How to manage your lawn organically
You will always have weeds. The plan should be to keep them at an acceptable level. You have heard that the best defense against weeds, disease, drought and insect damage is a thick healthy lawn. You only get a thick healthy lawn if you have a plan to fight the weeds, disease and insect damage.
The basics of the plan is to have a method of creating an ecosystem that will take care of the nutrient requirements of your lawn without adding fertilizers. Once this is accomplished, you will want the thickness of your lawn, with some manual assistance, to eliminate spaces for weed germination and growth. Establishing this ecosystem will take at least two years, so do not get discouraged.
1. Start a compost pile. The compost and a compost tea made from the compost are important to maintain the microbes needed to keep your lawn healthy and nourished naturally.
2. Consider adding clover to your lawn for a built-in source of nitrogen. For many years, clover in the lawn was considered as part of a healthy lawn. It will fix nitrogen, therefore, reducing the need to add fertilizers.
3. Corn Gluten inhibits the germination of seeds. It is about 65 percent as effective as synthetic pre-emergent weed controls. It will do absolutely no good in combating previously established perennial or annual weeds. Unless you have over-seeded and are waiting for germination, control annual weeds with an application of Corn Gluten in spring. Using it at any other time of the year and for any other purpose is a waste of money. Corn Gluten also contains nitrogen and may be the only nitrogen you need to add on an annual basis on an established organic lawn.
4. If your soil feels hard under foot, aerate to allow penetration of water and soil amendments.
5. With a sharp blade, mow high and do not remove more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
6. Except for the first cut of the year and the last, mulch the grass clippings and leave then on the lawn. This will return the nitrogen to the soil. The exception to this would be if you know that a lot of weed seeds will be in the mulch.
7. When watering your lawn, water deeply and infrequently to promote deep root growth.
8. Revitalize your lawn by overseeding. Know what blend of seed in your lawn. Over-seed with appropriate grass seed anytime that bare patches appear. Over-seeding with new grass seed helps to crowd out weeds, repair thinning and damage from the winter, drought, extreme heat, insects and grubs. Our favorite way to overseed is to use a slit seeder. Please see our Lawn Revitalization services.
9. Top-dress with a thin layer of compost every year.
10. Make a tea with your compost and spray your lawn with is at least 3 times a year. Re-introducing these microbes frequently will ensure that they are producing the needed nutrients.
11. Watch your weeds and pull them as necessary. Weed killer made from vinegar and soap can be used to spot spray. This will not kill a tap root but may weaken the plant so that additional applications eventually do kill them.
How to revitalize your lawn with overseeding
We offer overseeding services with a slit seeder. With a slit seeder, there is no need to add top soil (introduce weed seeds), or kill of existing grass, dethatch, aerate or rake. The only reason to add soil is to fill in low spots. The slit seeder will cut slits into your existing lawn and deposit seeds into the slit. Dethatching, some aeration and seeding are all taken care of in one step. All that is needed after that is water on a light and frequent basis until germination is complete.
Manual methods of overseeding:
Fixing a bare spot:
1. Rake away the dead grass and expose the soil.
2. Add compost or fresh soil. Use a soil source that will not add weed seeds.
3. Spread the seed.
4. Cover the seed and tamp down.
5. Consider covering with a granular mulch with tackifier to keep everything in place and improve moisture retention.
6. Water on a light and frequent basis until germination is complete.
Overseed an entire lawn to make it thicker:
1. Cut the grass short and remove the clippings
3. Dethatch and rake. If the ground is compacted, core aeration is recommended.
4. Choose an appropriate seed blend.
5. Broadcast the seed and add compost or light coating of soil. Use a soil source that will not add weed seeds. It is important that the seeds have contact with soil and moisture.
6. Apply a starter fertilizer. Brett Young 18-24-12, 50% PPSCU, with micronutrients is ideal.
7. Water on a light and frequent basis until germination is complete to keep the seed and seedlings moist. Then reduce frequency but increase depth of watering to force root growth.
Note: This is a lot of effort and a lot of your seed will not have adequate ground contact to germinate. It is much easier and much more effective to use a slit seeder to overseed.
Overseeding to replace the grass varieties:
1. Scalp the existing grass
2. Dethatch and rake. If the ground is compacted, core aeration is recommended.
3. Choose an appropriate seed blend.
4. Broadcast the seed or hydroseed and add compost or light coating of soil. It is important that the seeds have contact with soil and moisture.
5. Apply a starter fertilizer. Brett Young 18-24-12, 50% PPSCU, with micronutrients is ideal.
6. Water on a light and frequent basis until germination is complete to keep the seed and seedlings moist.
Note: Once again, this is a lot of effort and a lot of your seed will not have adequate ground contact to germinate. It is much easier and much more effective to use a slit seeder to overseed.
Mowing and maintenance
Your first cut should be once your blades get over three inches long. If the leaf is 4 inches, you do not want to cut below 3 inches.
1. Never remove more than 1/3rd of the grass blade when mowing.
2. Increase mowing height during hot weather to increase drought resistance.
3. Reduce mowing height to 2 to 3 inches in spring and fall.
4. Ensure mower blade is sharp to prevent fraying of the grass blades and to prevent the introduction of diseases.
5. Never scalp the lawn. Scalping damages the crown of the grass plant and will open your lawn to weeds. In order to germinate, weed seeds and seedlings need light. A longer, thicker lawn is a weed deterrent.
6. Change direction of the cut each time. This helps control the course grasses and ensures the surface stays even.
Watering your lawn
Many of the grass blends used for lawns in cool climates come from three species of grass seed. For good germination, the days to germination of each of these species needs to be considered.
|Grass||Days to Germination|
|Ryegrass||3 – 8|
|Fescue||7 – 14|
|Bluegrass||14 – 28|
How to water your lawn:
1. As the seeds only take water from the soil’s top layer, all you need to do for the first 14 to 28 days is keep the soil surface wet. Plan on watering daily, and even twice a day if conditions require it. Check the conditions daily and respond to the conditions.
2. Once your grass plants are 2.5 cm tall (1 inch), their roots and leaves can support them and they will be able to get water from deeper in the soil. The root development will be enhanced if the watering regiment supports forcing this development. Cut back the watering to once every two days, but water more deeply.
3. As time goes on, reduce the watering frequency further. With the proper selection of seeds, adequate soil and soil fertility, it it possible to establish lawns that do not need any watering. They will simply go dormant during long periods with no rain.
4. If your soil has problems holding or absorbing moisture, or it drys out too quickly, you can consider amendments that will increase the water holding capacity. One of these amendments is sold under the brand name of Lesco and is called “Moisture Manager”. Applying as little as 9 ounces of Moisture Manager for every 1,000 square feet will reduce the water required by up to 50%. The product will last about 3 months. For more information, please check the product information sheet.
Grass species and varieties
In Canada, we are restricted to grasses called cool season grasses. Below is a chart that will explain some of the benefits and limitation of the different varieties available. This is a simplified chart and each of the varieties noted has cultivars with more specific characteristics.
|Bluegrass||Perennial Rye||Fairway Wheat||Red Fescue||Chewings Fescue||Hard Fescue||Tall Fescue|
The significance of the “Rhizomes vs Clumps” is in how the grass spreads. The grasses with the Rhizomes spread using runners that aggressively fill in empty spaces in the lawn. The “clump” grasses grow in bunches without sending out root runners. These root runners cause that annoying spread into your garden and under the edging, but give the lawn the ability to repair itself.
Although this is only a partial list of characteristics it is easy to see that different blends would be better for different situations.
For a soccer field we would want good wear characteristics. A good blend would be a combination of Bluegrass and Perennial Rye.
For a shady area on the yard that does not receive a lot of traffic a good blend would include a Red Fescue and a Chewings Fescue.
If a lawn has some partial shade, some full sun and just a variety of conditions that do not warrant specific grasses, a good all-purpose blend would include Bluegrass, Perennial Rye and a Red Fescue.
If you wanted to establish a lawn that is slow growing and does not require a lot of water and will grow in the shade, a blend of a variety of the Fescues would be in order. The so called “Eco grasses” are just that, Fescues.
Starting a new lawn from scratch
A good lawn that will look good for many years is dependent on a good foundation.
1. Drainage – The subsoil grade should be away from your buildings at a minimum slope of 2 % (1 down for every 50 feet of lawn) with no collection areas for standing water.
2. Know your topsoil – test your soil for pH, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium and percentage of organic material.
3. Enough topsoil – put down as much well structured, and well textured topsoil as you can afford with 4 inches being a minimum amount.
4. Work in amendments recommended by the soil test.
5. Grade your soil and install any edging and irrigation desired.
6. Choose a blend of grass seeds and varieties suited to your climate, soil, light conditions and planned usage. As the conditions on different parts of your property may be different, you may consider using different blends in different parts of your property. As an example, a blend designed for shade in areas in the shade of trees and buildings and a blend designed for full sun in areas with no shade.
7. Install your new lawn. Please consider hydroseeding and the advantages it offers.