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Commercial Organic Lawn Care Program

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Hamons, Sep 15, 2003.

  1. Hamons

    Hamons LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 706

    Commercial Organic Lawn Care Program

    Lets talk about the benefits of using natural organic materials as a professional lawn care company where a solo operator might be taking care of as much as 20 acres or more.

    Is there benefit to using fertilizers and products high in organic matter such as provided by Sustane or blends that include milorganite, yet still controlling weeds with herbicide?

    Not blanket spraying the lawn every month, but spot spraying the lawn to eradicate any weeds?

    Does the use of any type of herbicide totally negate the benefits of using natural organic matter?

    Knowing this --

    * People will not pay high dollar prices for a lawn with weeds
    * People will not pay me enough money to hand pick weeds out of their lawn
    * People will not pull the weeds out of their lawn themselves.

    Of course, once the lawn is rich and thick -- from using quality organic fertilizers --- weeds become less of an issue -- but until then they have to be controlled!

    What are your thoughts? If herbicedes are used are we better off just using the cheap Lesco fertilizers?
  2. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    This is a great issue that cuts to the heart of the matter on weeds in professionally managed organic turf.

    Personally I spot spray my weeds with vinegar as a foliar spray to kill them. Vinegar is a nonselective killer that does not work on everything it hits. For those plants it works on, it works so fast it will make your head spin. For the others, it seems to have no effect at all.

    Whether you use organic vinegar or synthetic "Weed-b-Gone" or "Grass-b-Gone" types of products would be between you and your organic client. It is up to you to get to know vinegar and its potential to kill the weeds in question as well as all the popular weeds in your area. If you can stay organic with vinegar or a vinegar/orange oil mix, then I would. But I certainly recognize that not everything is affected by vinegar. I would approach the client this way.

    This would be you talking to the client about a weed you know you can kill with vinegar: "We have a weed problem out on the south 40 of your organic area. The weed is oxalis. I know I can knock it out with one of my organic sprays but there will be a little overspray that might kill the surrounding turf. I'll be as careful as I can be to minimize the surrounding effect."

    This would be you talking to the client about a weed you know you cannot kill with vinegar: "We have a weed problem out on the south 40 of your organic area. The weed is English Ivy. I know I cannot knock it out with any of my organic products but I can knock it out in a week with RoundUp or Weed-b-Gone. I would be very careful to not allow any overspray on surrounding areas, and I would follow up the spraying next week with a light dusting of finished compost and organic fertilizer to reestablish the organic soil components affected by the spray. The alternative to spraying herbicide on the English Ivy is to hand pull/dig it at an hourly rate of $50/hour, and I estimate there is 3 hours work out there." And you might add that compost is becoming a standard prescription for bioremediation of industrial chemical spills.

    Did I get anywhere close to answering you? Using the spray on a broadcast basis can set you back on the organic program, but spot spraying really minimizes the effect on the soil microbes. And if you follow up with the compost and organic fertilizer (I like cornmeal and alfalfa), then you can really return to organic program immediately after the weed is gone. You'll have to PRE-determine how sensitive your client is to a slight detour off the organic program.
  3. Green in Idaho

    Green in Idaho LawnSite Senior Member
    from Idaho
    Messages: 833

    Do think the average property owners cares about compost being used for bioremediation of chemical spills? They don't even know what that is!

    Using spot spraying with selectives is a good practical approach along with organic-based fertilizers.

    For one it save money by less volume of herbicides.
    Secondly, it is not going to disrupt (or totally negate) the overall benefits of trying to be organic or 'low-impact' with organic fert.

    There are also thing to consider too like irrigation and mowing height. Excessive irrigation can ruins the objectives of organics and no chems.

    Try to go organic when possible. IF not always then step to the next level of using lowest impact method= spot applications.
  4. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424

    I would like to know where is it written that a product like 24d or Roundup kills soil microbes and totally ruins an organic program. Every thing that I have seen about this is hear say or unsubstantiated. I think spraying with a highly acidic material (vinegar) may cause more damage to soil microbes then synthetic herbicides. Any reliable studies out there?
  5. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    Worse than that, I think it is all opinion. As I've said, there are as many flavors of "organic" as there are of "vegetarian." I agree that the occasional spot spraying with selectives should not negate much of anything in an organic program, but the client may be more tight-as*ed about it. I don't think anyone will argue that 2-4,D is as natural as apple cider vinegar, but the use of the product should be up to the client based on some alternatives. That's why I suggest you discuss it with them. Maybe you don't need to bring in bioremediation :rolleyes: . I'll take the hit on that one. I talk too much sometimes.

    You may not agree with this next opinion, but I think what hurts the soil microbes the most is the repeated stress from continual use of synthetic fertilizers over years and years and never ever feeding them protein. I'm not saying they're wiped out; I'm saying they are stressed. Then if you spray with 2-4,D or RoundUp they get more stressed. Some will die, but it is nearly impossible to permanently wipe out microbes out in the open air. A follow-up with compost almost always replenishes the soil with fresh, unstressed microbes. If you start to feed them with a protein based fertilizer, you should recover completely.

    Vinegar (commercially labeled as BurnOut) is supposed to be used as a foliar spray, not a soil drench. As for reliable studies, I'm sure they're there. I'd like to see a soil pH test before and after a drench with vinegar. The soil would have to be considered organically "healthy" with a normal, well fed population of microbes. The theory is that even the vinegar at a pH of 3.0 is quickly neutralized by the buffered humic acids in the soil. The questions would be does the vinegar make any difference at all to the soil microbes? If so, how bad and for how long?
  6. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424

    Most herbicides are a foliar spray and not a soil drench. Also the amount applied is very small especially when compared to organics. And wouldn't the same buffering action occur to the synthetics as the vinegar? Also it is well documented the effects of the soil ph have on the herbicide.
  7. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    Expanding on what Dan has said. Both vinegar and 2,4D are acetic acid compounds. The acetic acid is what is credited for the control of weeds. If the acetic acid is utilized in a benzene ring (as in 2,4D) to be more effective, one could assume that, for control of weeds, less acetic acid is needed by using 2,4D than vinegar. Wouldn't less acetic acid be more beneficial to the soil microbes? If the answer is yes, then would 2,4D be the preferred product over vinegar for weed control?
  8. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    Thanks, dan d for asking the question for me. I'd like to see studies showing actual damages to soil microbes from synthetics. This is a main arguement used for organics, and again it seems to be not based in fact, but assumptions. 2,4-D is a plant hormone that brings on senescence (old age & consequently death). From the descriptions so far, vinegar appears to be a dessicant, similar to diquat or paraquat.

    2,4-D is pretty much non-selective in its makeup, the selectivity is achieved by the dosage: a broadleaf gets a high, fatal dose while the thin grass leaf gets a slightly harmful dose; mix in high enough concentration and you can kill the lawn with 2,4-D. The stress on the lawn from 2,4-D and most other herbicides is on the desirable plants, not on the soil medium. Proper handling of herbicides mitigates the stress on the desirable plants.

    As far as the synthetic fertilizers harming the soil microbes, I have seen the reverse of that in lawns. If you have a sand growing medium that turns to black topsoil at least 3" deep in 5-6 years, there has to be some good degree of microbal activity in that soil medium. Fertilizers cause aggresive growth of turfgrass, with consequent death of roots and shoots that contribute to SOM content. It is natural for turfgrasses to grow new roots and stems; any enhancement to growth will accelerate that process. And more SOM means more microbal activity.

    It is most likely that this organic arguement against synthetics is based on fungicidal applications, which are rarely necessary on ornamental turf if proper cultural practices are followed.
  9. Green in Idaho

    Green in Idaho LawnSite Senior Member
    from Idaho
    Messages: 833

    Results of 2-4-D

    A human given a total of 16.3 g in 32 days therapeutically, lapsed into a stupor and showed signs of incoordination, weak reflexes, and loss of bladder control [1,5,7].

    That is from this site http://ace.orst.edu/info/extoxnet/pips/24-D.htm which I think is a reproduction of the MSDS.

    I think I'd prefer the results of vinegar, thanks.


    Grassmechanic, nice chemistry lesson, but I appear to have lost my labbook some years ago!
    Perhaps you can elaborate on the many different types of acetic acids and which one is primary in 2-4-D, other selective herbicides, and vinegar. Then a comparison of them would be nice. :D
  10. Green in Idaho

    Green in Idaho LawnSite Senior Member
    from Idaho
    Messages: 833

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