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Organic Lawn Care – Year Two

Effective April 22, 2009, Earth Day, Ontario banned the sale and use of chemical pesticides for cosmetic use. This ban was predicted in early 2008 and legislation was brought in during the fall. Anticipating the ban, I decided to convert my entire lawn care program to an organic approach in the spring of 2008.

Everything I was able to research seemed to suggest that to fight weeds in a chemical free environment, a lawn needed to be healthy and thick enough to stop most weeds from germinating and choke out any weeds that did grow. I decided that the best approach would be to go fully organic, creating a really healthy soil base for my lawn to grow. This approach seemed to work for my gardens, why not for the lawn?

In my first year I did everything to rejuvenate my soil. I aerated in spring and added some compost to the lawn to increase the amount of beneficial microbes in the soil. I fertilized with organic fertilizer three times last season — once with alfalfa in spring and twice with a corn gluten based product during early and late summer. I was happy with the results. My lawn appeared to be green and healthy. I did have some dandelions and black medic problems which I hand pulled.

Now I am in year two. This spring I noticed my lawn greened up at least two weeks faster than most despite the fact that I did not put down a fall fertilizer. At the end of April my lawn is very healthy looking, thick and mostly weed free. Now it’s time to experiment a little with the program.

This spring I debated on whether to apply alfalfa or corn gluten. Alfalfa has a nutrient analysis of 5-1-5. In comparison corn gluten has a 9-0-0 analysis. Since a lawn naturally greens up in spring and we often receive a lot of rain, I did not think a high nitrogen application was necessary in the spring. Alfalfa also contains triacontanol, which is supposed to encourage strong root growth and more balanced top growth while still promoting a green leaf. On the other hand, corn gluten is recommended as a pre-emergent to combat dandelions and crab grass. The only problem is, like chemical pre-emergents, the success of corn gluten as a weed inhibitor is very weather dependent. Corn gluten works by suppressing root development in new seedlings. If we have a rainy spring however the small rooted weeds will still survive past the effectiveness of the product.

I chose to apply alfalfa at a rate of 10 lbs per 1000 square feet to my lawn. In addition, I applied some corn gluten to the front ditch and border of our front lawn as this is the most weed prone area due to a vacant lot across the street. I am hand pulling dandelions along the front ditch. We will see if the corn gluten has any effect in stopping any new weeds from developing while hopefully thickening up the lawn that is there.

My first application of both products was made during the last week of April, right about when the forsythia were blooming.

As to other spring cultural practices I chose not to aerate my lawn. My decision was based on the logic that the earthworms and microbes as a result of using an organic fertilizer should be aerating my soil naturally. Any further aeration would only disturb the soil, bring weed seeds to the surface and expose them to sun and rain. I believe aerating now would also stress the lawn unnecessarily.

I will also not cut my lawn too quickly as I usually am in a rush to do in spring. My thoughts are that this is prime time for weed development, particularly dandelions, so why cut the lawn while it is on the thin side and again increase the exposure of weed seeds to the sun.

Stay tuned for more as I continue documenting my results from my switch to organic lawn care.

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