This is an ideal time of year for most of the country to stop the practice of growing grass with chemistry. The staggering amounts of liquid and granular petro-fertilizers that are used every year to support lawns represent an enormous waste of resources for no good reason.
Wonderfully healthy grass can be grown with natural biological methods. It calls for some changes in mowing and fertilization, plus a little patience, but the end result will be a very attractive lawn that saves money and avoids water-polluting runoff, a major problem for streams and underground water reserves.
The first step is to stop all applications of synthetic fertilizer – cold turkey time for a chemically-addicted lawn!
Next, get a mulching mower that cuts the blades of grass into small pieces. Never again will you remove this nutrient-providing material from the lawn. In effect, you are replicating the recycling process that happens in nature when leaves and other materials fall and decompose into plant fodder.
Next, introduce mycorrhizal fungi. These powerful and beneficial symbiotic organisms are what plants normally use to find and uptake both nutrients and moisture. A grass that lacks mycorrhizae on the roots has limited ability to survive on its own. The routine use of strong synthetic fertilizers can destroy the sensitive soil fungi and make lawns completely dependent on human feedings – a great situation for lawn-care services, but poor strategy for the homeowner.
You can use either our BEI or BEIM inoculant to introduce mycorrhizal fungi spores to a lawn. The BEI is applied as a lightly-scattered powder and the BEIM (micronized) can be mixed into water and applied as a drench. Follow either with a watering-in, or do the application just before a rain to get the spores down to the root zone.
Perhaps the best product choice would be our MycoMinerals powder, which contains both essential volcanic mineral elements and multiple types of mycorrhiza spores. Applied at a rate of 1 lb. per 50 square feet, this ensures that a broad spectrum of nutrients will be available in the soil.
Finally, spread a dry organic fertilizer at half the suggested label rates and cover it all with a layer of compost (no more than an inch).
That’s it. You have established the basic foundation for a mostly self-sustaining lawn. It will take a few weeks for the mycorrhizal fungi to colonize the soil, which is where patience comes in. Mow fairly often to avoid clumping of cuttings and perhaps repeat the dry organic fertilizer and compost step occasionally as a treat.
There will be no thatch buildup. A healthy bio-system lawn with large numbers of earthworms will eat up the cut grass blades on their first bounce and take the digested results down to the roots.
Note that you may need to spot-treat weeds and/or apply a pre-emergent crabgrass prevention product, such as corn gluten. And, of course, never never never disrupt your bio-system lawn with strong chemical fertilizers, especially in liquid form.
I think you’ll love the look and low-input requirements of your new lawn.
Cheers, and good growing my friends,
(Thanks to all of you who have wished me well in my new semi-retirement home in the Sierra foothills. I’ve rushed to plant a dozen favorite fruit trees before bare-root season ends, and am now frequently pausing to enjoy the great views as I dig my garden beds. If you want to read about my new gardening adventures, I’m starting a blog – www.DonChapmanGrowing.blogspot.com )