Compost on existing lawn necessary etc...

emyers(8 SC)August 28, 2008

Attempting to go organic with my lawn care.

Have never really done anything to my lawn over the past 6 or so years except mow it. It's a very large yard in the country.

Now it's starting to look a LOT shabby, so have decided to do something about it. Has many bare spots (at least partially related to shade) and I'm thinking a lot related to hardpack/pan conditions.

Plan is as follows.

1. Aerate lawn with plug aerator.

2. Sprig bare areas with broken up sod I'm removing for a garden plot.

3. Fertilize with 12 lbs/1000 sqft soybean meal (if I can find it) or alfafa meal if I can't at 20 lbs/1000 sqft.

Note that lawn has only been fertilized once over the past 7 years and that time it was done with some generic chemical 10/10/10.

Also note that I have not used any pesticides or herbicides over the same period of time.

Have done no raking of grass clippings etc.


1.Is it necessary for me to apply a mulch to this particular lawn to start getting some results? Would you recommend it under the circumstances? Money is an object so was considering municipal compost BUT, I got some to look at a couple years back and there was definitely some strange material included in the mix. Maybe I could look over that for my lawn (not my garden) in an attempt to get things rolling this go round. However, I'm concerned about weed seeds, pesticides etc.

Also have many bags of Black Kow lying around, but they are lying around because I'm reluctant to use that now too. Also noticed some "stuff" in it that is not animal related. Also, noticed that it contains a LOT of fine sand and I think it really messed up some of my raised beds because of the sand fines and compactability it created.

Another option would be pine bark fines (not nuggets.... it's more like a peat substitute and has been "aged" so it doesn't tie up nitrogen like some of the other stuff). I can purchase this in bulk and it might do the trick. However, I'm concerned about altering my PH lower. My ph is already 5.9. The unlimed ph of the pine bark fines is 4.5. Is my concern justified? Really don't want to add lime because I haven't added it in the past to maintain the 5.9. And, according to the soil report, they are NOT recommending adding lime at this ph (note that buffer ph is 7.75.... whatever that means).

Really just wondering if I need to add compost. Guess I would really rather not, just wondering the consequences.

2. I had a soil test done and it indicated everything in the high range with the exception of potassium which was low and at 34 lbs per acre.

I'm considering adding greensand to bring this back up to the high levels at 10 lbs per 100 ft2... but that is going to be HIGH on the dollar side. What do you recommend I do under these circumstances?

3. When I took the soil sample, it was for gardening purposes and it's from the same soil that the lawn is planted on. I removed the sod just prior to taking the sample, so it's indicative of the rest of my yard. However, the soil is not really of the depth that the grass roots are growing in because when I removed the sod, it was ballpark 4 inches deep (including grass and roots) and I took the soil sample from beneath that level (ballpark an additional 4 to 6 inches down. Question is is this still going to give me an accurate report or do I need to do another one in the "rooted" area of the soil.

4. I can rent a plug aerator for about 40.00 per day. I can buy one for around 180.00. At first I was just going to go ahead and purchase one thinking I'd get to reuse it on my lawn. It was kind of a no brainer. However, after reading more about organic lawns, I'm hearing that I won't need to aerate after going organic. If this is true then I could save some money. Any thoughts as to whether I can skip the purchase?

5. I'm going to be renting a rototiller for the garden this year and was wondering if in the big areas that I have bare spots in, if maybe I should rototill those areas and then sprig the grasss. Or, will just aerating and sprigging do the trick?

6. Grass type. Not certain of the type, but know it's a mix of bahaia that is the native on the old field and something that was spriged from sod grown locally (I'm thinking bermuda but not sure). How can I know what the grass is (don't know exactly where it came from). Would anything else other than bermuda be sprigged/sodded around these parts? It has a blade not unlike the bahaia, but definitely doesn't have the big stolons. What do you think?

5. Kind of unrelated but someone here might know.

Last year, when I started my garden, I removed the sod where it would be planted because I didn't want grass & weeds growing up in my garden. Worked quite well and didn't have a whole lot of weeds/grass this year. My intentions are to plant a cover crop so all should be good for next spring.

Anyway, started thinking about it and was wondering what would happen if I did one of the following:

1. Just rototilled up the grass and let it decay in the garden.

2. Removed the sod and turned it upside down in the plot I did last year and let it decay, rather than planting a cover crop, or, potentially planting a cover crop in that.

I've been gearing up for going organic for a LONG time now (thus the use of no fertilizers or pesticides on my lawn) but now it's time to do something. Hopefully my timing is right this go round.

Sure could use some help getting going.


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I don't know as much about warm season grasses as I'd like to, but I'll try to give some thoughts in general.

First, a lot of your questions depends on the time you want to see results (how quick) and your budget. Organic is not about speed and there are alternatives to feed grains if your willing to give a little. I'm also assuming that irrigation is by mother nature.

There is no requirement to add compost, but it does good things. The earth worms and microbes that feed the grass like compost. As long as it has an earthy smell it should be ok and foreign matter can be picked or screened out. The low cost solution is make your own, do a little at a time instead of the whole yard, or get some really good stuff and make aerated compost tea.

I would not recommend tilling the yard. Aeration and sprigging should be fine. Unless you want to plant a green manure over you lawn like cereal rye and then turn it under. I've been threatening to do that in one part of my yard if it doesn't respond pretty soon.

I think it takes several years for worms to work their magic. I was impatient and bought a pull behind core aerator to get the air and moisture back in the soil quicker.

Hope this helps some.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 6:17PM
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emyers(8 SC)

Soccer dad-
Apologies for the late reply and thanks for the info.
Can I really plant a cover crop in my existing lawn and till it in later? Would it take root where there is dense grass also?

Or, are you referring to planting the cover crop only in the larger bald areas?

My yards larger bald areas are primarily in compacted sandy areas (thus the plug aerator). So, it might be possible to get the organic matter in there by planting a cover crop? What would be the benefit of that vs bringing in, say, municipal compost (other than I know the source).

I'm not real patient either. Guess I'll just go ahead and purcahse the aerator.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 11:00PM
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To grow a good stand of grass, or most any other plant, you want a soil pH in the 6.2 to 6.8 range because that is where most all soil nutrients are most readily available. 5.9 is a bit low so adding the right lime, calcitic or dolomitic, can help your overall program. Put on compost, or shredded leaves, or something similar, preferably not the bark because that is just not something the soil bacteria will easily digest unless you have a good, healthy soil already. Sand, becasue of the large particle size, does not cause soil compaction, although small amounts mixed with clay can cause clay to bind more tightly together. That is why few of the Ag Research Stations recommend adding sand unless you add at least 45 percent by volume (an extremely large amount of sand). Since this is to be a lawn I'd not be concerned about the Potassium level, once sufficient quantities of organic matter are in the soil that will come up, in my experience.
Once your have sufficient levels of organic matter in your soil compaction will not be a problem, so you should only need to aerate this once even though it can take a few years to get sufficient levels of organic matter intothe soil. Rototilling your lawn will leave you with large, bare areas for some time. Properly amending the soil will get grass, as long as what you have is what you want, growing faster.
Whether rototilling the grass you have into the soil or not is good or not so good is always the question. Some grass species are very invasive and rototilling can often simply spread the grass roots around and give you more grass, but the grass does add organic matter, so it depends on which grass type you have nad how much future work you want to do. With my Quack Grass simply rototilling creates much more future work, because of the amount of grass that will grow back, than covering the area with newspaper and a mulch material which will kill the existing grass and most of the roots, even though I know I will still get some of that grass growing in that bed in the future. However, the soil is workable enough that pulling those grass plants and roots is very easy. Often a cover crop, of one of those cover crops with allelopathic (plant growth suppression properties) properties can help.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:03PM
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