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Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organic?

Posted by brian_bridgeport-ct CT (My Page) on
Fri, Mar 28, 08 at 0:12

I've been lurking on this site for a few days and pouring through google, and want to see if i have this straight...

first, what i have to work with: i've owned my home for 3 years now, and all i've done was have a guy cut it (and not too high, i know about that). about 1/4 acre of lawn. the previous owner(s) i dont think ever did anything to the lawn, or at least not in recent memory - it is full of weeds and after some construction i did last year, there are even more barespots than ever. just raked yesterday, and there's almost nothing there in many places.

anyway, my goal is a lawn i can at least walk barefoot in and not have stiff weeks poking my soles or walking on dirt. i was going to go with the typical scotts 4-step program but it's killing my conscience, though the price is attractive.

so, seeing as i'm starting more or less from scratch (and april first is a few days away and little green patches are only just starting), here are the steps i forsee:

1) get a test kit for the soil, which will probably tell me what i am already guessing - it's nutritionally deficient, and grass likes nitrogen, so...

2) lay down some alfalfa pellets, water them in, and wait 2-3 weeks for the soil to rehab a bit. corn gluten is a fertilizer and seed blocker, from what i understand (as is corn meal?) so not good for a starting lawn. so alfalfa is safe and probably much cheaper than soybean meal.

3) plant grass seed liberally. water in the mornings. don't drown it.

4) once it sprouts, maybe give it another fertilizing, or at least by midsummer, with more alfalfa. or compost. keep watering, deeply when i can, to get the roots deeper. cut grass, leave clippings.

5) next spring, spread corn gluten or corn meal to inhibit weeds and fert the grass. lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

Is it really that cheap & easy??? It doesn't even sound expensive, especially since we have a lot of horse people in the surrounding towns and i can probably get alfalfa pellets and corn meal as feed cheap.

I don't have a lot of money, but want to do the right thing. HELP! :)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

It is easy (easier than you have outlined) and just about as expensive as a chemical program. What makes any gardening expensive is buying compost. I don't think you need it. I also don't think you need a soil test. The organic program seems to have a curative effect on the soil.

You are a little mixed up but nothing that can't be fixed. Start by reading the FAQ for Organic Lawn Care over on the Organic Gardening forum. Then come back and you may have more questions.

I would suggest you wait to seed until the heat breaks at the end of summer. Until then, start to treat your 1/4 acre as if it was the perfect lawn. Water it deeply and infrequently. That means that during the hottest parts of summer, you should be watering only once a week. If your real grass dries out before the next watering, water it immediately but water for a longer time than you did last time. Also reset your mower to the highest position and don't bag the clippings. By doing these two things you will discourage a great many weeds from growing. For tap rooted weeds you can use a Weed Hound tool. I would also fertilize about now (assuming you have the early blooming plants and trees in bloom). Then fertilize again on Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. You can use any of the ground grains at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. I predict that by the fall your yard will be much nicer than you imagine it might be.

Ground coffee makes a great fertilizer and it is free from Starbucks. It helps to measure its weight if it is dry. You can air dry it on cardboard sheets out in the sunlight.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

I'm a big fan of the coffee grounds from Starbucks, but I hesitated to suggest them for a lawn this size. Used Coffee Grounds (UCG) from Starbucks are about the only fertilizer I use, but my lawn is only 4k sq ft.

I don't bother measuring/weighing it. I also don't dry it. I just fling it around the lawn. I start at one corner and work my way around the lawn. When I've finished the lawn, I start over.

If your emphasis is on the cheap rather than the easy, Starbucks UCG is the way to go. I would walk the lawn whether I'm spreading UCG or not, so I spend no extra time this way and I don't go out of my way for the grounds, either.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

One other thing to remember. Since you are going organic, you won't be putting any weed control or pesticides on your lawn. Hence you may be spending a lot of time pulling weeds. Last year was my first for orgnanic and believe me for every bare spot in my lawn there was a weed coming up in it. I also had a good deal of crab grass. Like mentioned earlier a Weed Hound is a good tool for getting out tap rooted weeds but I spent a number of nights sitting on the turf pulling 'em by hand. I'm sticking with organic though!


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

I know this is the organic forum and you have expressed your interest in going organic but there is also the possibility of stepping into it in a hybrid manner in order make things a little easier until your seed really kicks in and starts keeping the weeds out on their own.

I just completed a complete kill-and-seed renovation last fall and I agree with dchall that you should just wait till fall to get crazy into seeding.

At the same time, I wouldn't see an issue putting down a few applications of Dimension alone in order to help with the weeds. Lesco makes a 0-0-9 (?) with .10% Dimension. Keep hitting the yard with the grains to get the organic ball rolling but use pre-m to keep the weeds under control.

Having just killed my whole lawn and having one large bare spot, I understand the pain of weeds in bare areas with no chem control.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Regarding measuring wet coffee grounds, if you have a 2-pound coffee can lying around, you can fill it loosely with wet grounds and that will be the equivalent of 2 dry pounds. Then a can full should fertilize 100 square feet (10 feet x 10 feet square). After a few cans full you will be able to "eyeball" the area to spread it over. Then scatter by hand. I scatter everything by hand.

If you get more coffee grounds than you want to spread, then you might want to dry it. Whether you dry it or not, it will probably get a greenish fungus growing on it. That is normal. You can either stir it in or leave it alone until you use it next.

Weeds will grow in bare spots. The solution to weeds is to not have any bare spots. Patch any bare spots with grass and be sure you don't let crabgrass get established along with the patches. Then after the grass is growing, back off on the frequent watering and be absolutely certain to mow at the highest setting your spouse will allow you to mow. Nothing (chemicals nor pulling) solves the weed problem like dense, tall grass and infrequent watering. And I say this in loving memory of all the amateurs and professionals who have come to these forums to report their successes and failures over the years. You can stop almost all weeds with infrequent watering. You can stop most of the rest with tall grass. These are cultural practices, not chemical or organic. They work everywhere from Las Vegas to Honolulu from Point Barrow to Aspen.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

The only weed I couldn't stop last year with tall grass was one that I think was spotted spurge. It just grew taller and blanked the top of the tall grass in a few areas. I had to nuke that with some chemicals.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Of course my grass is as tall as we can stand it and we get some broadleafed weeds in the deep shade behind the house. If the patch has gone a long time and there is no grass underneath, I'll spray with vinegar. Otherwise our weeds are pretty weak rooted and pull out easily. But we never get any grassy weeds anymore. My tall St Augustine choked out some nutgrass and bermuda that our city brought in when they fixed our water meter, so I'm convinced it works.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Even I (who can't stand a weed) found that changing to organic methods, mowing high, and limiting water removed 99% of my weed problem. A few still crop up (ha!), but not very many any longer.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Hey morpheuspa. I see we're from the same general area.
How long have you been doing organic lawn care?
What type of grass do you have?
What is your organic regimine for the year?

This will be may second year of organic.
My lawn is KBG/red fescue.
My forsythia will be blooming in another week so it's time for a pre-em. I'm thinking halts because I dont't want the crabgrass like I did last year. Then SBM and alfalfa pellets from then on.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Hey, Smitty--yep, we're close.

I started with the organics in 2006, mid-season, on a mixed lawn (the Scott's seed special). I changed that over last year to pure KBG elites (Midnight II, Moonlight, and Bedazzled, AKA the Magnificent 3).

I started with land that had been tilled yearly, had a corn crop grown, and generally been abused for as long as my parents and I can remember. My organic regimen is very high--15-20 lbs per thousand square feet per month from April through October to restore the soil to something reasonable. I change what I use--Alfalfa, soy, and Milorganite alternating throughout the season.

That'll hold through this year and next before I start dropping it back to 8-10 lbs per thousand square feet per month on average.

Halts is fine, since it's starting to get a little late for CGM already. I don't bother because I don't notice much effect, but I also don't have much trouble with crabgrass (or anything else for that matter...or I won't once the lawn restoration is completely filled in and growing...)


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Even I (who can't stand a weed) found that changing to organic methods, mowing high, and limiting water removed 99% of my weed problem.

My pet peeve is people who say, "you can go to organics but you have to tolerate more weeds." That is simply not true. Weeds are the result of poor cultural practices and are not the inevitable result of discontinuing the use of herbicides.

I started with land that had been tilled yearly, had a corn crop grown, and generally been abused for as long as my parents and I can remember. My organic regimen is very high--15-20 lbs per thousand square feet per month from April through October to restore the soil to something reasonable. I change what I use--Alfalfa, soy, and Milorganite alternating throughout the season.

This is a great program! It is not the least expensive route to great organic turf, but this is a hobby after all. Milorganite is not my favorite material, in fact is is second from the bottom of my list of last resort organic products, but at least it is not chemicals. Mixing up the ferts is a good idea. I would replace the Milorganite with ordinary corn meal. Yes it is low in protein, but I like the anti fungal aspects.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

DCHALL. I'm not saying you have to "settle" for a weed filled yard. If that's the case why would I be on this site! I'm just relating that organic will not be as easy throwing some grains on your lawn and watering now and then. Last year was my first try at organic after 5 years of Chemlawn. They did a great job of ridding my yard of weeds and crabgrass but every year my turf got thinner and thinner. So last year was tough. Not only do I have my own weeds to contend with but the properties on either side of me do nothing with their lawns.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Smitty-

First year is always the worst. Have you been applying unsulfured molasses every few months whenever you apply fertilizer? It is usually recommended to try and speed things up. Also, have you applied compost at the rate of 1 cubic yard per 1000 sqft? It is pretty much required if anyone have been using chemicals for a while that tend to ruin soil biology. The only way to get microbes back into the soil is by compost.

Halts is salt. You will only set it back some. If you do that, you will have to apply more compost. I'm sure you know how expensive it is.... There are literally tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of species in the soil. Diversity is the key. Some may not be affected by certain chemicals but some will be. Wipe some out and the microscopic world comes to a halt....


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

wow, thanks everyone! i didn't get pinged in my email that there were responses, or i would have logged in sooner. gonna pour through what was said and see what's in there. and will reply. thanks!

-brian


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

im with dchall on this.

i just want to say that last year was the first year of my lawn. i put down a layer of scotts starter fertilizer with halts, but then found this website and started going organic. i had a terrible time with weeds, which was probably in part due to weeds coming up between the sod. as the bermuda came in, the weeds died off.

this year, we only went out 1 day to pull weeds. we didnt spend much time and we didnt pull them all. the weeds dont look as healthy as last year(they were huge). a few more small ones have popped up but my bermuda is already coming out of dormancy, so i am not worried at all. i will probably just leave them alone and mow them down.

in comparison, my dad's yard looked like a warzone last year during the entire growing season. his lawn was on its 3rd or 4th season and it has always been on the chemical plan. he spot treats throughout the summer because there are so many weeds that he doesnt have the time to pull them all. lol, i tried to tell him about what im doing, but he is stubborn and believes his weed problems are the cause of his neighbors lack of lawn care(and believe me, it does look bad) so the weed seeds are blowing over to his yard.

my opinion, chemical = more weeds/work than organic.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

i read the FAQ before i posted, but after all the comments i've picked up new things re-reading it. i've digested everything here, so here's my revised plan that i need help with (and watering deeply is a given):

1) go to startbucks & dunkin donuts and start collecting coffee grinds to use (yes, it will take a lot, but i pass a few of them in my travels). compost the lawn as outlined in the FAQ and boost the microbe count.

2) seed grass in the bare patches, since there's almost more bare patches than green stuff in the main yard.

3) fertilize, and fert 2 or 3 more times before the end of the summer.

(NOTE: can i use corn meal? corn gluten meal seems to be a fertilizer that inhibits seed growth, which would obviously counteract my seeding of bare spots. otherwise alfalfa pellets would probably work.)

3) mow, as high as possible, leaving the clippings.

4) overseed the lawn once the summer heat breaks. keep tossing on the coffee grinds as i get them.

any comments? response about the corn meal issue? (i've looked it up everywhere on the net and it's very confusing, especially given that some places seem to lump them together or confuse the terms.)


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

any comments? response about the corn meal issue? (i've looked it up everywhere on the net and it's very confusing, especially given that some places seem to lump them together or confuse the terms.)

Sounds good.

For your first year, if you want to fertilize more often, do so. No less than what you suggest, but more is not a problem.

Corn meal is a slight to moderate anti-fungal (but shouldn't be avoided because of that). Cracked corn is pretty much the same, but not so dusty. Either does fine as a very mild fertilizer. I can't get corn meal but can sometimes get cracked corn (oddly enough, not as often as you'd think here in corn country). It's quite inexpensive.

Corn GLUTEN meal is fine, powdery, and kind of yellowy-orangey. To my eye, more orange, but others describe it as yellow. Whichever. That's a strong fertilizer (the strongest nitrogen-supplying grain one I can think of at 9-0-0) and reportedly something of a pre-emergent. It's moderately to very expensive, comparatively.

CGM (Corn Gluten Meal) seems to have pre-emergent capabilities at higher usages, but others here can describe that better. I've never used it.

Another option that you might be able to find is soybean meal. It's fairly strong (7-1-2 or so), fairly inexpensive, and doesn't have any pre-emergent capabilities that I've ever heard about.

Any of the bean meals (like coffee grounds) are great, though.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

"go to startbucks & dunkin donuts and start collecting coffee grinds to use"

IMO, it's a mistake to collect the grounds and apply them when you have "enough." When I get grounds, I either add them to the compost or spread them on the lawn when I get home.

I start at the northwest corner of the lawn, walking backward and swinging the bag of grounds back and forth as I walk to distribute the grounds more or less evenly. When I run out, I make a mental note of where I was when I stopped (although the grounds will probably still be visible the next time). I walk around the lawn and when I finish with the entire lawn, I start over. If there are filters, I pick them up after spreading and toss them in the compost. If there are other "goodies" I either toss them in the trash or in the compost, depending on what they are.

My wife objects to the smell when it's too hot, and I don't stockpile during the winter due to space, so I basically apply them in the spring and fall.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

I went to Starbucks and got a 75 pound bag. That was more than I normally apply all year to my small yard.

Smitty I did not mean to single out anyone with my pet peeve. Without more information I would be guessing at your situation. Do you still have thin turf? If so you might want to start a new topic.

Brian: Your are right about people lumping and confusing ORDINARY corn meal and corn GLUTEN meal together. I would hold off on any corn products while you are seeding for the following reason. Many years ago Nandina, one of the GardenWeb regulars, did some research on the anti fungal effects of corn meal. While testing for control of damping off, Nandina found that the control seeds (no corn meal) had better germination rates than the seeds with corn meal. With that in mind, I could only suggest alfalfa or another grain.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Just a little update for anyone who reads this thread, and for those kind enough to reply...

Starting last weekend, I spread about 100 pounds of alfalfa pellets across the whole lawn, and when it didn't rain as expected that night, watered it to start breaking down the pellets and to hopefully discourage rodents and other pests from getting an easy clean meal. I also set up a deal with a local starbucks and have been getting huge garbage bags of used coffee grinds - three of them have almost covered the entire lawn (about 1/4 an acre of property, minus the house sitting on top of it. :), the back yard (the largest part) is about 2500 sq feet.

I'll water another time or two this week to speed along the breakdown of the alfalfa and coffee into the soil, and steel rake it more where the bare spots are. I plan to patch the bare spots with grass seed this weekend.

Just about done fertilizing, and it's only cost me $30. Will post more as time comes.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Please report back on May 9 and let us know what you think then.


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

Just curious. What did you pay for alfalfa pellets? Did you just use the bagged rabbit fod?


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RE: Starting new lawn - is it really this cheap/easy to go organi

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 11, 08 at 7:41

Brian and Smitty, you just keep adding organic matter: Feeds, compost, mulched grass and leaves, molasses spray, etc., every year.

You'll get there!!

It's really that easy.

Btw, mowing maple tree leaves into the lawn every fall will almost eliminate broadleaf weeds over time. You can look it up!!

Once again, it really is that EASY!


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