When you consider your choices for your lawn this spring consider these concepts. Conventional wisdom is to hurry out and start applying chemical Nitrogen onto the yards. This will produce a burst of new green growth above the soil! Yay! Green Grass! But there is a cost. Below that green top growth there are many other things happening as well. The explosive growth above the ground draws the plant’s energy away from its root system. The grassroots thus end up being short and stunted. Short roots increase any plant’s susceptibility to drought, disease, pests, and possibly death. This becomes evident in July and August when heat and humidity increases fungal pathogen activity (dollar spot, Pythium and a host of other turf diseases). Additionally, most chemical nitrogen fertilizers are salts — harmful to beneficial soil microbiology.
If you find it necessary to apply something in the early spring, use biological foods like fish, kelp and molasses. This will jumpstart the biology in the soil and enable plants to get a sustainable start. Our organic lawn care business in Michigan has had great success using “Growth Plus” from Living Stone Organics. This product has a full complement of microbes from worm castings, minerals like Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur and yes a “little” Nitrogen. This nitrogen is in a protein form that won’t leach or volatize. Using compost tea will give similar results.
This approach allows microbes to liberate the nutrients from the soil and the air necessary for top growth and root growth. Deep roots increase the plants connection to the soil. These deeper roots provide more volume for the plant to exude photosynthetic products that feed beneficial soil microbes and increase the plant’s resistance to drought with longer root that will access deeper water reserves. Beneficial soil microbes provide a vast array of services for the plant.
They fix free Nitrogen from the atmosphere, solubilize stubborn minerals, and cycle all of these nutrients in a way and place that is convenient for the plant. Working with the natural system produces stronger plants, healthier soil, and more stable ecosystems. We seek to feed the beneficial soil microbiology, accelerating its recovery. The way the yard is maintained will help immensely! Irrigation: If the yard is irrigated it needs to be irrigated only sparingly, beneficial microbes require moisture, not a swimming pool. Mowing Height: Increasing the mowing height above 3” is critical to out-compete light loving weeds while increasing its own photosynthetic capabilities. Mulching: Grass clippings and leaves should be mulched back into the soil. 1/3 of your Nitrogen needs for the year can be accomplished by mulching.
The natural system has been feeding plants for millions and millions of years. And working to restore this system is the best way to increase the resilience of your yard, build the health of your soil, and even contribute to carbon sequestration, and remediation. Because no harsh chemicals are used on your property, you and your animals will be free to wander barefoot without any ill effects from chemicals.