How do I prepare the soil for an organic turf program?

The key to a successful organic lawn program is the soil. It must be alive with wide variety of beneficial microorganisms and bugs. Beneficial microbes both feed and protect the plants from disease-causing microbes. All the organic gardener does is feed the beneficial microbes and let them do their work.

Beneficial microorganisms

Beneficial microorganisms include bacteria and fungi found in finished compost. There are two ways to get the microbial benefit from compost. The best way to get a complete dose of beneficial microbes is by including finished compost in the soil preparation before laying seed or sod. Preparing the ground right beforehand is preferred to applying after the grass is established. Plans for a new lawn should specify that compost be mixed with the top 4 inches of topsoil, half-and half, when the land is renovated for grass seed or sod planting. This ensures that the microbes will be in the root zone as the grass seed germinates. However, if your lawn is already established and you want to go organic, you can add compost to the lawn as a top dressing. This means physically dropping compost on top of the turf and then sweeping it off the grass plants and onto the soil where the microbes will be washed into the soil. A careful watering of the lawn after the application of compost will hasten this process. Care must be taken to avoid topping with too much compost. See the FAQ below about this technique and recommendations to avoid smothering the existing lawn. Many other issues are important to the success of an organic lawn. Watering, fertilizing, and weeding programs are all vital and the reader is encouraged to study this FAQ regarding each of these topics. Success is also closely related to the choice of grass selected for the lawn. Choice of grass is outside the scope of this FAQ.

The Soil Biology Primeris an introduction to the living component of soil and how it contributes to agricultural productivity and air and water quality. The Primer includes units describing the soil food web and its relationship to soil health, and units about bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms. It is suitable for a broad audience including farmers, ranchers, agricultural professionals, resource specialists, conservationists, soil scientists, students, and educators.

How Do I Apply Compost To My Lawn?

Spread it around in piles on the lawn with a wheelbarrow. Sling it from the piles onto the grass with a shovel. Then use a push broom to sweep it off the grass blades and down into the turf. Water it in to activate the compost microbes and wash them onto your soil. Apply compost to grass at a rate of no more than 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. This results in a thin layer about 1/3 inch deep when spread out uniformly.

How do I fertilize organically?

Commercial organic dry fertilizers, such as Ringers, Espoma, Greensense, and Texas Tee, are protein based and must be digested by soil microbes before the nitrogen becomes available to the roots. The ingredients of these commercial fertilizers include ground corn, alfalfa, cottonseed, corn gluten meal, soy, other grains, as well as blood meal and feather meal. Any ground seed or bean is good as an organic fertilizer including used coffee grounds. You can often find these same ingredients in bulk form at farm or feed stores. A good application rate for these grain based fertilizers is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Organic fertilizer may be applied any day, any time of day, and at any amount without fear of hurting the turf. Give it 3 weeks for the microbes to process the protein before the benefit is seen in the grass. After 200 years of an NPK mentality toward fertility, university researchers are just now returning to study soil microbes and protein based microbe food. Not much has been published. Try Brown University. Otherwise industry and consumers are leading the way on protein fertilizers. Check out and attra.org