Friday, July 15, 2011
As in most matters that we face, there is a reasonable approach to responsible home lawn care. You need not have to choose between a complete organic or a so called chemical method of lawn care. It is environmentally sound to combine these approaches to home lawn care in order to grow a very attractive home lawn.
The reasons that I am suggesting this approach is obvious when considering the management problems the lawn owner faces during the lawn growing year. For example, there is no organic way to selectively control existing lawn weeds. Grub and insect attacks may have to be dealt with in order to protect the lawn. Fungus control may be needed at some time during the growing year.
I think that it would be desirable if these decisions were made in a knowledgeable way once all the facts are known. What is to be avoided is the application of chemical lawn control products, year after year, whether the problem being treated continues to exist at all. Just as a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic drug for a short period to control an infection, it may be necessary to use a similar approach on the home lawn. If you will read on, I will lead you through a reasonable home lawn care program.
Lawns have always been a source of pleasure and happiness. We feel uplifted by an area of green lawn to walk upon and view our flower and vegetable gardens and the other ornamental plants around our home. Our existence is becoming increasingly stressful. It is very easy to feel isolated from the natural world, which may be right at our own doorstep.
In the following paragraphs I hope to introduce you to the fascinating world that supports your home lawn. By explaining, in very basic terms, some of the ongoing processes involved you will understand, maybe for the first time, what is happening in your lawn. It will then be possible for you to make informed choices in the care of your lawn.
The Lawn Lives in the Soil
Soil can be described as a complex, natural material derived from decomposed rocks and organic materials. The principal components of soil are mineral materials, organic matter, soil moisture, soil atmosphere and countless forms of life. The development of soils from original rock materials is a long-term process involving both physical and chemical weathering, along with biological activity.
Soils are composed of particles with an infinite variety of sizes and shapes. They are divided into three categories which are sand, silt and clay. Soil texture is determined by the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay found in the soil along with the quantity of organic matter which is found mostly in the upper layer of the soil profile.
Some important kinds of soil microorganisms are bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and algae. All of these are present in the soil in very large numbers. A gram of soil, about one cubic centimeter, may contain as many as four billion bacteria, one million fungi, 20 million actinomycetes and 300,000 algae. These microorganisms are important in the decomposition of organic materials resulting in the release of nutrients. Soil bacteria carry on many varied activities. Some bacteria obtain their energy from the oxidation of mineral materials which are then released for plant growth. Other bacteria are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form for plants growing in the soil. Because of the very important role played by bacteria in developing the fertility level of the soil, higher plant and animal life would cease if the functions of the bacteria were to fail.
The Soil Food Web
The enormous quantity of life contained in the soil, both microscopic and visible, is involved in complex interactions. The common denominator is that every organism needs energy to survive. In order to do this they must eat something containing organic material supplied by plants. It is an eat and be eaten world in the soil. At the center of the soil food web are green plants. This is so because inside the chloroplast of the green leaf plants are able to use energy from the sun to convert hydrogen and oxygen from water and carbon and oxygen from the carbon dioxide of the air into a simple sugar or carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are the chemical building blocks that make the sugars, starches, fats, oils and all the proteins needed for life.
The Rhizosphere: Putting it all together
Most gardeners think of plants as only taking up nutrients through their root systems and feeding their leaves. Few realize that a great deal of the energy that results from photosynthesis in the leaves is actually used by green plants to produce chemicals that they secrete through their roots. These secretions, or exudates, are in the form of carbohydrates, including sugars and proteins. These secretions attract and feed specific beneficial bacteria and fungi living in the soil. The area immediately around the plant roots is called the rhizosphere. This is an area teaming with soil organisms including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and other larger organisms including earthworms. This is the bottom of the food chain where all life competes. It is also the very complex foundation of plant and animal life death and health. The complex cycle works as follows: green plants produce secretions that feed fungi and bacteria; nematodes and protozoa eat the fungi and bacteria. The nematodes and protozoa are in turn eaten by arthropods, which are animals with segmented bodies such as insects and spiders. Arthropods eat each other and are the food of snakes, birds, moles and other animals. The soil is one big fast-food restaurant. Members of this great chain of life move about in search of prey or protection. They have a great impact on the soil.
A Healthy Soil Food Web Controls Disease
Not all soil organisms are beneficial for plant growth. Soil bacteria and fungi cause many plant diseases. However a large diverse population of microorganisms in the soil can control the few microorganisms that are not beneficial. A cubic centimeter of soil may contain four billion bacteria, however, this population may consist of 20,000 to 30,000 difference species of bacteria.
Ultimately the role of the soil food web is to recycle nutrients. The most important nutrient is nitrogen, which is made by green plants and is the basic building block of amino acids and therefore life. There is no chemical difference between nitrogen that is manufactured by man and nitrogen derived from organic sources. However, soluble nitrogen, manufactured by man and used to feed green plants, mostly bypasses the soil rhizosphere and is absorbed by plants directly, because it is dissolved in the soil solution. Important fungal and bacterial relationships with green plants are not encouraged. Microbial populations will diminish over time. These populations are essential for the health of the soil, because they release organic and mineral matter in the soil along with capturing atmospheric nitrogen. The microbial populations are also intimately associated with green plants in many other symbiotic relationships. This really is the underlying reason for feeding green plants or your lawn organically. That is to say that if the soil life is not encouraged many other things gradually start to go wrong. Among these are the diminished recycling of nutrients, the diminishing of the release of minerals into the soil solution, the porosity and water holding capacity of the soil diminishes, the quantity of soil life, which is essential to the health of green plants, is greatly diminished over time. The use of both chemical and organic sources of fertility would most likely be a happy compromise in lawn care.
Is chemical fertilizer made from oil?
The air we breathe is composed of about 70% nitrogen however this nitrogen is in a form that is not available to green plants. The exception is legumes which have colonies of bacteria attached to their roots that are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that green plants can use. Also the bacteria in the soil are converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use. In the early 1900’s two chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch succeeded in harvesting nitrogen from the air and converting it into a form that green plants could use. They won the Nobel Prize for this achievement. Basically they fed nitrogen and hydrogen through a high temperature, high pressure chamber in the presence of various metals to make ammonia gas. This ammonia gas could then be used to make various fertilizers. The beauty of this process is that the nitrogen, which is converted into ammonia, comes from a source that is replenished by natural processes. Hydro carbon energy plays a part, however. The electric power needed to run this process may come from the burning of coal or natural gas. Also the hydrogen that is needed in this process usually comes from natural gas.
The Bottom Line
Proponents of organic gardening have made the argument that the elements of fertilizer, especially nitrogen, should come from natural sources. That would mean some source that once had life, such as blood meal, bone meal, kelp meal, feather meal and various seed meals. It is possible to grow your home lawn using only organic sources of fertilizer. I would recommend this in order to build up the soil life and structure. However, it should be said, that based on what we know now about how much nitrogen can be fixed per acre by soil microbes and how many organic sources of organic fertilizer are available, it is unrealistic to think that all the world’s nitrogen needs could be met by organic sources and achieve optimal crop production to feed all the people of the world.
The Role of Soil pH in the Health of the Lawn
The pH level of the soil is an important consideration in growing lawns. Most of us have a basic understanding of pH as a way of measuring how acidic or basic a soil may be. On a scale of 1 to 14 a pH of 1 is very acidic and a pH of 14 is very alkaline or base. Lawns grow best in a soil that is slightly acidic between a 6 and a 6.8 reading.
All tiny particles in the soil including minerals, organic matter, (humus) and microbial life carry electrical charges. These charges are called ions. Ions with a positive charge are called cations and particles with a negative charge are called anions. Positively charged particles are electrically attracted to negatively charged particles. This is what happens when opposite ends of magnets attract each other. Even microorganisms in the soil carry electrical charges. Why does this matter? The surfaces of plant root hairs carry their own electrical charges. Grass plant root hairs use this electrical attraction to increase their ability to attract and absorb nutrients from the soil. The pH tells the concentration of hydrogen ions in the soil solution. The more hydrogen ions, which are positively charged particles or cations, mean the higher the pH level of the soil, which makes the soil alkaline. These hydrogen ions increase in the soil because the root tips of the grass plants exchange a hydrogen cation for nutrients in the soil. However, the organic acids, produced from organic decay in the soil, drive the soil pH lower. Lawn fertilizers are acidic and contribute to lowering the pH level of the soil. The pH level also influences the quantity and type of microorganisms that live in the soil. These microorganisms have a great influence on the health of grass plants.
MAG-I-CAL Pelletized Calcium Fertilizer plus Humates
MAG-I-CAL is a soluble form of calcium (35%) that is readily available for grass plant uptake. Nine pounds per 1,000 square feet once or twice a year will rapidly raise the soil pH. MAG-I-CAL also contains humates to help restore the soil’s microbiology. A soil test should be done to determine your lawn soil’s pH level. Test kits are readily available in most garden supply stores.
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Many of these grasses contain a beneficial fungus called endophytes. While living synergistically inside the grass plants, endophytes produce defensive compounds called alkaloids which are detrimental to above ground feeding insects. This is a natural defense that does not diminish over time in the living lawn grass plant.
Getting started in the spring
After a long dreary winter, when spring finally comes, we all feel an urge to get outdoors. The good news is that lawn care follows seasonal cycles. These cycles are predictable as to lawn grass growth and the possible occurrences of weeds, insects and disease.
Lawns need nutrients to grow thick and green throughout the year. Assess your own lawn, in the early spring, asking yourself the following questions:
Is my lawn reasonably thick at this time? Or is the lawn thin with many bare spots?
Was crabgrass a big problem last summer?
Was my lawn over run with broadleaf weeds (i.e. dandelions) last year and are many still present in the lawn?
Your answers to these questions should determine your first steps this spring. For example, if your lawn was reasonably thick last summer, but you did have some crabgrass that appeared later in the summer, use a lawn fertilizer now in the early spring. This will thicken your lawn which will help to suppress weed populations. Use either my:
SPRING PLAN I: NOT SEEDING - REASONABLY THICK LAWN
Bear in mind that the Green-Up Lawn Fertilizer will give results quickly while the Organic Lawn Fertilizer will be somewhat more gradual. This is because the organic lawn fertilizer is released by the microbes in the soil which become more active as the soil warms up in the spring. This is also a very good time of the year to apply:
Jonathan Green MAG-I-CAL Lawn Fertilizer
MAG-I-CAL will rapidly raise your soil’s pH and the humates contained in MAG-I-CAL will feed the microbes in the soil.
SPRING PLAN II: SEEDING - THIN LAWN - BARE SPOTS
Spring is also a very good time to seed your lawn. Choose one of my mixtures that contain endophytes:
Also when seeding use either Jonathan Green Organic Lawn Fertilizer or Jonathan Green New Seeding Lawn Fertilizer and MAG-I-CAL to get your seeding off to a great start.
Controlling crabgrass in the lawn
Crabgrass is a very aggressive annual weedy grass that thrives in heat and moist or wet conditions. The best defense against crabgrass is a thick, healthy, growing lawn. The first step to accomplishing this is by introducing superior turf grass varieties into the lawn.
Crabgrass seeds germinate in the spring when soil temperature, not air temperature, reaches 50 to 55 degrees. Crabgrass seeds do not germinate in the shady parts of the lawn, under trees. So do not apply crabgrass controls in these areas, as it is not need. Apply lawn fertilizer in the shade. During August and September, crabgrass plants produce seed, lots of seed, in order to insure next year’s crop of crabgrass plants. These seeds lay dormant, in the soil, until the following spring, when they are ready to jump into action again. Crabgrass is killed with the fall frosts, leaving brown, dead plants in the lawn.
By interrupting the germination of these existing crabgrass seeds this spring, we can eliminate most crabgrass plants in your lawn this summer. Usually this is done with a fertilizer plus crabgrass preventer combination product, such as my Jonathan Green Crabgrass Preventer plus Green-Up Lawn Fertilizer. The fertilizer greens-up the lawn while the invisible barrier lies in the top layer of the soil. Once applied this barrier lasts for approximately ninety days. However, crabgrass seed continues to germinate until about the middle of August. This may explain why many of us have trouble controlling crabgrass, particularly if a heavy infestation existed the year before. To address this problem apply a second application around the first of June. Since crabgrass, while present, is not particularly visible in the lawn at that time. Most homeowners will not think of this approach. This second application will extend the period of control until the time when crabgrass is no longer germinating. The advantage with my Crabgrass Preventer plus Green-Up is that it provides both pre and post germination control of crabgrass, up to the three leaf stage.
Many homeowners ask us:
I want to seed my lawn this spring with Jonathan Green superior grass seed and control crabgrass at the same time? Can I do that? Yes, you can!
Jonathan Green Crabgrass Preventer plus New Seeding Lawn Fertilizer allows you to plant grass seed on the same day that you apply a crabgrass preventer without injuring the new grass seedlings. You will want to seed and apply my MAG-I-CAL first and then spred the control product. Again do not rake the lawn after application of the control product as this will break the barrier in the soil.
Another option to consider
Consider switching your program around and applying your grass seed in early spring along with Organic Lawn Fertilizer or New Seeding Lawn Fertilizer and MAG-I-CAL soil amendment. After the new seed germinates and has been mowed once or twice apply Crabgrass Preventer plus Green-Up in the late spring.
What if I want to go organic with my lawn this spring?
If you have experienced continued frustration battling crabgrass in your lawn using traditional methods, go organic. Feed the soil to help the soil feed the grass plants. Organics may take a little more time to control crabgrass, but by improving the soil and using my superior lawn seed, you will achieve a thicker, darker-green lawn crowding out future generations of crabgrass. Organic Weed Control will control crabgrass and over twenty other grassy and broad-leaf weeds and fertilize your lawn too. Consider using this product at the higher twenty pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. rate for improved crabgrass control. Do not seed for ninety days after applying this product. An application of MAG-I-CAL in the spring will also benefit your lawn.
Organic Weed Control works by preventing germinating plants from developing very small feeder roots; this will effectively kill them, as they can not absorb nutrients. This product is non-selective, that means that it will also kill germinating grass seed. So do not seed your lawn for ninety days after applying this product. Also please bear in mind that it will probably take a few years to clear the weeds out of your lawn. This is so for two reasons. The first is that it is not as harsh as chemical pre-emergent controls. The second reason is that some of your lawn weeds are bi-annual. That means they can live for two years in your lawn. Organic Weed Control does not kill existing weeds.Back