New to lawn care and just laid sod. Looking for advice.

atx33October 4, 2010

Hello everyone. I just laid St Augustine in the back yard this past weekend and patched a couple spots in the front where we had old tree stumps ground down. I have done some lawn care stuff growing up but after finding this site I think most of what I was doing was wrong, like cutting the grass way to low. So I guess I am new to doing lawn care properly, and I would like to go organic.

So right now as far as my plan goes is my watering schedule. I am starting out 3 times a day for 10-15 minutes for 2 weeks. Then slowly cut it down so I am watering 1 maybe 2 times a week. Then I am not planning on mowing for 4 weeks (is that a proper waiting period?)

So thats about all I have planned out so far. Now when I mow the front I cut it at the highest setting and let the clippings become nutrients for the lawn. Other then that I dont know what I should do to fertilize? How often? What do I use to fertilize? When do I aerate the lawn? Anything else I need to do? I guess I am looking for any advice possible so I can make a plan and do it the right way from the start.

Thanks a ton for your help.

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I also forgot to mention that where one of the tree stumps was at in the front there was a ring of dead St Aug grass, extending 3 ft out in some spots. So I dug up that area. Filled the stump hole and leveled with compost soil. Then I laid sod on top of that. Should I be worried about a fungus or disease with the old grass I dug up?

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 1:49PM
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dogwind(Z8a TX)

It sounds to me like your plan is to apply too much water. 3 times a day for 15 mins is a lot, even for brand new sod.
I planted new SA sod in the middle of summer, and was able to keep it alive by watering just once a day, in the evenings. And that sod was in full sun. The sod I planted in heavier shade was watered a little less than that. It is common for new sod to look weak until it gets established. New sod is also more prone to fungal diseases, either because they come from the farm that way, or they get it due to the heavy watering. You did right by applying compost first before laying the sod. This will help it establish quicker. Spreading whole ground corn meal at 20#/1000 sq ft will help control any fungal diseases, and act as a mild fertilizer. Make sure your watering doesn't wash the corn meal away. Eyeball the sod, and when it starts to show new growth, cut back more on the watering, and only water when it tells you it needs it. Fresh sod is heavily fertilized at the farm. Mow high. You shouldn't need to do anything else until spring.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 9:39PM
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Thanks dogwind. Everything I read on here is 3 times a day to start out. How about 2 times a day for 8-10 minutes?

So should I put the cornmeal down now, just a 4-5 days after the sod was laid? When I apply the cornmeal do i just toss it around on top of the sod and then let it settle in before watering? What type of store is good to get ground cornmeal? Feed store, nursery?


    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 9:42AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Everything you read about watering 3x per day is very consistent. It has always been my standing suggestion, but I see dogwind's point. This late in the season you can probably get away with less water. You might go to once a day and see how the soil dries out. What you don't want is for the interface between the sod and soil to dry out.

You can put corn meal down on the same day as the grass if you want. John Dromgoole's nursery has corn meal. Be sure you get corn meal and not corn gluten meal. He has both. CGM is just a lot more expensive and is not known for helping with fungal issues. Sorry I don't know his nursery's name but if you Google his name it will come up. Also use Google Maps to find feed stores near you. Then call them all to find out what they have.

I apply corn meal by hand like I was feeding chickens. It does not go through a spreader very well. If I had an old plastic colander (thrift store??) with big enough holes I would use that to shake it out a little more evenly. I just did that with corn gluten meal a few minutes ago and it worked well. CGM is finer ground than corn meal and went through the colander very well.

Mow when the grass is tall enough to mow. At this time of year it might not get tall enough to mow until April.

You don't ever have to aerate the lawn. If you water correctly the soil will be very soft after you water and become very hard before you water again. In that sense it is just like a sponge (hard when dry and soft when wet).

Your stump area will be a problem for at least 3 years. The ground up wood will suck up nitrogen causing the areas to be yellow. Furthermore the one you back filled with compost mix will settle for years requiring you to level it. You can add sand any time but only 1/4 inch at a time.

Search the Internet for the "Organic Lawn Care FAQ." It is all over the place including here at the Organic Gardening forum FAQs. You will probably also find some books on organic lawn care. I don't like them. They are all based on the Rodale philosophy that compost is all you need. Not true. You need real food like pounds and pounds of corn, soy, wheat, cottonseed, used coffee grounds, etc. to feed the soil microbes. The minimum application rate for ground grains is 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The max I've seen used without issue is 80 pounds per 1,000. Beyond that it starts to smell or smother the underlying grass. Organic lawn care should NOT smell bad.

I fertilize on the federal holidays because I can remember them. With organics you can fertilize any day or every day. I picked those and fertilize relatively lightly from 10 to 15 pounds per 1,000. I know (crazy) people on other forums who fertilize up to 200 pounds per month. Their lawns look amazing. I start on Washington's Birthday, then Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. If you fertilize now, do it again on Thanksgiving. Being in Austin you are a little cooler so you could probably wait a week or so after Washington's birthday but why not just do it on the days that are easy to remember.

Anything else? After you get off the initial watering plan, then water deeply but infrequently. I water for 3-5 hours all at one time. This time of year I water once every 2 or 3 weeks. In the hottest heat of summer I water once a week but I might water longer depending on the humidity, wind, shade, soil conditions, etc. Deep and infrequent watering is the single most important thing anyone can do for their lawn. Mowing high (for St Augustine) is the second most important. Fertilizing is the third.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 5:13PM
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Thanks dchall thats a ton of info, I appriecate it. I will take you advice.

btw for the stump area, would a high nitrogen fertilizer help at all?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 1:10AM
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I just started to switch to organic for my SA lawn here in Orlando and was wondering if I fertilize during the winter? It was pretty cold last year (well for Florida it was cold..down to 40). Also, I can't get any corn meal other than than at walmart. The local feed stores don't carry it, but do carry alfalfa which I will put down next week.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2010 at 3:37PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

totsuka, If you can't get corn meal, then you can't get it. Alfalfa is probably better (more protein), but is more expensive in my corner of the world. I would not fertilize after Thanksgiving. I fertilize again on Washington's Birthday because that date is 3 weeks before the historical "last frost" date in San Antonio. By that time I can expect there will be surprise days when it is warmer than average. When the soil warms up the microbes wake up. I want there to be food for them whenever they want it.

atx33, high nitrogen fert might help on the stump area. Keeping it moist should help more. I just posted about this on another forum. If you keep it moist a fungus will come to the wood to rot it away. You'll know when you have it because it grows a very distinct mushroom with a wavy shape. You see it on rotting wood in the forest (Bastrop? or Lost Maples State Park). It only seems to grow above ground, though. I'm definitely no expert. That's just my observation. I have a stump that has been in perfect condition for about 20 years. One year I buried it under my compost pile thinking I had the perfect solution. After a year it still looked brand new. This year I kept it moist with a misting nozzle. I ran the mister for a full week continually and it worked. That kick-started the decay process. Since May I have only misted it a few times. Now after 5 months I'd say the stump is 20% decomposed. It is getting to be a hollow stump surrounded by a lot of very soft wood.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 2:32PM
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Mulched grass clippings are "green" fertilizers. Chemicals can destroy the biodiversity of the soil, so adding microbes to the soil can be the only other fertlizing you may need. Apply in the spring and fall.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lawn Fertilizing

    Bookmark   December 13, 2010 at 9:59AM
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"Chemicals" in and of themselves do not destroy the soils biodiversity, it is lack of organic matter in the soil that does that since the Soil Food Web needs organic matter to exist. Adding soil microbes to soils devoid of adequate levels of organic matter is a waste of time, energy, and money since they will have nothing to feed on. Get the level of organic matter in the soil up to good amounts and the microbes will be there without spending money to buy them.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2010 at 7:20AM
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