'm fortunate that my division doesn't have a sidewalk on my side of the street, so I have no problems there.

If you want, you could edge back and mulch around the sidewalk. Even an inch or two of edge/mulch will help break the heat for the grasses a touch further out, and the mulch will help retain water.

Or mulch the grass there for the first foot or so. The fine shredded stuff is best and will help it retain water and protect it from the broil factor a little. Only use a quarter inch as you don't want to smother the grass crowns.

Around my nice, black, absorbs 60% of sunlight driveway and could fry an egg in May...but I digress...I turned the sides to garden except for about 20' total--and then put in plants that can deal with being seared. Coreopsis does not care, requires minimal irrigation and feeding, and blooms beautifully. There are dozens of other plants that can tolerate those conditions.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 1:23PM
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