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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Lawn Rolling Should Be Outlawed On The Established Lawn

Lawn rolling must be hormonal. Every spring, just about this time, some mysterious hormone hits the male of the species and the urge to “do lawn work” strikes. Personally, I try to resist this urge whenever possible but from the looks of the lawns in the surrounding area, many of you are simply not able to resist the urge to get out there and do something, anything, to make your lawn look better.

I Have a Bridge I Want To Sell

Many local homeowners, no doubt hormonally unbalanced by the passing of winter, like to go out and drag a heavy weight around the lawn.

I recently read one newsletter that said the reason for lawn rolling was to make sure the grass roots were in contact with the soil. Right, and I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.

Grass roots, if properly grown, are quite deep and no amount of frost is going to throw them out of contact with the soil.

The only thing lawn rolling accomplishes is to compact the soil.

Compacting the soil squashes all the soil particles together.

This means that air spaces necessary for good root growth are eliminated. It also means that water can’t penetrate the soil because there are no holes for it to move into.

The bulk of the water runs off the lawn and never penetrates deep into the soil to the root zone level.

This run off water takes the dissolving plant food with it so the spring feeding is washed down the sewer. In one fell swoop, rolling a lawn eliminates the necessary aeration, prevents water from entering and assists in the removal of spring applied fertilizer.

I can’t think of an faster way to help put stress on a lawn than to roll the lawn first thing in the spring.

I once watched a contractor use a road leveling roller to roll a lawn about to be seeded. Occasionally I pass this street and take a look at the house and ask myself if the gardener inside ever wonders why they can’t grow grass on this concrete expanse. In this case, there was a sand bed and a shallow layer of top soil over it being graded (with heavy machinery) and then rolled for a smooth seedbed.

Water Penetration

Water would have a tough time penetrating the top layer because of the compaction and then, once into the soil, would not easily drain into the sand.

Golf Course Greens

You have to remember that for physical reasons, water does not easily move between layers of different soil types- the junction between sand beds and top soil layers would be one such hard-to-pass area.

What is created in this case is a parched top surface layer at the ground-air junction and a swamp layer at the top-soil to sand layer

With few airspaces for the roots to penetrate and this mish-mash of water, the testament is to the versatility and strength of grass that it grows at all in this compacted bed.

Golf Greens

Occasionally, those of you who golf will see the greens crews rolling the green

Rolling a green is not the same as lawn rolling your home lawn. To begin with, a green is not usually made of garden soil

Your lawn sits on a mixture of soil types and these are easily compacted; a green sits on special sand chosen for its ability not to compact

Turf being grown for putting greens is one of the most intensively managed grass surfaces in the world. It is fed, watered and treated for disease on a regular basis. (Which is why you should never pick up your golf ball and then wipe your hands on your face.)

Even with the special sand bases, if the putting greens are rolled several times a week, they will usually have to be regularly “cored” (cutting out hundreds of finger sized holes) to allow for expansion of the soil, and the introduction of water and air

The turf manager at a golf course is really trying to do several things at the same time. This person is trying to make the golf ball roll better by making the surface firmer. If the ball rolls better on firm soil, the grass itself can be left to grow a bit taller

Taller grass is healthier grass because it is producing nutrients and extra root growth. The turf manager at a golf course is treading a thin line between optimum grass health and optimum playing surface.

What is critical to understand is that the soils on the green and your lawn can’t be compared and so the lawn rolling practices will be different.

In any case, put the lawn roller into the neighborhood garage sale because unless you want to produce concrete, you don’t need it anymore.

Responses to Readers about Lawn Rolling

I thought I would make a few short points about the above notes on lawn rolling as I’ve heard a few comments about it from readers.
There seems to be two responses to the article (besides the one that says, “But, I’ve always done lawn rolling on my lawn.”)

The first is a question about the bumps on the lawn in the spring and if they are not rolled, how will they disappear

Trust me, they disappear in the normal lawn, they’ll sink and find their own level and as soon as the grass begins to grow, you’ll never notice them. If there are large bumps in the lawn, the soil needs to be added and graded, not squashed

How Do I Fix Compacted Lawns

The second question is a natural one and one I should have addressed in the first article. If I’ve rolled my lawn in the past, how do I correct the damage I’ve done

The answer to that is deceptively simple, grow your grass in a proper environmentally sound manner. Given half a chance, the root growth of grass plants will penetrate deeply into the soil and work to create a uniform aeration level. If we allow our grass plants to do the work they can do without “help” from us, our lawn will be the healthier for it.

Aeration

You can also rent an aerator machine from a rental store. This pulls small plugs out of the soil to allow the water and air to reach down into the roots. The first mowing will chew these plugs up and you won’t see them again. And nope, you won’t fall down the holes. They’re really small.

New Seedbeds

The other point to be made is that rolling a new seedbed with a light roller is an acceptable garden practice to ensure the seed is firmly in contact with the soil. This is not a mandatory step but can marginally increase the germination of grass seed.

Here’s a quick way to learn about how to grow organic lawns

Controlling Chinch Bugs Organically In The Home Lawn

Chinch bugs (a lot of folks spell it as cinch bugs but they’re wrong) are one of the more common of grass pests but luckily they aren’t usually something that has to be controlled.
Mother Nature does a pretty good job of controlling them.

Signs Of Chinch Bugs

You’ll find them on grass blades sucking sap and a severe infestation will create dead grass patches. Most of these patches will be at the edges of the garden rather than the center because the bugs overwinter in plant debris and under shrubs. So dead patches in the center of the lawn are more likely to be dog problems or perhaps even grubs.

You’ll also more likely see the problem if the season is hot and dry early in the summer. Wet seasons or well-irrigated lawns seldom have serious infestations as the pests do not breed well in damp ground.

Life Cycle

In the spring, the overwintered egg hatches out and the female (a small fly) lays eggs on grass and empty soil in the driest areas she can find. In three weeks, the eggs hatch and the nymphs start feeding.

These are the easiest to identify as they are approximately 1/20 of an inch long, red with a white band across their back. Several stages later (and still eating grass leaves) turn into flying adults and start laying eggs. You’ll see two generations each summer.

The big problem in identifying chinch bugs is that poor lawn care looks like chinch bug damage.

How Do You Know You Have This Problem?

So how do you tell if you have a problem?
Use the coffee can technique.

  • Take an old coffee can (8 to 9 inches long) and remove both the top and bottom, leaving a pipe length of metal.
  • Insert the can into the soil so the bottom of the can penetrates down approximately 2 inches.
  • Fill the can with water. Wait 10 to 15 minutes – note you may have to continue filling the can with water if it all soaks out – you want to keep the can filled.
  • After 15 minutes, count the number of chinch bugs floating on the water.
  • If 20 or more chinch bugs are present, you need to apply a control.
  • If less than 20 pests, then no control is needed as Mother Nature will do the job for you.

Three Organic Controls

  1. Drench the lawn with soapy water. This will kill the pests if the concentration is appropriate.
  2.  Drench the lawn with somewhat soapy water (this uses a lot less soap) and place old white sheets beside the area to be soaped. In about 15 minutes, you’ll find the sheets will be full of escaping chinch bugs. Dump them into a bucket of hot, soapy water.
  3. A soap/pyrethrum combination works well as a drench as well to kill the pest.

The best solution however is to have a healthy lawn.

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Five Easy Tips To Have A Moss Free Lawn


Just about midsummer, we start to see moss on lawns and the plaintive cry goes up,

“How do we stop it?” How do we create that moss free lawn?

The first thing to understand is that moss is not going to survive in a healthy lawn.

The existence of moss is a symptom the lawn is not in good shape.

Here are the simple steps.

Thicken up the turf.

Thin grass allows moss to thrive.

Apply two pounds of grass seed per thousand square feet of lawn every fall to thicken up the lawn and mow existing turf at the highest mower setting.

Feed The Existing Lawn

Moss also tends to invade lawns with low fertility problems so the second thing to do is feed your existing lawn.

Ensure it is getting a full two pounds of Nitrogen per thousand square feet and check how to do this on websites or at your favourite garden centre.

Feeding lawns at rates higher than two pounds per square foot tends to produce lush grass that overgrows and is more attractive to insects.

Overfeeding is also a major cause of thatch (note that thatch is another symptom of poor lawn management).

Moss is also created by excessive shade.

If shade is the problem, either cut down the trees or substitute ground covers (like moss!) for the grass.

Poor Soil Drainage

Poor soil drainage is another culprit and this excessive water creates conditions beloved of moss. The solution to this is fairly obvious “improve the drainage.

You may need a landscaper to calculate and do this work.

Compacted Soils

Finally, poor compacted soils support moss rather than grass plants.

Aeration with a coring machine will help solve this problem as will keeping the lawn roller off the turf.

The short term solution is to apply iron-sulfate to the lawn at rates recommended on the labels. This will “burn” away the moss but the moss will return unless the underlying conditions are remedied.

A healthy lawn will not support moss.

I note if you’re trying to eliminate moss on driveways or other hard surfaces, the best solution for this is an organic soap spray much like the organic herbicides.
And yes, this kind of product works on lawns as a short term solution although it’s not great for grass either and the odds are you’ll do some damage to the grass as well as the moss.:-)

You may want to check out the other posts on sustainable green lawns here.

My ebook on Sustainable Organic Lawns is here.

Two Steps to Repair Lawn Dog Damage

Lawn dog damage appears more regularly in the spring than at any other time of year.

In short, dog urine and feces are wrecking lawns leaving lots of round brown patches on your lawn when the snow disappears.

Nitrogen

The main problem we’re dealing with is the over-abundance of nitrogen in the animal waste. This happens because the kidneys remove nitrogen from the body, moving it to the urine for disposal. Both dogs and cats (these brown patches are also cat related although dogs – being larger – are the bigger problem) are carnivores and with their high metabolic need for protein, there’s an accompanying high nitrogen disposal problem leading to “dog damage”.

And, just for the record, feces are not the main problem here. Feces decompose relatively slowly making their nitrogen available over a longer period of time.

Lawn Dog Damage Is Caused By…

It’s the urine that does the lawn dog damage because it is absorbed immediately by the soil and made available to plant roots in instantly large quantities. For reasons of nature, female dogs are the main culprit in lawn dog damage problems; females tend to squat to urinate while male dogs tend to lift their hind legs.

This burst of female urine leaves a typical dead patch in the centre but a thriving ring around the dead patch where the nitrogen was not strong enough to burn the grass but adequate to give the grass a burst of growing energy.

How To Stop It

And the number one question is “how do we stop it or deal with lawn dog damage once we have it?” Stopping dogs from urinating on your lawn is as simple as putting up a fence.

Deterrents such as lemon-scented tablets and such simply do not work on dogs. We tried them once and the dogs actually seemed to prefer those fine smelling areas to their normal lawns. It seems that dogs want to “overmark” these strange scents with their own.

Motion detector water sprinklers work well on cats and some dogs as well as postmen and visitors. You’ll find all manner of training devices and methods by browsing dog training books in the library or Internet that will help you train your animal to use a small area of your property. With “visiting” animals, you’re on your own.

One thing I should caution you about is a report from Dr. Steve Thompson DVM who pointed out that because it is the volume of nitrogen being eliminated that is the important factor, modifying the dog’s diet to alter the pH of the urine does absolutely nothing for the problem. It is not the pH that is the problem but rather the amount of nitrogen being applied.

There are also a wide range of health problems inadvertently created when you start messing about trying to change the pH of urine by adding things like tomato juice to your pet’s diet.

Step One: Repair Damage By Raking

The first step for gardeners to repair this lawn dog damage is to rake the lawn. A good spring raking does the gardener good because it wakes up all those sleeping gardening muscles and it does the lawn good because it removes the debris of winter along with the animal waste. Bag and dispose of the debris.

Do not compost animal feces as they – particularly dog – can contain roundworm eggs that are quite resistant to breakdown in compost piles. Removing the feces will also reduce the fly problem and any disease concerns related to salmonella or worms that can infect children playing on the lawn.

Step Two – Sprinkle Grass Seed

The second step is to sprinkle grass seed over the area. Apply enough seed so that each individual seed is just touching another seed but not so thick that they are overlapping. Remember this is not rocket science and a bit too much or a bit too little is not cause for a lawsuit. If you have to err, do so on the side of a too many seeds.

Cover the seeds with a quarter inch of compost and water them immediately after sowing. It is important to be careful with the watering. We want to soak the lawn dog damage area but we don’t want to overwater it so that the compost washes away. Use a sprinkler with its gentle rain-like effect rather than the Niagara Falls effect of a hose. Water daily until the grass is at least an inch tall.

Once the grass is growing strongly, you can stop watering and let the spot fill in to the regular height of the rest of the lawn. If you were really being conscientious, you would allow this newly sown grass to grow to four inches tall before you mow. This allows the roots to develop added strength. Unfortunately, I never seem to be able to do that; I just mow the entire lawn because I tend to forget to do it properly.
Step By Step Directions For A Sustainable Green Lawn

If You See The Dog Using Your Lawn – Instant Flush

The one thought I’ll leave you with is that should you see a dog urinating on your lawn this summer, the way to avoid lawn dog damage is to instantly soak that area with clear water. This extra water dilutes the urine and nitrogen, preventing the grass from being burned. As long as you water within an hour of the urination, you’ll be fine. If you miss that hour of opportunity, you can look forward to another brown spot.

Female lawn dog damage is the biggest problem you’ll see this spring in your front grass. Now you know what to do.

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