February 14, 2012 - Establishing a New Organic Lawn
When you move in to a new property you may find that you have inherited a garden that is little more than a builder’s site. Many new home builders are careless about the amount of topsoil they leave for new owners, and can take shortcuts by leaving building rubble not far beneath the surface of the lawn, which in turn leaves precious little goodness in the soil, or potential for root growth. If your lawn is not thriving, and you feel you may want to returf, there are some simple measures you can take to ensure that your newly laid lawn survives for years to come.
Whilst most poorly maintained and patchy lawns can be repaired, if you have chosen to re-turf and want to take an organic route you may have to do some hunting around to find a supplier of organic turf. With more and more gardeners choosing to work organically however, you should not have to look too far afield. Whilst you may have financial drains, such as holiday home insurance and mortgage payments to worry about, don’t stint on the choice of turf supplier. Always buy your turf from a reputable and well-established grower, or you will be storing up problems for later. Cheap, low quality turf that is full of weeds will be harder to maintain organically in the future.
The most important element of any type of gardening is soil, and lawns are no different in this regard. Lawns are need lots of nutrients and micro-organism in the soil to thrive and grow a strong root system. Your job as an organic gardener is to make sure the soil on which your new turf is laid is full of food and organic matter for the lawn roots to grow into and feed from. Have a reputable supplier deliver your top soil and add protein fertiliser to it to give it an extra boost. Protein fertilisers are much more plant friendly than chemical fertilisers, which provide a big boost of nitrogen feed to plant, without providing the necessary extras to build a strong, healthy and long living organism. According to Sheamus MacLean of EPA, Chemical fertilisers are the ‘fast food’ of the natural world, providing an instant hit, but providing little long-term gain.
Microbes, in a well maintained and organically rich soil, will naturally aid your lawn with what it needs, without the need for a chemical nitrogen boost. The combine nitrogen with carbon, which in turn prevents the leeching of nutrients away from plants. Microbes can defend against attack from disease and pests, help develop the soil structure and help balance the pH level in the soil. A good organic gardener simply understands the importance of animal life and micro-organism to plant health, and nurtures them. Organic fertilisers feed the microbes in the soil, which boosts their action.
The quickest and easiest way to prepare for laying an organic lawn is to combine pre-prepared compost into the topsoil on which you propose to turf. You can buy bags of organic compost from a garden centre, or have it delivered in bulk. Plan to combine a 50/50 mix of compost to topsoil in the first 4-5 inches of the area to be turfed. This provides a perfect start for your lawn. You will then need to follow standard turf-laying procedures of compacting the soil by walking on it, and levelling out any bumps and hollows. Wait for a few day and see if any major weeds spring up and dig them out immediately, rather than waiting for them to benefit from the nice rich environment you have provided for them!
Ongoing Organic Lawn Maintenance
Once you have your lawn established don’t neglect to fertilise it in the main growing periods. Organic lawn fertilisers are widely available, or you can use a lawn care company to help keep you on track with year round care. The advantage of organic fertiliser is that you cannot overfeed the lawn easily, nor do you have to wait for specific weather conditions before applying it. You should see the benefit of the fertiliser in roughly 2-3 weeks. Not instant greening, such as with a chemical compound, but a far more natural and long lasting benefit. It takes this long for the soil microbes to consume the protein that is contained in organic fertilisers, and convert it into nitrogen. You are working with nature, not trying to force its hand.
Don’t neglect other lawn maintenance processes if you want to help your microbes thrive. Water, and air are two other essentials, and some aeration will do wonders for root growth. You can use a fork and do this in smaller areas, or you may wish to hire a machine to help you with the task over larger areas. If your soil becomes compacted – perhaps by children playing football or running around – this task is particularly important. Soil needs light, air, water and food. Regard your soil as a living thing, alive with life-giving microbes, which you need to nurture. You will soon find that organic lawn maintenance is just as simple as non-organic methods and far more cost-effective.