View Full Version : Hypothetical lawn install

dan deutekom
09-10-2003, 08:58 PM
For all of you organic guys. Going to install a new seeded lawn. Bring in good top soil ammended with all the right organic stuff. Seed the grass. Seed germinates no problem. What are you going to do with all the weeds that germinated from the topsoil you brought in? I usually just give an inorganic spray at the 3 month mark to kill the weeds and then the grass just fills in no problem. All of the organics seem to be preemergent so that would kill the grass. Also lets not make it that you apply organics to kill the emerging weeds and then seed 3 weeks later because the season is just to short for that sort of nonsense.

09-10-2003, 10:56 PM
Pull them by hand or tolerate them.

09-11-2003, 01:05 AM
Hypothetical top soil doesn't have weed seeds in it :D :D

Actually, we have a product called landscaper's mix that has a mix of sterilized soil, peat (presterilized by nature) and sand (sterile). Is that not available everywhere? Nothing grows in it except your seeds.

Or are you talking about preexisting seeds under the "top soil?"

In any case, weeds are a problem in a new lawn. The plan is to do the following:

1. After the grass is tall enough to mow, water heavily and infrequently to grow long grass roots and to discourage the naturally short rooted weeds. If the top inch of the soil dries out completely between waterings, the short rooted weeds have a lot of trouble with that.

2. Mow as tall as the grass will allow to shade weeds and their seeds. Bermuda, bent, and centipede are exceptions to this since they like to be mowed at 1/2 inch.

3. Fertilize with something regularly. Since this is the organic forum, fertilize with alfalfa meal/pellets when seeding and again with corn meal after all the seed is established.

Then after three months (if you can wait) you look to see if there are any perennial weeds. Pluck the taprooted weeds with a weed hound along the way.

09-11-2003, 01:46 AM
Excellent question. Perhaps I will face that in "real life" soon.

The reply "pull them or tolerate them" gives two options. In many cases the customer does not want to tolerate them. This is one of the great challenges in organic lawn care. Many organic books counsel that people should tolerate some weeds. But many customers don't want to hear about it. Perhaps many who are going to pursue organic lawn care will wind up working for those who can tolerate some weeds, as many people will increasingly be willing to do, if that is the price for forgoing the poisons. But I tend to think that we can do better.

Pulling weeds by hand is another interesting topic. Many people don't want to pay for that, and many LCOs would never be caught dead on their knees puling weeds. I think people have become very lazy and no longer even have any experience with such things. In many cases, it may be quicker and cheaper to pull weeds or pay to have them pulled, than to pay for chemicals to be applied. Sometimes it is a matter of educating the customer. I once pulled about 3000 cudweeds from a lawn in about an hour. I maintain several lawns where I keep weeds under control by handweeding weekly. In some of these the grass is good and thick and there aren't many weeds, in others things aren't as nice, and some may become more challenging as time goes by.

The solarization technique I have described before is very interesting but there is much more to learn about it and it may not always be appropriate. This may be a good way to kill weeds and maybe weed seeds before seeding the grass. Should not take long to kill new weed sprouts.

Back to tolerating weeds. That doesn't have to mean tolerate unlimited weeds forever. It can mean, OK there's weeds, we'll work on them. Maybe some regular handweeding. Maybe we mainly just work on improving the soil, improving the turfgrass and get the weeds under control over time. Some people can be patient.

The argument here is probably that to be successful with organic lawn care you have to make some exceptions. Maybe so or maybe not. That is something each person decides. And what is success? Or maybe just to point out that there is a lot of ground between the extremes. And it may be appropriate to use a chemical from time to time. I saw an amazing change in a really bad lawn after a visit or two from Chemlawn. From mainly weeds and dirt to mainly grass and no weeds. From that point it may have been really easy to maintain that lawn organically, but it may have taken forever to get it to where Chemlawn took it quick. A lot depends on the customer - do they want a certain quality of lawn, do they want it now or can they gve it time, do they want chemicals or not? And of course any of us can decide what we are willing or not to do. Some may define themselves as "chemical-free" and some may use different methods depending on circumstances.

09-11-2003, 02:00 AM
Originally posted by Dchall_San_Antonio

Bermuda, bent, and centipede are exceptions to this since they like to be mowed at 1/2 inch.

I don't know about bent or cent but bermuda can be kept as high as 3". I keep a lot at 2.5". Looks a little better maybe at 2". There have been many discussions here about bermuda height. I may reread some - there were some very interesting threads, there are arguments on both sides of it - lower is better, higher is better. 1/2" is pretty low though. Probably most books say 1" - 1.5" for bermuda, or 1/2" for hybrids. The local extension office says 1.5" - 2.5". I think in the organic approach, it can be good to keep most grasses on high side, maybe higher than "by the book".

Anyway, I like your plan.

And I put a 50lb bag of alfalfa pellets on a yard last week. Maybe a little late in the season, but seemed like the thing to do. First time I bought any. It was horse food. I would like to find a "purer" source.

Was thinking of using alfalfa pellets on a new seeding of fescue soon. Why do you say alfalfa for seeds and corn later?

Enjoy Life Ronnie
09-11-2003, 11:28 AM
I've never understood why some people try to produce grass as if it were a cash crop. I prefer the low maintance... low cost of never using any fertilizer, weed control, and only watering if necessary to keep grass and trees from dying. That is natural... real natural.
After reading this website I just put 50# of cornmeal on my yard. Hopefully it will make my yard look better without working me to death. Mowing grass is not that high on my list of ways to enjoy life.

09-11-2003, 11:31 AM
Why alfalfa for seeds and corn later?

I watch a couple of amateur gardening boards, too. There are some very sharp folks on some of those. Some of them have time and money to do their own experiments. While they will never be accepted in academic journals, I take some of them seriously. One recent post had to do with using corn meal at the same time as seeding. That had always been my suggestion as a "starter" fertilizer. So he tried several plots of new seeds using various amounts of corn meal. He found that the plots with the most corn meal had the least germination. The link between low germination and corn GLUTEN meal has been well established at the University of Iowa. It is not a far stretch of the imagination to link corn meal and corn GLUTEN meal. The difference is corn meal is the entire corn kernel that has been crushed. Corn GLUTEN meal is the center of the corn kernel after the outside has been milled off. So, it could be that corn meal has a preemergent quality to it also, but not as pronounced as corn GLUTEN meal.

So to be on the safe side, and since there are cheap alternatives to corn meal, I have changed my plan for new seeding to include alfalfa pellets as the starter fertilizer with corn meal to follow. I like corn meal because of the anti-fungal properties it had. I'm personally prone to getting fungal diseases in my lawn, so I project that onto everyone else, too :)

As an aside, I think I have discovered my fungus problem so I can try to control the situation from now on. My neighbor has bamboo that leans over my side of the fence. I clip it off but I don't always get it out of the lawn and on the street for pickup right away. It is those places where I have left the bamboo where I have my fungus problems. Plus my daughters like to pile up the bamboo and use it as their fort. So my lawn will always suffer a little from "bamboo poisoning" at least until they grow out of the fort stage. Next spring I will put down corn meal right before the bamboo party starts.

09-11-2003, 11:33 AM
Thanks for trying it. I hope you have 5,000 square feet of turf or less for the 50 pounds.

Please give it 3 weeks and write back with your preliminary results.

09-11-2003, 12:32 PM
"So, it could be that corn meal has a preemergent quality to it also, but not as pronounced as corn GLUTEN meal. "

OK - I figured that could be the reason. Makes sense to me.

Yesterday I removed a couple of piles of old dead bamboo from a yard. I can see how that could be the source of some kind of fungus.

09-11-2003, 12:45 PM
And notice that I'm not passing judgement against bamboo. It is just a characterisitic I need to be aware of in my yard. If others are finding the same thing, about fungus starting under the bamboo piles, then that should be talked about so the others can learn from it.

But I need to moderate myself a little. Let's get back to Dan's question about starting a new lawn in an organic program.

09-11-2003, 01:10 PM
Originally posted by dan deutekom
For all of you organic guys. Going to install a new seeded lawn. Bring in good top soil ammended with all the right organic stuff.

What is the "right organic stuff" for trying to grow turf? Anyone use wood? Wood is basically lignin, which takes a long time to decay compared to soft tissue. Just have to be careful with your C-N ratios. Best time to modify growing environment is before plants are installed.

dan deutekom
09-11-2003, 08:24 PM
Hand pull the weeds. Maybe on a 30' x 30' lawn but it isn't practical on a couple of acres of lawn. Live with the weeds. Life is to short to tolerate a poor lawn. I don't think my clients would be very happy spending thousands of dollars just to make a weed field. Sterilized soil....$$$$$$$$. Most topsoil around here is scraped off of new subdivision projects and then screened. Lots of weed seed. Besides dosn't sterilization defeat the purpose of organic care?

It is amazing what 1 lawn spray can do to renovate a poor lawn. In fact I have turned rundown pastures into acceptable lawns by doing a couple of weed sprays, fertilizer program, and overseeding. After one season it looks like a proper lawn.

PS: Would like to hear from some cool season grass guys. I don't have the luxury of having more than 5 months growing season:cry:

Enjoy Life Ronnie
09-11-2003, 09:04 PM
My lawn is only 2,600 square feet so 50# should be a good start and at $4.50 a bag it's dirt cheap. I'm sure hoping for good results so I can have a nice lawn without really trying.
I used a coffee can and just flung it everywhere. Do the rest of you use a spreader? I don't even have one.
Regardless the result I intend to use cornmeal every 90 days for one full year to give it a fair test.

Enjoy Life Ronnie
09-11-2003, 09:33 PM
About 40 years ago we used plain old dirt then added perlite, vermiculite and sand to make potting soil. I have no idea what they use now? But that would cost too much anyway. LOL

About that same time (1964) I went to the sanitation dept. and they gave me a big old truckload of dried human waste. I spread it on my lawn and watered it in best I could. My next door neighbor had a swamp bucket cooler in his bedroom window and was a little upset about the smell. So I didn't use it again. But the tomatoes came up everywhere and the neighborhood kids
found a lot of large balloons in my yard.

But the grass didn't improve much so I just gave up and took up golf.

09-11-2003, 09:42 PM
"I used a coffee can and just flung it everywhere. Do the rest of you use a spreader? I don't even have one. "

That's one of the cool things about organic fertilizers - you can use your hands! I have applied lots of comost and other stuff by hand. I usually put it in a 5-gal bucket and walk around throwing out handfuls.

If you're just doing your own lawn and its not large, you don't need to buy a spreader. But for a larger lawn or lots of lawns or if time is an issue (like if you're getting paid) then it can be very useful to use a spreader. Also it is better to have an even distribution, which you can't easily achieve by hand. But this is not as important as it is with strong chemicals.

But most spreaders are made to apply standard fertilizer pellets which are granulated to fit the spreaders. Lots of organic materials will not work in most spreaders. Every garage has one or two Scott's spreaders - usually not working. I couldn't bring myself to buy that plastic garbage for $29.95 so I paid a little more ($45.00) and got one sold by Fertilome. Works fine with stuff like Milorganite (if you remove the agitator pin) or anything that's granulated. Did OK with alfalfa pellets. But compost - no way.

The A.M. Leonard catalog ( http://www.amleo.com ) has lots of commercial spreaders. They range from $50 to maybe over a $1000. There is one that they claim will apply anything that can be used on turf - the Spyker Mulch-n-More. It costs $560!

There is some stuff sold around here called Humore, which is composted cattle manure and alfalfa. The company provides a special spreader to some of its dealers. It is a large metal cylinder with holes in it. You just pull it around and the stuff falls out the holes. I haven't used one.

Grass seed can be broadcast by hand, but this is an example of something that is best applied in a very even, controlled way.

09-12-2003, 12:33 AM
Originally posted by dan deutekom

PS: Would like to hear from some cool season grass guys. I don't have the luxury of having more than 5 months growing season:cry:

I would be one of those. :drinkup:

I just applied cracked corn to a portion of a clients yard (with her approval, of course). I spread 500/f2 in the sun and another 500/f2 in the shade. Both areas have ajoining turf untreated for comparison. Though late in the season, I expect to see some results. We just started to get some much needed rain so that should help.

09-13-2003, 03:15 PM
My question is " what is topsoil"?

I define topsoil " the soil thats at the top of the earth"

could be pure sand to hard pan clay, so when buying topsoil, what are you buying?

Green in Idaho
09-14-2003, 06:33 PM
Fresh soil in a new yard?

IF you have enough time, don't plant the seeds right away. Let the weed seeds germinate and grow, then they'll be easy to eradicate. Wait again until it's obvious the weeds seeds are taken care of, then seed with grass.

Organic methods take more TIME...

dan deutekom
09-14-2003, 07:26 PM
Originally posted by dan deutekom
Also lets not make it that you apply organics to kill the emerging weeds and then seed 3 weeks later because the season is just to short for that sort of nonsense.

Remember time matters

Green in Idaho
09-14-2003, 09:09 PM
Oops, sorry I missed that point in the original post...

If time is the controlling factor, and if you want everything NOW, organics is NOT going to work well.

The "I want it green tomorrow" mentality is what created the lawn chem business..

09-15-2003, 11:33 AM
What is topsoil?
Of course soil is considered to be any mix of sand, clay, and loam, but these are only the mineral component to soil. To my way of thinking, topsoil would be distinguished from a mix of pure minerals as having the characteristic of "organic fertility." It would have to have the living microbes that are thought of as being surface dwellers. I think there are microbes at all levels, but the surface dwellers leave their specific footprints behind in the form of organic residues such as biological slimes, humic acids, and specific waste products. These residues give the "topsoil" certain properties of fertility, structure, tilth, and water holding capacity that we recognize in topsoil. Humic acids are dark brown which would give topsoil the darker color usually not associated with subsoils. I think this visual indication is a traditional method of distinguishing topsoil from subsoil.

When you buy topsoil from a materials supplier, I'm not convinced they give you anything like what I've described. I believe most will deliver whatever came in from the nearest road construction or building excavation project. If it is pure sand, they call it topsoil. If it is pure clay, they call it topsoil. If it came from 50 feed underground (underground parking garages), they call it topsoil. For this reason I never suggest anyone renovating a garden use a product called "topsoil." Or if they insist on it, I suggest heavy amending with excellent compost and organic fertilizer to distrubute the top-dwelling microbes throughout the material (from the compost) and feed them (organic fertilizer).

Time does matter
The observation that organic materials do not give immediate results is about 90% correct. That slow release "feature" of organic materials has always been seen as a plus and not a minus factor. But I think it is obvious that being slow is not always a plus. This is a fact of life with organics - something YOU need to know about so your clients can understand things. If we are just talking about fertilizing, it is equally simple to apply a product 3 weeks ago as it is today, so YOU need to know about that timing factor to keep things green. As for pest control, that is an immediate problem to deal with. One thing I can say is with an organic program we quite often see the pest problems control themselves before being noticed. This is not always the case, but gardening professionals and amateurs report that they have many fewer pest issues with their 100% organic program. I wish I had real statistics. Your mileage may vary.

My totally unscientific experience is that the day (Feb 14, 2001) I started using corn meal under my four rose plants was the last day I had an aphid appear on them. Prior to that, for 8 years I had a nice even coating of aphids on my roses all season. Since then I have counted 12 aphids, total, in 3 seasons. I have reported this elsewhere and let the amateurs try it out, but they have not had anything like my experience. I don't know why this is happening to me, but I would not be surprised to find many of you trying organic programs to have different pest issues go away for you on a seemingly random basis. At the same time, I would also not be surprised to see your pest issues change from one pest to another as the organic methods and materials control some but allow others to thrive. Think of this as a journey for you and the gardens you maintain. Your observational skills may get a tune-up.