Starting Organic Lawn - Proper Order?

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Nuute, Aug 17, 2007.

  1. Nuute

    Nuute LawnSite Member
    Messages: 1

    Hello to all, I have a question about the proper order of soil amendments in implementing an organic lawn. I have approximately half an acre of Bermuda grass that I cut close to 2 inches but haven't cut it in two weeks. In addition to 105 F weather, we are going through a bad drought here in North Mississippi, so much so that our community is under water restrictions now. Everything I have read says that an organic lawn will have lower water needs, so thinking ahead for next year, I am here. I have read all the FAQ's but my question is about the proper way to start - the proper order.

    1) To get the soil started on the right foot, I can get my hands on really good Cotton Burr compost from the delta for about $25 a yard, which means I would need approximately 20 yards for cost of $500. Two other options are I can make some compost tea and apply it or I can buy and spray some Green Sense Microbial Treatment (approx $45). My question is although the spray would be better on my back and wallet, would it benefit the lawn as much as the actual compost? And if so, which spray would be better?

    To add more confusion, a local nursery told me to wait until the weather is in the 70's before doing the Green Sense spray, saying that the microbes might burn up in this heat. That means waiting several more weeks. Are there any other options I am missing?

    2) After this I was planning on getting some good corn meal or alfalfa pellets at our local farmer's co-op and applying that at the proper rate at a 90 day cycle. Question is do I have to wait any period of time after doing step 1? If I have to wait two months for the weather to cooperate to do step 1, can I go ahead with step 2 now and then step 1 when the temps drop? Or will the corn meal be wasted without the proper microbes, etc in the soil?

    Any thoughts are appreciated.

  2. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    Whether chemical or organic anything added to soil needs water to get into the soil profile and begin to make a difference. Organic material holds water better than a more mineral soil. IMHO patience is better than haste in this particular case.
  3. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,335

    I would sure like to see that data. If water is a concern, get rid of the turf.

    What's wrong with the microbes that are already in your soil? Don't waste your money on "microbe sprays", just use a high quality compost and core the lawn before applying it.
  4. tadhussey

    tadhussey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 294

    Compost tea is not a replacement for compost. If the soil structure is adequate already and just in need of more beneficial organisms you could get away with not using compost. Otherwise, I would topdress with compost (lab tested if you're buying it). I know some people selling compost locally have some really poor products, that's why you ask for the test results.

    As for a "microbe spray," I would be extremely skeptical that it could contain even a fraction of the biology in a well made compost tea. You just can't give these beneficial, aerobic organisms an effective shelf life.

    And finally, you will need to make sure the biology is there before adding nutrients such as protein meals to the equation.

    Good luck!!!
  5. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    By David Hall

    1. Apply alfalfa pellets (yes, rabbit food) at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet three weeks prior to your seeding date.

    2. Scalp the existing weeds to the ground with a rented mower (you don't want to ruin your own mower).

    3. Seed heavily with your favorite seed (and you really do get what you pay for in seed). The bag will tell you how much to seed. Don't skimp.

    4. Roll that seed down with a rented, water fillable, roller. This will put the seed into intimate contact with the soil and help the seed stay moist between watering.

    5. Water twice a day for 10-15 minutes for two weeks until the seed germinates and gets up.

    6. Reevaluate your germination at the two weeks point. If you don't have the grass density you want in places, reseed right away.

    7. Set your mower at the highest setting and mow when the grass is tall enough to cut at that height.

    8. After you have the grass density you want, start to back off on the watering. Skip a day and water for 20 minutes. Do that a couple times and skip to every 4 days for 40 minutes. Where you're headed is weekly watering in the heat of summer and less frequently during the rest of the year.

    If you completely cover the seed with peat moss or something else, you will lose some of the seed. Grass seed, unlike other plant seeds, germinate at the surface, not below the surface. In the great plains of the world, the seed is knocked down by the grazing animals and pressed relatively gently into the surface of the soil with their hooves.

    In the spring you can add preemergent if you want to. Apply it when the forsythia is in bloom. If you are using a chemical based fertilizer, fertilize again following the second time you mow real grass (not weeds). If you are going to try an organic program, fertilize about 3 weeks before your last freeze date.
  6. muddstopper

    muddstopper LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,341

    Originally Posted by Nuute
    Everything I have read says that an organic lawn will have lower water needs, so thinking ahead for next year, I am here.

    Orginally posted by Kiril
    I would sure like to see that data. If water is a concern, get rid of the turf.

    I am not going to get in the debate that is going on in another thread, but i do want to add a personal observation.

    Yesterday, I was in Salisibury NC. I watched them dig a huge hole with a 320 cat trackhoe. They went down to about 8 ft in depth. The last bucket full of soil when dumped from the bucket was dry and threw up a cloud of dust. The creek that runs beside the site ,and is usually a pretty good size stream, is completely dry. Moisture content from the subsoil material was almost non-exsistant. Right beside that same hole, a scrapper pan was being used to scrap off the top layer of topsoil. They where only removeing about 2 or 3 inches of the very top layer of the soil. At no time did that scrapper stir up any dust. The top soil contained a good amount of organic matter, grass roots, residues, ect. The topsoil also contained a good amount of moisture and compacted under the weight of the scraper tires instead of produceing dust. It would seem obvious to me that a good organic soil will hold and retain more moisture than a non-organic soil. If anybody here is from the Salsibury area, you can verify this for yourself by driving down Boundry St to the old balkpark that is being ripped up.

    Topdressing with a good quality topsoil is usually more productive to a healthy lawn than incorporating that same compost. Composed material is a material that can still be broken down to humis and as that material is broken down it will rob nutrients necessary for plant growth. Microbes eat first and the plants get leftovers. Placing the compost material on the top surface of the soil reduces the amount of compost material surface area that is available to the microbes and will yeild a slow release of nutrients to the plants, as well as retian moisture in the soil. If you doubt the moisture retention effect of topdressing, just dump a load of mulch in the corner of your yard and wait a few days and then check the soil beneath that pile of mulch and see how much wetter the soil under the mulch will be than the soil that surrounds the mulch pile.

    Compost is only as good as the material it is made from. Cotton burr residue should contain a good amount of calcium and a fair amount of nitrogen. This can be supplemented with the grain meals which should be good sources of Phosphorous and smaller amounts of potassium. Sulfur and boron content of the grians will probably also be decent. Any nutrients contained in the compost and grain materials will be easier for the turf to pick up than natural sources of the same nutrients.

    I am not a big fan of compost teas. Most people cant make them correctly and even if made correctly, will need to apply a readily available food source for the microbes or you will lose the full benefit of the tea in a matter of hours. Just because you appiled the microbes to the soil doesnt mean they will live. Applying the compost teas after the compost and meal application will have a better effect than the use of teas by themselfs.

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