Natural Foods for Lawns

by Don Trotter


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Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to our second installment on Lawns. I think we should get right to it so let's go out to the yard and take a good look at your turf.

Feeding your lawn with natural products and materials depends on creating a living system in the soil your lawn is growing in. Natural turf care and feeding count on materials like compost to increase biological activity in soils in order to make the natural plant foods work faster and for longer periods of time to keep your lawn lush and green. Natural lawn foods average less than half the nitrogen and many are less than a third s strong as they're chemical counterparts. When I feed a lawn or counsel a gardener on feeding their lawn I try to inform them of the many things that natural lawn foods do for the soil and the many other significant contributions they provide for the overall vigor of the lawn ecosystem.

Turfgrass is not a natural thing. There are few places on the planet where a single kind of grass grows, totally excluding all other plants except for the residential lawn. It is the challenge of gardeners and especially natural gardener to make this unnatural gathering of plants into an efficiently functioning system of biological processes resulting in an emerald green lawn. This can be a daunting task when it comes to weed control, pest insect and disease control, and then there's always Bubba to tell you you're a loon for not using Soylent Green on your lawn…just like he does. Feeding a lawn with natural materials is pretty easy when you think of it. All you need is some finely screened compost, the minerals to balance your soil, and a subtle source of nitrogen.

The touchy subject of providing a lawn with large doses of nitrogen is not an issue when caring for the lawn naturally. The amounts of nitrogen applied to a lawn treated with natural materials is basically used to replenish lost nitrogen when clippings are not recycled back into the turf with mulching lawnmowing equipment. When clipping are recycled into the lawn mechanically, nitrogen is supplemented in small amounts to assist in the decomposition process and to provide some additional food to soil microbes so that further growth of the lawn is stimulated. Low nitrogen inputs are used to keep the engine running at peak efficiency. The keys to feeding your lawn naturally are to work with the soil and then let the biology in the soil work its magic.

The materials are easy to find and are normally rather abundant. Screening your compost or buying fine-screened compost is easy to come by. Screening your homemade compost is fairly easy to do by constructing a simple screen from a wooden frame and some fine mesh chicken wire. Adding the screened material to your lawn can be done with precision compost spreaders or you can use my method of throwing it all over the lawn in the most haphazard manner possible. I love throwing compost all over the place because it doesn't matter where it falls. No matter where compost falls on soil it does good things so I just chuck it on the lawn and let some of it fall where it may. I guess that's one of the reasons I never have enough compost. I add compost to the lawn in the early to middle part of spring and then again in midsummer. I feed the lawn with chicken manure on the same day so that I'm not doing too much work and jeopardizing my reputation as a lazy gardener. I use chicken manure at similar to those suggested in chapter two. Watering thoroughly after applying these materials get them down where they can do the most good, in the soil. Once a year I winterize the lawn by adding minerals only, this is done in the fall.

Lawns don't have to be growing at warp speed to remain lush and bright green. Quite the opposite is true. The chemical manufacturers want you to continue to buy their products all year so they invent marketing strategies to convince you that your lawn really needs their products if you don't want to be the laughing stock of your neighborhood. Boy have they got it wrong. Smart turf management professionals utilize the cool and the warm season to rebuild the mineral content in their soils and to feed the soil with a little bit of organic matter so that in the spring and summer they don't have mineral deficiencies that can result in numerous disease and pest problems. The organic matter they add to the soil feeds beneficial microbes and larger organisms like earthworms. I add the organic matter earlier in the season, which helps to minimize runoff of water, increase water retention so they don't have to water so often, and improve the physical structure of their soils. One of the best things this organic matter addition can do is to stimulate the larger organisms in your soil such as earthworms to stay in the soil underneath your lawn because food is there. Earthworms also have the added benefit of tunneling around in your soil creating deeper and improved water penetration while feeding on thatch. Thatch is the name given to the dead and decaying remains of the summer's growth. Thatch is a good thing when a lawn is cared for naturally because the beneficial organisms inhabiting your soil actually convert this thatch into plant food that your turf can use when the weather warms up. The whole mechanical dethatching thing that begins in the fall just cracks me up. If the people that spend all that money on removing this valuable material would just feed it to their soils they would have better soils and healthier lawns.

Mineralizing your lawn should only include a mineral supplement and some organic matter as mentioned earlier. I love to apply a good calcium source such as Kelzyme fossilized kelp or a mixture of lime or gypsum, sulfur, soft rock phosphate, and sulfate of potash magnesia (sul-po-mag) at a 5-1-2-1 ratio. Apply Kelzyme or the mineral mix at a rate of 10lbs per 100 square feet of turf. Water after application as always. This makes for a great winter meal for all of the good guys that live in the soil beneath your lawn.

By adding these ingredients to your lawn at this time of year you will be truly winterizing your lawn. The other really great thing you won't be doing is contributing to the pollution problem that often occurs when chemical fertilizers run off of poorly maintained soils into the storm drain system resulting in contamination and accelerated bacterial growth in our oceans and fresh water supplies. Just add some minerals and some organic matter and in the spring your lawn will be way ahead of any other in your neighborhood and will remain lush and green throughout the winter. And for those of you with snow on the lawn during this time of year, Bubba can't make fun of the color of the snow can he? This mineral material can help you to grow a weed and disease free lawn that is resistant to pests and stays bright green all year, or until the snow covers it. Eat your heart out Bubba.


Got Questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net. Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener for more helpful hints on growing a healthy garden without chemicals. Both Books are from Hay House Publishing www.hayhouse.com

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