Organic Lawn Care
Ditch the weed n' feed... the grass is greener on the organic side.
Fertilize at least twice a year – late April (or after the lawn has been mown twice) and late September/early October. A third fertilization can be done in June if necessary.
Fertilize with an organic, slow release, high nitrogen fertilizer. Sustane 8-2-4 is a poultry manure based fertilizer which has been our recommendation for years.
Weed n’ feed products are not recommended. To deal with weeds, try using corn gluten, which naturally prevents seeds from sprouting when applied during the correct time.
In early spring, apply compost thinly and evenly to a depth of 1/2″ or less, and water in. Do not topdress when temperatures are above 85-90 degrees. Aerate every couple of years before topdressing to let the compost fall in the holes
Use our calculators to estimate what volume will topdress an area.
Watering & Mowing
Water more deeply, yet less frequently. For example, St Augustine lawns should be watered 1 to 1/2 inches every 5 days in summer, leaving a 7 day interval between waterings the rest of the year. Watering insufficiently and too frequently can encourage fungal problems, particularly during the summer heat.
Keep mower blades sharp, and remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blade height at a time. Leave clippings on lawn using a mulching mower.
The Whole Nine Yards
To revive a stressed, diseased, or tired lawn, or for extra TLC, here are a few more steps to take.
- Spray with aerobically brewed compost tea to add beneficial microorganisms. We brew compost tea fresh weekly and sell it by the gallon Thursday – Sunday.
- Spray a soil activator four times a year to stimulate microbes and improve soil texture and fertility
- Apply an iron-rich mineral supplement to add iron and potassium
Corn Gluten is a natural pre-emergent herbicide to help control annual lawn and garden weeds. Corn gluten prevents a majority of annual weed seeds from sprouting. The dry corn gluten is also a fertilizer containing 9% nitrogen.The liquid form is very convenient, employing a hose end attachment on the bottle for easy application, but does not provide the fertilizing component.
Timing is the most important factor in the effectiveness of corn gluten. Corn gluten must be present on the soil before weed seeds sprout (germinate) in order to be effective. Apply corn gluten in late winter and late summer/early fall:
- Mid-January – This application of corn gluten helps control spring and summer weeds, such as crabgrass and sandbur. As the soil begins to warm in late winter is the correct time to apply corn gluten. Especially with sandburs, multiple applications may be necessary. Corn gluten may be applied every 6 weeks through September.
- Mid-September – This application helps control fall and winter weeds, such as annual bluegrass, rescuegrass, henbit, chickweed, bur clover, mustards, and annual thistles. This is the proper time to fertilize lawns, so corn gluten will suffice as the fall fertilizer, too. The best time to apply is when we feel the first break in the hot weather of summer – at the first hint of cooler weather.
Weed seeds can germinate at any time of year. In cases of severe weed infestation apply corn gluten every 6 weeks during the growing season.
The recommended application rate is 20 pounds per 1000 square feet or 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Do not apply compost, compost tea, or soil activator for 6 – 8 weeks after applying corn gluten, as it may interfere with the effectiveness of the corn gluten. In garden beds, hand pull existing weeds, and then apply corn gluten. Reapply whenever the soil is turned. On a lawn, a drop spreader is ideal for spreading corn gluten. After application, water the area and then allow it to dry for several days. Corn gluten is most effective under these conditions, so avoid applying prior to a rainy period. Do not distribute seeds into the area. Corn gluten will prevent their germination for the next 6-8 weeks!
Problems in the Lawn
Take All Root Rot (TARR) is a significant disease of turfgrass in Texas. St. Augustine grass is especially susceptible, being poorly adapted to our area. Symptoms appear mostly in the summer, though the disease spreads throughout the lawn in cooler months. The symptoms show up first as yellow uneven patches in an otherwise green lawn, the lawn then dies in patches between one and ten feet in diameter. The roots will be shortened, discolored, and eventually, blackened and shriveled.
Take All Root Rot can be associated with excessive nitrogen fertilizer, especially synthetic fertilizers, and the use of synthetic broadleaf herbicides. Transitioning to an organic lawn care regimen as detailed above can help restore damaged lawns.
To properly diagnose TARR, a sample of the green lawn (sod) about a foot square, taken from the edge of a “sick” spot, may be brought into the Natural Gardener, where we will look under magnification for the mycelial strands of the fungus. Please call first for the availability of a diagnostician.
Best results are obtained when the lawn is treated at the first sign of Take All Root Rot, and treatments are continued as directed. The following options for treatment of TARR are gleaned from existing research, experience, and basic organic disease control guidelines. Use one or all of the following steps, listed in order of importance and effectiveness to aid in its control:
1. Beneficial Bacteria: Spray the affected areas and several feet of surrounding lawn with beneficial bacteria, which will colonize roots and actively suppress and control diseases. We recommend two alternatives:
- Spray beneficial streptomyces (ask us for Actinovate). Use once every 4-6 weeks until control is achieved. Thereafter, apply every spring and fall for prevention. Ask us for more complete instructions.
- Or spray twice monthly with a product containing the beneficial bacteria Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain D747 (ask us for Monterey Disease Control) until control is achieved.
2. Topdressing: Compost may be applied to dead patches anytime.
3. Aerobic Compost Tea: Spray the entire lawn with our aerobically-brewed compost tea. This is a product that we have available only Thursday through Sunday, and it should be used within 8 hours of purchase. For the most effective disease control, spray compost tea undiluted once a week for the first month, then once a month thereafter.
4. Reduce Soil pH: Lowering the soil pH to be more acidic can suppress the fungus. Use of elemental sulfur can achieve this, though care should be taken when applying it to avoid burning the grass. An iron/sulfur product can be helpful (ask us for Dr. Iron). Optimal application is 3-4 weeks after steps 1 & 3, due to sulfur being antimicrobial. Liquid or dry humates acidify without killing microbes.
Remember, any liquids should only be sprayed first thing in the morning or late in the evening.
Brown Patch is a fungal disease that affects mostly St. Augustine grass. While it is usually not fatal, the symptoms are brown, fairly distinct, circular spots in the lawn occurring during cool, moist conditions of the autumn and early spring. Brown patch symptoms include:
- Runners (stolons) are healthy & green, but the leaves turn brown and rot
- The brown patches show up in the same area each year.
- During the hot season, the lawn usually recovers.
Practicing the organic lawn care recommendations detailed above, together with the preventative measures detailed here, is the best way to achieve a healthy, disease resistant lawn.
Practice these preventative measures in early-mid September. Even if brown patch symptoms are already present, these products can help cure or prevent the recurrence of brown patch in the spring.
1. Corn Meal: Apply 1-2lbs per 100 sq ft over the affected area and beyond. Corn meal feeds a beneficial microorganism in the soil called Trichoderma that fights brown patch.
2. Biological Fungicides: Apply according to package instructions.
3. Aerobic Compost Tea: Apply undiluted up to four times a month in the brown patch prone areas.