The Vintage Rosery

Needville, Texas

Organic lawn and garden care is safer, more effective and easier than using pesticides, herbicides and synthetic chemical based fertilizers. It will also cost less and provide you a better looking lawn than your neighbors.
The Short Version
Set your mower as high as it will go (3 inches or so).
Fertilize with a high quality, organic fertilizer in April &  September.
Topdress with 1/2 inch of compost.
Drench with Compost Tea and molasses.
Apply beneficial Nematodes once a year.
Water only when your grass shows signs of drought stress and then water deeply.
Have a soil test done once a year until stable.
The Details
Here is some blunt advice before switching from conventional to organic lawn care. Assess the quality of your existing lawn. If the existing lawn is in pretty good shape, you are going to love the results using organic methods. However, if a lawn is overgrown with weeds and/or has mixtures of undesirable turfgrass, it is probably best to kill the entire lawn and start over. It is easier to bring dead dirt to life, than to maintain the patience necessary to thicken your grass to the point they out-compete the weeds.
Mow high:
This is one of the most important steps you can take to improve the health of your lawn. Tall grass provides much needed shade to the roots, soil and weeds. When roots are exposed to sunlight, they need more water. The same is true for soil. Taller grass prolongs the time it take the soil to dry.
Above ground there is a fight for sunlight. If the grass doesn't shade weeds, the weeds will shade the grass. The sun is used by plants to make food. Food provides pest and disease resistance and life. The shade of tall, dense grass turf will prevent essential light from reaching most weeds and, will aid in the destruction of weed seedlings.
There is myth that if grass is mowed shorter, it will be longer before it must be mowed again. That is not true. Grass uses blades for photosynthesis (converting sunshine into sugar) to feed their roots. Once cut, the grass grows really fast to make more blades to keep the roots fed. Growing that fast uses up a lot of the grass's stored sugar, which weakens the plant. That makes it vulnerable to disease and pests. Tall grass uses the extra sugar to make rhizomes (more grass plants), thus thickening the turf.
When mowing, be sure to never cut more than one-third at a time and leave the clippings on the lawn.  Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that can generate up to 25 percent of a lawn's total fertilizer needs. One hundred pounds of grass clippings can generate and return to the soil as much as 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen, 1 pound of phosphorus and 2 to 3 pounds of potassium. These are the most important nutrients needed by lawns and commonly supplied in lawn fertilizers. Also, grass clippings do not increase the thatch layer--they are 75 percent to 80 percent water and decompose rapidly.
Fertilize your lawn three times during the first year of an organic lawn care program : April, June and October. Subsequent years only twice a year: April and September.
The three major nutrients plants need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen is needed for vegetative growth and good green color. Grass consumes large quantities of nitrogen. Legumes (such as clover and vetch) can get their nitrogen from the air (remember that the air we breathe is 80% nitrogen!). So, when you see legumes taking over your lawn, you know that your soil is nitrogen poor. Phosphorus is important for good root development and many growth processes. Potassium is essential for physiological functions, disease resistance, and winter hardiness.
While both synthetic chemical and natural organic lawn fertilizers supply these nutrients, there are some important differences between them. Every chemical-based fertilizer, pesticide, insecticide and herbicide tested harms or outright kills some part of the beneficial life that exists in soil. Natural organic fertilizers preserve the biotic quality of the soil, encouraging earthworm populations and normal microbial activity. Synthetic chemical fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate reduce earthworm populations in the soil.
By feeding the soil, we are really feeding the microbes in the soil because it is the microbes that make nutrients available for the plants. The way you feed microbes is through the addition of organic material. If you feed with a synthetic chemical fertilizer you are feeding the plant, not the soil, or the microbes. By using petrochemical synthetic fertilizer we drive up the salt index in the soil and change the pH, which can have adverse effects on plants. More importantly, chemical fertilizers only feed for a short period of time. Organic fertilizers continually feed because the microbes cannot digest all of the organic fertilizer overnight. With chemical fertilizers we also do not get the benefits of the microbes contribution to soil aggregation, which leads to good tilth, water retention, water penetration, oxygenation and reduction of runoff.
I use and recommend Lady Bug 8-2-4 Fertilizer. One bag covers 5,800 square feet.
Topdress With Compost
This is a critical step in organic lawn care. Biology in the soil allows the fertilizer to work. A thin layer (1/4 to 1/2 inch) of a high quality, fine screened, biological compost spread over your lawn will provide a necessary vinculum of biology and food that works to prevent disease organisms from having unrestricted access to your plants. Boosting beneficial organisms will also improve drainage, help decrease thatch and improve moisture retention.
Compost also adds organic matter to the soil along with structure and water holding ability. For really bad soils, compost tea has nothing to work with. In that situation, a heavy layer of compost may be in order.
Apply compost anytime. If you have never done it, do it now. On your second year, there is an added benefit to applying just before the heat of the summer, as the compost cover would further protect the soil from drying out.
Look for biological compost. If the compost you buy does not have a diversity of the right organisms, it will do little good.  
Tip: Be sure the compost you buy is weed free and is a biological compost. Compost must be alive with beneficial organisms to be of any value. It typically take two years to make, having been turned at least seven times to insure it doesn't get too hot. When buying compost in a bag, biological compost will be in bags that are perforated with air holes. If the bag is sealed up tight, it contains industrial grade compost, which is used for other purposes.
I use Nature's Way Resources compost as it is a great biological compost and is produced here in the greater Houston area. We have it available in bag and in bulk.
To calculate the cubic yards of compost required for your yard, use this formula:
Length (in feet) x Width (in feet) x Depth (in inches, i.e. 0.5") / 324 = # Cubic Yards
Drench With Compost Tea and Molasses
Spray compost tea in the Spring and Fall as a drench to your soil. Compost Tea is the fastest way to add biology to your soil. When converting from a chemical lawn treatment program to an organic program, or there are diseases present in the soil, apply more frequently. Six applications over a four month period would be a good start to an organic care program, then reduce by half the following four months. At that point, twice a year applications should be sufficient.
Application rates should be one gallon to approximately 5,000 square feet. A higher concentrate is fine, particularly if you have troubled soil. If possible, apply compost tea in the very early morning hours, or evening to reduce evaporation. Tea is applied with a hose end sprayer or pump sprayer.
Twice a year, apply molasses. This may sound strange, but molasses is a source of nitrogen, carbon, enzymes, B-vitamins and trace elements including iron, sulfur, magnesium and potassium. The sugar is food for the beneficial microbes in the soil your turf relies upon. Mix at a rate of 2 oz. per gallon of water. Molasses will immediately energize your turf which is extremely important during the summer months when plants are stressed from the heat.
An easy way to apply compost tea, molasses or any soluable additive is with the EZ-FLO Automatic Feeding System.
Apply Beneficial Nematodes Once A Year
A Beneficial Nematode is God's equivalent to a broad spectrum insecticide. These tiny predators kill over 250 "bad bugs", including grubs, fleas, ticks and chinch bugs. These are packaged in a small sponge and are applied with a hose-end sprayer. Instead of diluting with water, we apply our nematodes with Compost Tea, saving labor. Nematodes cost about $20 for a package that will cover 3,000 square feet.
Water Infrequently
This will force your grass roots to go deep into the soil. Deeper than most weed roots. As the top few inches of soil becomes bone dry, the weeds and weed seedlings up there die while the grass still enjoys water from a little deeper.
Have A Soil Test Done Once A Year Until Stable
In the second and subsequent years of organic lawn care, have an annual soil test. If your soil has not been on an organic care program, we don't recommend a soil test the first year unless there are specific problems that warrant one. After a year of no synthetic chemicals and plenty of organic and biological amendments, test results will be more useful.
The soil is the foundation of an organic care program. Feed the soil, which will feed the plants. Restoring the soil to as natural state as possible is the goal. A laboratory analysis will identify deficiencies allowing adjustments to subsequent soil amendments. The tests will show pH, Humus Content, Total Exchange Capacity, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, nitrogen, phosphate, cations and traces. Each of these are important. For instance, most soils are lacking trace mineral elements which are essential for major elements to function properly. A single application of traces can last years and will free up the major nutrients to the grass. A soil test may show your pH as high. The more important test result would be to understand what nutrients are causing that problem.
When the lab results are returned (it normally takes 10 days), we will review the results with you.
Once your soil is balanced with nutrients and biology, soil tests can be taken less frequently. If the soil is fertilized, watered, cut and the same amount of compost is added each year, tests can be taken every three years.
With these methods you will mow less, water less, never buy pesticides and have the best looking lawn on your block. And now that you know all about organic lawn care, consider this conversation on the subject with Our Creator?