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Need an organic program

Discussion in 'Pesticide & Herbicide Application' started by cutntrim, Oct 28, 2000.

  1. cutntrim

    cutntrim LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 474

    The majority of our maintenance customers have their lawn fertilized/sprayed professionally. Unfortunately, less than half of them use us to do it. Next year that will change, since we'll no longer offer lawn cutting as a stand-alone service for residential customers. If we're gonna be the ones to cut it, then we're gonna be the ones to fertilize it.

    We anticipate that a number of customers (especially those without any program currently in place) will balk at "dangerous chemicals" being applied to their lawns. So we plan to offer an organic program for those that wish to avoid a traditional-type lawn program. I realize that many so-called organic programs are really that way in name only, but we don't want to lose customers by being too stubborn to offer them a choice.

    Certainly we can simply eliminate pesticides and herbicides, and offer maybe four different applications of fertilizer-only. But I'm hoping to hear from some of you who currently have customers on an organic program of some type. What are you putting down, and what are you're costs in comparison to a "regular" lawn program?
  2. UrbanEarth

    UrbanEarth LawnSite Member
    Messages: 142

    My feeling is that you are going to lose more customers by saying 'We fertilize, or else!' than by not offering an organic program. This approach may come and bite you in the butt.
    I also believe that educating people about the way that plants see and use chemicals is key. Plants do not care whether the N is sourced from organics or synthesized. N is N is N.
    Have you approached your customers to let them know that you do fert? Which came first, you or the fert company? If it is the fert company, they are being loyal customers, not a bad thing in my mind.
    Maybe offer a discount on a complete package for existing customers, and apply the new policy to new customers only.

  3. dylan

    dylan Member
    Messages: 276

    I’m not bashing the chemicals, just informing about alternatives.

    Herbicides kill weeds.
    Insecticides kill bugs.
    Fungicides kill funguses.
    Organic lawn care is not totally about killing things. Instead you should concentrate on determining what conditions your grass thrives in and then provide those conditions.
    You will have to sell your customers on cultural controls and soil improvement.
    I'll try and deal with weeds, insects and funguses one at a time. For each area I’ll list some cultural controls and then suggest some “organic” “cides” and biological products that you could also sell to your customers. Biological products do not deliver the instant knockdown of pests that people are used to. Instead, they gradually reduce the pest population. Check out http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/organic/
    Several guys there run organic lawn care operations. Several good things about organic fertilizers are: they supply organic matter, micronutrients and break down slowly.

    Organic lawn care starts with the soil. Poor soil has the following:
    poor air circulation
    poor drainage
    inadequate or imbalanced nutrient content
    wrong pH
    absence of benefical organisms and bacteria
    It is your job to identify and correct these items. Unhealty soil produces weak plants which are are vulnerable to pests and diseases. `

    If you can control thatch, you have eliminated the #1 cause of fungus. This can be done by topdressing with compost, dethaching, mulching grass/ leaves and aerating. Increasing the amounts of living creatures in your soil will quicken the decomposition of thatch. This prevents a place that could harbour fungus. Proper watering, mowing with sharp blades and fertilizing will allow the grass to fight off disease easier. Watering between 3am and 8am is the best time studies at Cornell University show. Compost also suppresses foliar diseases. Diseases are caused by a deficiency in your lawn’s ecosystem, find and fix it.

    Controlling weeds can be done with competition. Tall, (3" or more) thick turf does not allow sunlight to germinate weed seeds. The thick turf crowds the weeds and competes for nutrients. Weeds tell stories. They can tell you what nutrients the soil is lacking. Topdressing and overseeding in the spring and fall will thicken the turf. Mow before the weeds go to seed. Take a soil test, balance the pH levels and supply the required nutrients. Corn Gluten meal is touted as a natural premergent herbicide. Suppost to be 50-70% effective. I have spoken to several people who field tested the product for two years. They were not impressed. It smelled, and did not control enough weeds to be worth the cost and effort. However, wheat glutten is appearently on the market and is said to be twice as strong as corn gluten and will be granular instead of a powder.

    Here are some examples of weeds, what causes them and what to do:

    crab grass, cutting too short, sparse lawn, nutrient deficient, so mow high, thicken the lawn, soil test

    broadleaf plantain dense compacted soil, moist shaded high traffic, so pull them out, topdress with compost and areate

    yellow clover, low in nitrogen, alkaline soil, so thicken turf and put on more N check pH. Never tried this but: spray clover patch with solution of half vinegar, half liquid fish fert. Vinegar kills the clover and fert brings the grass back. (Do a small area first!)

    dandelion, cut short, thin, pH is off, low calcium, so mow high, thicken, soil test

    Insects are attracted to plants that are weak and an easy target. If your lawn is not thick, strong and actively growing and there is too much thatch, then your lawn is a target for insects. White grubs for example, like to feed on the soft, weak roots of an over fertilized lawn. Using smaller amounts of slow release fertilizer will feed the grass as it breaks down and keep it growing steadily all year. Spray the lawn with nematoads that will seek out and eat the grubs. Build starling nesting boxes. These birds only poke small holes in the lawn as they eat the grubs. Spraying the lawn with insecticides can kill the whole insect population and remove any natural controls of the insects. A study at the university of Kentucky showed that worms reduce thatch and promote areation. They also discovered that 17 pesticides reduce worm populations by 60-90%. Topdressing with compost will also remove the thatch that harbors the insects and overseeding with endophyte seed makes the grass “taste” bad to cinch bugs. Then they won’t eat it. Sabilla dust and Beauvaria bassianna can also control cinch bugs. Cinch bugs like thatch, dry roots, soil low in nitrogen (or too high in a chemical, highly soluable form of nitrogen , just to confuse things) So water deeply once a week, get rid of the thatch, do a soil test. Milky Spore disease (Bacillus popilliae), pyrethrum spray and preditory nematoads can help control japanese beetle grubs.

    That is all I can remember for now. Hope it opens up some possibilities for someone.
  4. powerreel

    powerreel Banned
    Messages: 481

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