Four Simple Steps To Growing a Great Organic Lawn

The first steps in growing an organic lawn means understanding four simple techniques. Luckily, these are easily described and easily accomplished.

Step one: make the lawn thick.

Every fall, you’re going to add two to 6 pounds of grass seed per thousand square feet of lawn.

  • If your lawn is lush and green now, then 2 pounds is acceptable.
  • If the lawn is sparse and weedy, then you can add four to as high as 6 pounds per thousand square feet.

This will increase the number of grass plants per square foot in your lawn. And because grass is an effective competitor, it will choke out the many weeds.
We call this overseeding and we’d do this. When the night temperatures cool down in September.

Step two makes the soil fertile

Fertile soil feeds your grass plants and make them healthy. The simplest way to do this is to add compost at the rate of 2 pounds per thousand square feet in the spring and 2 pounds per thousand square feet in the late fall.
Compost will activate all the microorganisms in the soil and these in turn work to increase the health of each individual grass plant.

This is a good point in this note to remind you that a lawn is composed of thousands of individual plants. I invite you to consider you’re not “growing a lawn” but instead you’re “growing thousands of plants” that make up a lawn.

Organic matter is the lifeblood of good soils. So we’re going to do two things, to ensure a high organic matter content in your lawn. The first is to add one bale of peat moss per thousand square feet in the early spring. The second is to set your lawnmower at its highest setting and allow the clippings to stay on the lawn after mowing.
For the average lawn, these simples how-to steps will improve fertility greatly.

Step three: controlling weeds organically.

There were two basic types of weeds we need to control.

The first are those annual weeds, whose seeds germinate first thing in the spring.

A good example of this is crabgrass. Crabgrass is an annual, and frankly, at the beginning stages, most gardeners can’t tell the difference between crabgrass and turf grass. Annual seeds are controlled by adding corn gluten at the rate of 20 pounds per thousand square feet of lawn.

Adding corn gluten every spring, will reduce or eliminate annual weeds within three years. Note this is why we spread our grass seed in the fall, because corn gluten will stop grass seed from germinating as well.

Perennial and established weeds will not be controlled by corn gluten. This will require a little work on the gardeners part.

I use a simple tool called a spud. It has a long handle and a forked metal blade that cuts perennial roots off. I repeat this several times in the spring and the vast majority of weeds are finished. The spud kills established weeds and the corn gluten stops them from reappearing.

Click here to check out my Organic Lawn Care ebook.

Step four: controlling insects.

A healthy organic lawn will be less bothered by insects, and any damage is quickly repaired by the lawn itself. After a few years of organic fertilization, you’re going to find that insects and pests are not a problem.

In the organic lawn, white grubs and other pests are easily controlled using predator nematodes and chinch bugs are controlled with insecticidal soap drenches.

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Seed Starting: The First Things To Know

There are several things you have to understand about seed starting.

Seeds germinate based on a change in hormones within the seed. For the most part, annual seeds germinate when the soils warm up in the spring. So home gardeners need to be able to create warm soils.

They germinate when adequate moisture is available so we have to provide appropriate moisture. Note this doesn’t mean a lot of water – it simply means what the seed requires.

I note this is generally high humidity around the seed coat, not being soaked in water.

Seed starting most annual plants is easy and this activity makes a wonderful family project that delights small children as well as their gardening parents.

I suppose non-gardening minds will ask if there is a similarity between the delights of small children and the delights of gardeners and I am pleased to be able to answer in the affirmative.

These similarities are why there are no old gardeners although you may see older people gardening

Containers.

The first step in seed starting is to choose an appropriate container and while gardening magazines promote a variety of things, I use flower pots.

They work well, hold enough moisture to prevent excessive drying out and are relatively inexpensive. Most of us have a few lying around the place so they aren’t hard to come by or expensive either.

Clean them thoroughly; there is no sense starting good seed and have them die because of bacteria from old soil on the pot.

If you can’t be bothered cleaning them out – use pots that have sat in the shed for a year and the soil is thoroughly dried out. (Note there is research now suggesting cleaning isn’t necessary *if* the pot has been left empty for a year between uses.)

Bad “guys” are pretty much toast if the soil has been dry that long. What you don’t want to do is go from fresh soil to fresh soil to fresh soil – without cleaning out the pot.

Yes, you can use just about anything that holds soil but do understand that paper products such as egg cartons (beloved of back-to-earth magazines) will dry out fast and will be harder to maintain soil moisture because of their smaller sizes.

Soils

I use an soilless mix such as Promix for my seeding because it is sterile, and weed free.

Few things are as frustrating to find the plant you have been nurturing for several months on your windowsill is in reality a large weed with no redeeming floral graces. That’s experience talking.

If you really, really, want to use potting soil, (I don’t recommend it but…) put it into the pot leaving one half to one inch of space between the soil top and the rim of the pot and then slowly pour boiling water into the pot until the water runs freely out the bottom.

Let the soil cool before seeding. I don’t usually recommend potting soil because it comes in a wide variety of qualities and can compress during the growing cycle.

Do not use garden soil as it compacts terribly and seed germination rates will be much lower than in artificial soil.

Compost/Manure in the Soil

Here’s the real deal. Never use manure in a seed starting soil. So if you have one of those “wonder” soils in packages that contain it – do not use that soil for seed starting. There are simply too many problems that come along with using manure in this way.

Here’s the deal with compost. If it is fully composted, if it has been hot composted to destroy pathogens, you can actually germinate and grow your seeds in 100% compost.

But.

If it isn’t perfect compost (and you’ll seldom buy perfect compost I note) then using it will kill off your seeds/seedlings.

If in doubt, try growing tomatoes or cress in a 100% trial pot of the stuff. If the cress grows well, it is OK to add. This is the most sensitive indicator. Tomatoes will grow in almost-OK and if they grow, then most other things will be OK to have some of this compost added to the mix. If neither of these plants does well, do not add any of that compost to the mix.

If it isn’t perfect compost (and you’ll seldom buy perfect compost I note) then using it will kill off your seeds/seedlings

There are many examples of poor compost taking out seeds, seedlings and even young plants in fields.

It is much better to avoid using compost in seed starting mixes but there are some gardeners who swear by their methods. Not me. I want consistent soil starting and growing seedlings.

Hormones and Additives

Some advanced gardeners use hormones such as Gibberellic acid-3 (GA-3) to induce germination in tough-to-start seeds.

This is pretty specialized gardening and frankly, is a waste of time for all but the very toughest of seeds. I’m not going to tell you how to do this in this introductory article because you can do more damage to regular seeds by using this stuff. I will write about it in another section.

It’s like putting jet fuel in an old volkswagen – you’ll simply kill the engine/seed rather than get extra speed.

Let me simply say that I never used GA-3 in my nursery and we grew over 1800 varieties of perennials and 6-800 varieties of annuals every year.

There are some seeds, e.g. species Rhododendrons, that can be a bit tricky to grow and the nursery solution is to scarify (mark) the seed coat so that moisture can get through the shell of the seed to induce germination.

Different kinds of acid are used in commercial seed starting of some rare plants (Liquid Plumber was a favorite) to get higher germination rates but given that you’ll be happy with a plant or two rather than 100% germination, you don’t need to use phosphoric or sulphuric acid.

One thing that has been shown to improve germination rates on home scale sowing is the use of seaweed teas. The hormones in seaweed act to stimulate seeds – natural GA-3 –  and you’ll get a slightly better germination percentage if you water once or twice with this product (do it right after you sow and then forget about doing it again).

Water

Don’t use soft water if at all possible. There’s a potential for salt buildup and seedlings don’t like salt.

Always use warm water when watering any kind of seedling flat – from annuals to perennials. The only exception to this is outside watering. While it might be a great idea, it’s a ton more compulsive than I’m ever going to be and no nursery person I know does it.

If a seed is tough enough to germinate outside, it gets what it gets.

I think you’ll find my ebook on propagation will answer a great many of your questions.

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