Landscape Now: Organic Lawn Care
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Sample Organic Lawn Care Program
The first step in any lawn care program is to conduct a soil test. The chemical test (like the one you can get from www.umass.edu/soiltest) will provide the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil, nutrient levels (phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium), the amount of organic matter and recommendations to improve your soil. Another step you can take is to conduct a Bioassay test (for example: www.soilfoodwebnewyork.com) for living organisms in the soil (bacteria, fungi, flagellates, amoeba and other protozoans that can indicate a healthy soil). Although this test is expensive some extensive properties may benefit from the detailed information provided by this test. The testing will provide us with a roadmap for what steps, materials and nutrients need to be applied to the lawn.
Considering the soil test the first year program will contain: a lime application, organic, low NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) fertilizers, for example: Lawn Booster (8-1-1) in early spring, Kelp Booster in late spring, Microbial Soil Conditioner in summer and Lawn Booster (8-1-1) in September, spot weed control with Burnout (vinegar and lemon juice), grub control (if needed) with beneficial nematodes, compost top dressing (1/4”), applications of compost tea, aeration and over seeding thin areas of the lawn. In the first year of converting to organics a hybrid (transition) program may include the use of pre-emergent and post-emergent weed control treatments and chemical grub control. In the second and third year of the organic lawn care program all the treatments would be non-chemical choices. Results will dictate the exact makeup of the organic program. Going hand and hand with the organic program will be following good cultural practices.
Recommended Cultural Practices
The success of your lawn care program will depend on following good, effective cultural practices. Appropriate watering, infrequent but deep watering in the early morning will help the grass roots grow deeply into the soil... putting them in better position to survive drought and other problems. Mowing at 2.5” to 3” will allow the grass blades to better resist disease and shade out weed competition. Using a mulching mower to cut up the grass clippings and leaving them on the grass will add nitrogen and water to the lawn...at no cost! Aerating (plugging the lawn), will open up areas in the thatch layer and soil to allow water and nutrients to penetrate the soil layer and get closer to the roots. Frequent over seeding of your lawn will thicken the lawn and help to deter weed growth... one of the major concerns of going organic. After several years of over seeding your lawn, the thicker grass will give you the look you desire as well as good weed resistance. Following effective cultural practices will ensure the treatments you are applying will be effective and result in a long-term, successful lawn based on a complete soil health program...without chemical fertilizers or herbicides!
Sources of Organic Lawn Care Programs
There are several sources to locate organic lawn care companies; local trade associations (RINLA, www.rinla.org, NOFA, www.organiclandcare.net, RI NOFA, www.nofari.org, CT NOFA, www.ctnofa.org, MA NOFA, www.nofamass.org and theYellow business pages). Be sure to make sure that organic programs are true organically based, no chemical fertilizers or herbicides being used in the program. Ask for a written description of the program being offered and referral list containing customers who have used their program. Inquire if the company providing the service uses a transition program and if they conduct a soil test. Checking out testimonials of satisfied customers will help you to locate the right company match for you!
In the third part of the Organic Landscape Series I will identify steps you can take to become more eco-friendly in your landscape, at home and in your office and ways you can obtain an organic education through workshops, conferences and land care programs!
“If I wanted a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.” Marion Cran
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