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organic lawn care for the cheap and lazy

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
There are lots of ways to approach this, but I'm all about cheap and lazy ....

Put the top soil on, smooth it out, throw seed on top of that, rake it in a little, water twice a day until you can see baby grasses.  Then cut back to once a day.  At an inch tall cut back to once every other day. 


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John Meshna


Joined: Jul 22, 2006
Posts: 111
Location: Vermont
Dutch White clover is a good choice for clover in a lawn.  For pastures it plants from 6 to 12 pounds per acre.  One pound of clover is a lot of seed.  Spread evenly it will be enough to add to most suburban lawns.  It's a prolific seed producer once established so, you don't need much.


John Meshna (owner)
Green State Hydroponics
1195 Dog Team Road
New Haven, Vt 05472
duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
I'm in Cape Town, South Africa and having discovered your web site I'm excited about following your techniques.

When we moved into our house the lawn was dead, clover, some sort of blue-ish grass (small fine leaves, runners) that was coarse and ugly. You're not going to be very happy, but this was before I discovered organic methods....we killed pretty much everything with roundup (yes, slap me now) and then took out what was left manually (the grass actually survived!).

I levelled the ground and then we had kikuyu laid. Due to lack of knowledge we didn't put down compost before laying it (yes, slap me again). The "soil" (dirt probably) is very sandy - water pools on top of it, the surface dries quickly, and it just runs through your fingers when dry.

I've was slowly putting down topsoil to fill in the gaps between the sods. In that parts where I haven't put topsoil yet brown patches have been developing. When I had someone give me a quote for topsoil for the whole lawn he said we had lawn caterpillar (not really sure).

I think the biggest issue is bad soil. The sand is crappy, and the topsoil seems to make a huge difference.

So, a couple of questions,

1) Any idea what the ideal length is for kikuyu? My reel mower can only go up to about an inch high
2) Could the brown spots be purely bad soil related? I'll be putting more topsoil on today over those spots, so hopefully they will start to do a bit better
3) How do I check for lawn caterpillars?


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Well, I know very little about horticulture in South Africa and I have never heard of "kikuyu".

Does it ever freeze there?

I think the "caterpillar" is going to be grubs.  Don't worry too much about the grubs right now.  Focus on a healthy turf and the critters that think grubs are yummy will come around and eat them later.

It is interesting that your soil is sandy and it puddles.  I have seen soil like this before.  It had a lot of "decomposed granite" in it.  It looks/feels very sandy on the surface, but under the surface it has decomposed into clay.  The smaller bits (clay) sift down and fill the spaces between the bigger bits (sand). 

No matter what kind of grass you have, I would want a variety that would  be happy at at least three inches. 

You either need a different mower that will mow higher, or you need to modify your existing mower so it will mow higher.  I once was low on funds and had such a lousy mower.  I bought some hot water tubing and screwed it to the wheels of the mower.  This raised the mower another inch.

duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
It doesn't freeze over where we are (coastal). For some info on Kikuyu, you can have a look at http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/kikuyu_grass.html, and http://www.tropicalgrasslands.asn.au/pastures/kikuyu.htm.

Yes, this soil is a bit strange. You can dig just about as far as you want to, the only problem is that is kinda collapses on itself, so holes need to be wide. Biggest issue is that water runs off really easily and when watering beds you've got to be careful to allow them to wet first and then water. The water absorption is also really slow.

So far adding topsoil seems to be working best. I'll have a look at what I can do with the mower, but the grass seems really happy at its current longer length (was mowing too short before). Where it is healthy it is green and luscious.

My big goal now is soil improvement through compost and adding topsoil to the turf. I'll get some organic fertilizer to put down in the autumn (it is the hottest part of summer here now).

EDIT: found this brochure on grasscycling, http://www.abag.ca.gov/bayarea/grass/grassbrochure.pdf, which has some indications of lengths for different grasses. Mowing height for kikuyu recommended at 1 - 1.5" (which is probably about what my mower is now, so that works out okay)
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Do you have any earthworms?
duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
No. I've seen very little life in the soil. Couple of caterpillars around the garden, plenty of flies in the area, some (very few) ants on my lemon trees. I've been toying with introducing some earthworms, just need to find out where to get them.

About the only other things I've noticed are some weevils, but I've only seen one in the garden (think the little buggers are eating my agapanthus, and a bit of my lemon tree.) I actually had a problem with them in my post box eating my mail (solution - check mail regularly  ) I managed to get a photo of a weevil, it is posted here. It seems to be some sort of root weevil
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Improving the organic matter is going to be the best approach.  But!  My understanding is that for your area, that is going to be nearly impossible.  As fast as you add organic matter, soil organisms will consume it! 

For many jungles, nearly all of the organic matter is above the soil line! 

I wonder what would happen if you mowed your grass higher than two inches. 

Do you have a lot of trees?

duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
I'm starting to at least see a recovery in the affected areas, although the grass has a much bluer colour there (the healthiest areas have a lovely green colour).

Why do you say the soil organisms will consume it so fast?

Wrt mowing higher, I suspect that the kikuyu won't spread as well if it is longer - my experience is that if it is too long it tends to grow up rather than spread sideways.

We have a number of trees and shrubs, most of the trees are quite small though. Unfortunately I'm not too sure what they each are. There are two lemon trees, a large tree with dark red/maroon leaves, and some other things which we know get big, just not sure what they are.

What makes you ask about the trees? (interested to know your thinking)
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Most of my knowledge is about soils for the inland united states.  It gets cold there in the winter.  If you ammend the soils and then take good care of your lawn, the soils will get richer year after year. 

Recently I have been living closer to the ocean and learning more about soils that do not freeze in the winter.  For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to maintain a level of organic matter in the soil.  One of the reasons is that the soil organisms keep consuming all of the organic matter - all year long!  This makes it diffucult to build up the soil! 

So the best way to keep organic matter in the soil in these conditions is to keep it alive!  Trees and shrubs introduce a way to naturally add organic matter and hold it - while living. 

duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
The grass is definitely doing better, but the lawn caterpillar are still munching away, which keeps making it look weak and unhealthy in places. Whenever I see them I grab them and use the SQUISH method (stomp quickly until insect stops habit).

What do you think of using an insecticide like Margaret Roberts DiPel? (search on that page for it). The active ingredient is "Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki".

One of my problems is that where the caterpillars eat and make the grass weak, this other blue/grey grass starts coming up 

EDIT: managed to find some pictures of the lawn caterpillar. It is a type of armyworm, search for armyworm here, http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/business/7327.html
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I wonder where all of your birds are.  If you have scads of these things above ground, you would think that you would be overwhelmed with birds festing on these things!

Too bad you don't have chickens.  They would make short work of those fat juicy things!

I think that if you have no birds, bacillus thuringiensis is the way to go. 
duncan drennan


Joined: Jan 25, 2007
Posts: 18
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
There are birds around, and I've had flocks of them in the garden before....but I suspect our cats may be the problem.......
                        


Joined: Oct 06, 2006
Posts: 11
Does anybody know of anypossible bug or critter that infected Northeastern lawns recently (last year or so)?  We just relocated to south eastermn MA end of last summer.  The yard at the new house was a mess, lots of weeds and stuff, but I decided to put it off til this spring. I had planned on just bringing in some topsoil but financially that just really isn't possible right now,and after investigating what I could buy by the tuckload, the soil I've already got looks much betterthan what they had to offer .
    So this week I raked off all the pine needles, leaves, etc. There are huge bare areas where weeds had been thriving last summer. At first I figured it must have been a case of neglect and bad soil, but as I started poking around, the soil doesn't seem bad, a little sandy, but not bad. I'm trying to locate an extension office to have a soil test done.
    In the meantime I got to thinking about little things I noticed last fall: lots of little holes in the yard, too small I think though for moles or chipmunks although we do have some of the latter. We have some earthworms and a lot of these little tiny things that are the size and color of worms but look more like snakes. We also had quite a few normal snakes. We live in a very wooded area so I guess that's normal.
    Everyone around here seems to either not pay any attention to their lawns, or uses Chemlawn (which I absolutely refuse to do).  I want to make sure I correct any issues with the soil, critters, etc. before I plant seed.  I am so unfamiliar with the soils and such here, but I also don't want to spend the whole summer without any grass for the kids to play on while I get my bearings. So if anyone can shed some light on any of this, it would be greatly appreciated. And is there a particular grass that does better in this slightly sandy soil?
Thanks!!!
Alison
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I would use a tall fescue grass seed. 

Weeds are a sign of viable soil!

Little holes:  probably worms.  Can you give us a pic of the worm-like things?  Sounds interesting!

                        


Joined: Oct 06, 2006
Posts: 11
Now that the weather is getting warmer and rainy, I'll watch for them.  That's when they seemed to come out last year, but I haven't seen any so far this spring. When I do, I'll post a picture.
                        


Joined: Jun 27, 2007
Posts: 1
my problem are mushrooms that grow in my lawn... white and grey...small but a lot of them... sometimes they are connected with fairy ring which i don't see in my lawn..
I read that they don't harm the grass and that they grow on organic matter... but i cant find any information how to get rid of them... so i thought I'd test the Ph... i bought tester for15$ and it showed 6.5... but then i found your article and i will send sample to test as you recommended... but do you have any kind of advice how to get rid of those unsightly mashrooms....
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Well, I always liked seeing them in my yard.  I always thought they were pretty cool.  How do they get such a perfect circle?

Mushrooms like moist and they like decaying wood (or other carbon heavy decaying matter).  I've found that when I fertilize a bit, there don't seem to be any mushrooms.  Maybe they are still there and I just can't see them because the grass is growing faster.  Maybe the extra fertilizer countered the decaying wood in the composting process. 

                      


Joined: Jul 01, 2007
Posts: 1
We have some very dead grass dry patches on the lawn - went away for the weekend and ...  they JUST showed up!
wondering if it could be ants causing this....have seen some...but not that many
  dig out/start some grass again?  help!
  (did have hot dry spell, and watered a lot prior to leaving)
thanks!
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
First step - find out for sure!  Dig!  Can you post a pic?
            


Joined: Jul 12, 2007
Posts: 3
Hi Mr. Wheaton,

Thank you for your web site.  I have found it very helpful improving my neighborhood lawn.  I could use your help.  My lawn has some areas where the topsoil is thin.  During wet, cool months the grass does fine.  During dry, hot months (July and August here), I can't keep the grass green even with your recommended watering.  Is there a way to add topsoil, or do I have to remove the existing turf, add topsoil and replant?  If I can add topsoil, how much can I spread without damaging the existing grass, and how often should I apply it?

Thank You,  Tony B
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
What do you have under your topsoil?
            


Joined: Jul 12, 2007
Posts: 3
Approximately 1/3 each of clay, sand and soil.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I'm confused.

Like some of your lawn has deep soil, some of your lawn has clay under it and some of your lawn has sand under it?

            


Joined: Jul 12, 2007
Posts: 3
Sorry for the lack of clarity.  The lot soil was not good when the house was buit.  The soil is hard and clay like with sand beneath it.  Top soil was added for the sake of the lawn.  Wherever the yard has a high spot, the escavator left a thin coat of topsoil.  Wherever the yard has a low spot, the escavator left a thick coat of topsoil.  Thus, during hot, dry months, the grass stays green in the areas of thick topsoil and dries out in the areas of thin topsoil.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I guess the big thing I'm fishing for is whether the sand and clay can be ammended to make top soil. 

Thinking in terms of brute force, unlimited time and money:  scrape off everything to a depth of 18 inches, replace with topsoil and new grass. 

The cheapest, laziest route:  add organic matter to the worst spots.  Maybe shredded tree leaves.

Something pretty cheap and lazy, and gives you the warm glow of being their neighborhood screwball:  Dig a hole about two feet deep and a foot wide.  Fill the hole with what you dug up plus a lot of organic matter.  If you want to dig lots of holes, you could rent a power post hole digger (the kind that two people hold) for an hour or two.  Be wary of buried pipes and stuff. 

This gives your grass a place for deep roots and it provides earthworm habitat.

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I have found a great web site on lawn care - there are several things there that the author covers quite well, and a few bits of good info I should mash into my stuff.  There are  a few things that I want to question, but for the most part, a good read!  I hope you all can visit.

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Here are some cool sites I found that link to me!

You grow girl!:  A lot of good advice.    I think I would skip the overseeding, the aerating and a lot of the weeding - but hey!  I'm lazy!

Eat your weeds!  That really says it all!  There is a topic worthy of further discussion! 

organiclawncaretips.com has a link to me where the author says (about my lawn care article) "Great site, except that I disagree with his view on cutting the grass at 3 or 4 inches. (I believe in keeping each grass variety within its recommended range)." And my response to that would be "Most folks have no idea what variety of grass they are growing.  Nearly all grasses in a regular american lawn are going to prefer a cut of 3 to 4 inches."

          


Joined: Jun 17, 2007
Posts: 21
Location: la grande, or
what about planting low growing things so  you don't have to mow so much, such as no-mow fescue, or yarrow, black medic?  is it worth the hassle?  or not?  i like the idea of the no-mow lawn, that gets mowed about 3 times a year.  i also like the idea of not grass, such as thoes mixes with yarrow, lupin, legumes, etc.  what do you think?


"a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
The stuff that doesn't grow gets really weedy.  So the way that you get it to be no mow, is with lots of herbicides.

The grass that grows well is really good for an organic lawn because the mowing beats lots of weeds.

Yarrow is fantastic in lawns.  I really like how it feels on bare feet!

Black medic is okay, but it can get out of hand.

I think crocuses are great in lawns.

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I added a little something about chemical fertilizers at the article organic lawn care for the cheap and lazy

Let's see if I can paste it in here:

A lot of folks ask about what difference it makes using organic fertilizers. Consider a couple of things:

      1) Ever hear about centuries ago when people would salt the land so nothing would grow? Nearly all chemical fertilizers are a salt. As you use it, year after year, your soil becomes poorer and poorer.

      2) Healthy soil is loaded with heaps of microbial and macrobial life. Most of these critters are working hard for your grass. Most of those critters don't like salt.

            Let's take a quick look at an earthworm. I'm going to call him ... Fernando.

            Fernando tunnels through the soil, eating as he goes. He gets to the surface and poops out a lot of dirt and digested organic matter. His travels make it so the grass roots get air and water. He eats organic matter like dead leaves and dead blades of grass. He converts them to materials the plants can take up as nutrients.

            In an organic yard, Fernando takes a decaying blade of grass down in his burrow and muches on it "These things are my favorite!" says Fernando. "I need some more!" Back at the surface, Fernando finds some home made compost "What is this? Oh my! This is my new favorite! (munch munch) It's so good! (munch munch) How can this be crunchy and chewy AT THE SAME TIME! Oof, I'm so full. I wanna have sex and have lots of babies so they can enjoy the crunchy chewy stuff."

            In a yard that uses chemical fertilizers, Fernando says "AAAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!! THE PAIN! THE HORRIBLE, HIDEOUS PAIN! I NEED TO GET AWAY FROM IT, BUT IT IS EVERYWHERE! ACK! ACK! HEEEEEELP MEEEEEEE! URK!"

            (this dramatization brought to you by ... compost! It's yummy!)

So I'm making a strong recommendation to not use chemical fertilizers.
Jeremy Bunag
volunteer

Joined: May 30, 2007
Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
I love Fernando's story... LOL 

But I suppose it's true!  They'll stay where they can live/eat, and catch the next gopher hole out of Chemical valley...  Way to personalize it!  I shall now call all my worms Fernando, once I get a nice colony!

Thanks for that,

-Jeremy
                              


Joined: Dec 10, 2007
Posts: 59
I keep referring back to your article. I am both cheap and lazy.
one question in the fertilization part. I understand when you say use a 1/3 of the reccommended fertilizer every 3 weeks in spring if your soil is nitrogen poor.

Why do you say use just 1/2 of what is recommended in general. Are these guys trying to sell us more than they need or
burn our lawns so as to make us industrious?

BTW blessed with beautiful wormful black topsoil that is deeper than I can dig.

I just applyied 18 pds per 2000 ft2 as per directions on my mostly dwarf fescue sod thar seems to be doing very well. I think its been with us 3 to 4 months ( I recall the Thanksgiving back pain) and has had its 1st med-high mow. After enormous rains followed by lovely warmth eveything decided it was spring here in Santa Cruz about february 1st.
                              


Joined: Dec 10, 2007
Posts: 59
BTW I used stinky Dr Earth's natural lawn fertilizer smelled very fishy and was dusty and I believe I breathed in fish excrement and am now swimming better.
                              


Joined: Dec 10, 2007
Posts: 59
Loves my front lawn that is in sorry shape so far only hanging out in the more protected parts of my new dwarf fescue sod install. Could like shade may justhate being walked on with its delicate stem. HMMMM. Front lawn barbecues, yard sales and parties as potentain solution?
Any specific-to tips on combating this "clover," I now know it not to be. It sure is purdy, but can out-battle the turf it seems. Dont know what PH It likes. I do get some dandy-lion up front as well.
Could cornmeal gluten help? It has emerged,  and continues to. Dont think its from seed 'cause I get the pretty yellow flower tops beheaded and will bi weekly.But have plenty of neighbors with leaf blowers. It's loveliness has thrived throughout the wet winter up in that rich loamy soil with a crippled lawn a lawn of unknown grasses. Hopefully infrequent deep watering could help. Shall I fertilize or will it love it more than my grass? I may just sod the front come next year rainy season. Aside from the general lazy lawn care tips any advice? Right or wrong, I went ahead and mowed low 1st mow because the oxalia was actually light depriving what little of a lawn I have up front.
folks say its tasty and medicinal. Any little insect size people want to move into my lawn and eat it, but not the grass?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
wyocoyote wrote:
I keep referring back to your article. I am both cheap and lazy.
one question in the fertilization part. I understand when you say use a 1/3 of the reccommended fertilizer every 3 weeks in spring if your soil is nitrogen poor.

Why do you say use just 1/2 of what is recommended in general. Are these guys trying to sell us more than they need or
burn our lawns so as to make us industrious?

BTW blessed with beautiful wormful black topsoil that is deeper than I can dig.

I just applyied 18 pds per 2000 ft2 as per directions on my mostly dwarf fescue sod thar seems to be doing very well. I think its been with us 3 to 4 months ( I recall the Thanksgiving back pain) and has had its 1st med-high mow. After enormous rains followed by lovely warmth eveything decided it was spring here in Santa Cruz about february 1st.


My primary reason for recommending less is that I am also recommending that folks spread it by hand.    It is possible to put down too much in one spot.  But a fair amount of the potentcy is washed into the soil by rains and watering, so if you do it again a few weeks later, you should be safe.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
wyocoyote wrote:
Loves my front lawn that is in sorry shape so far only hanging out in the more protected parts of my new dwarf fescue sod install. Could like shade may justhate being walked on with its delicate stem. HMMMM. Front lawn barbecues, yard sales and parties as potentain solution?
Any specific-to tips on combating this "clover," I now know it not to be. It sure is purdy, but can out-battle the turf it seems. Dont know what PH It likes. I do get some dandy-lion up front as well.
Could cornmeal gluten help? It has emerged,  and continues to. Dont think its from seed 'cause I get the pretty yellow flower tops beheaded and will bi weekly.But have plenty of neighbors with leaf blowers. It's loveliness has thrived throughout the wet winter up in that rich loamy soil with a crippled lawn a lawn of unknown grasses. Hopefully infrequent deep watering could help. Shall I fertilize or will it love it more than my grass? I may just sod the front come next year rainy season. Aside from the general lazy lawn care tips any advice? Right or wrong, I went ahead and mowed low 1st mow because the oxalia was actually light depriving what little of a lawn I have up front.
folks say its tasty and medicinal. Any little insect size people want to move into my lawn and eat it, but not the grass?


I ate some wood sorrel earlier today!

I have never had trouble with wood sorrel.  For this patch, do you have a tall, thick turf?
                              


Joined: Dec 10, 2007
Posts: 59
A: on fertilizer, I used a seed spreader hand held plastic thing. When you say by hand, do you mean that literally? I almost did, because it didnt work well and created a lot of dust. Think I spread things out quite evenly.
                              


Joined: Dec 10, 2007
Posts: 59
B on "wood sorrel" the little plant of many names, is that the same as common yellow sorrel or yellow sorrel. my neighbors call it oxalis and everyting is comming up daisies in Santa Cruz but they are this clover leafed oxalia. Have nothing against it.
Nope the front lawn is not thick it is sad and, basically an oxalia lawn, with a few grass blades just making it.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15039
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxalis
 
 
subject: organic lawn care for the cheap and lazy
 
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