When my 20‘x20’ lawn was resodded a few years ago, they first took off the old grass, exposing wet looking clay. The landscaper put on a few bags of soil on top of the clay and then lay down the sod. I immediately knew I was in trouble, the grass was going to get relatively few nutrients from the clay and there was not enough soil to properly feed the sod. I watered properly but the first big drought knocked out my new sod. I resolved to grow a great lawn and convert my clay into healthy soil. So I did a lot of research.
After looking at all the commercial fertilizer companies and the grass seed corporations, I realized there was a lot of misrepresentation going on, all to benefit them - to earn a profit. If your soil is nitrogen poor, they advise you to add fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen. The same for phosphorus and potassium, the N-P-K of fertilizers. All mostly synthetic and really not good for the soil. I realized I had to convert the soil and do it naturally. I didn’t want to till the soil with a roto-tiller, although that is a great way to break up the clay and introduce good soil into the ground, it’s a lot of really hard work. I realized there was a more natural way, but it takes patience.
Healthy soil contains lots of natural ingredients and lots of microorganisms. It contains old leaves, vegetables, fruits and other natural substances.
My first step was to work on the soil first, then work on the lawn in a few years. Step one was to introduce compost onto the lawn. I found a relatively inexpensive mix of manure and compost and put about one bag (about one cubic yard) per square yard on the lawn each month and then raked it into the grass. In a few days the compost would disappear into the soil. I did this monthly and the grass, what was left of it, became visibly healthier each month.
My second step drove my wife crazy, but she soon saw the method to my madness (or she just got tired of complaining). I would put all the moldy vegetables and fruits into the blender. No citrus fruits (no oranges, lemons or limes) and no peppers. I would fill the blender about half full of rotten bananas, old fruit or vegetables (apples you must normally cut into tiny pieces, when whole they don’t blend easily). Fill the blender halfway with water, then blend and throw the entire mix onto the lawn, at a new place each time. If the mix was unsightly I would wash it into the soil with a hose. I did this year round, and it was a great way to also get rid of coffee grounds!
My third step was to help physically break apart the clay in my yard, to ease the roots digging deep and to allow worms to plunge deeper. I introduced a surfactant, which breaks the tension between the clay particles. I found a product that contains the surfactant plus another miracle product, humic acid or humates. The product can be found here: http://www.natureslawn.com/all-in-one-for-lawns.php Once a month I spray on about four ounces onto my lawn. It contains five things:
- Bio-Enhanced Lawn Fertilizer (16-4-8)
- Aerify! Soil Conditioner/Liquid Aerator (surfactant)
- Nature's Magic Plant and Soil Activator (humic acid, kelp, molasses)
- Biological Dethatcher For Microbial Thatch Decomposition
- Mycorrhizae (Beneficial Root Fungi)
The Mycorrhizae were an added benefit and very much worth the cost of $27 per gallon (which will last years). I read a new study which clearly showed the benefit of these fungi aiding plant growth, but the news has not spread too far. I also added a fish emulsion I found at Nature’s Lawn after reading a lot of good things about it.
My fourth step was to introduce worms to my soil because I saw none. Earthworms grab old leaf particles, vegetables and fruits and drag them underground and secrete castings which act as a rich fertilizer. It is the earthworms that are the key to building a great lawn. I introduced a very aggressive earthworm called Alabama Jumpers from http://www.thewormdude.com. The actual product is found at http://www.thewormdude.com/products-page/alabama-jumpers-nightcrawlers-to-aerate-your-soil. These are deep diggers but I also wanted to introduce European earthworms to aerate and fertilize the top part of the soil, so I purchased them through Amazon.com, from a company called Gusano or Guasanito at http://www.amazon.com/European-Nightcrawlers-Composting-Fishing-Worms/dp/B001OOAW68.
The next step must be done no later than May, or in September/October. Plant grass and weed by hand. I read the book “Building a Healthy Lawn” by Stuart Franklin and chose two types of grass: Perennial Ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass (one for shade, one for sun). Both are perennials so once established they will return. They must be reseeded and resown in bare spots. When spreading these seeds first put down a thin layer of leaf mulch or compost and work it in with a rake. Spread the seeds so they fall 15 to 20 per square inch. I Put a mulch on top, I prefer a leaf mulch, straw is also good . Water twice per day to keep the soil moist, about ten minutes or so and in about two weeks you’ll see the grass germinate and begin growing. After this cut back the watering to once a day and after six weeks from planting you can mow and water normally. When mowing there are a few key things you must do. Keep the blade sharp and try to mow right at 3 inches. Also, keep the cut grass on the lawn (mulching). Keeping the grass long forces the roots deep, chokes out the weeds and enables the grass to survive a drought. Only water every ten to 14 days once the lawn is established, this forces the roots deep. Water twice: once for about 30 minutes, wait about 90 minutes, then water again for about 30 minutes. This forces the water deeper, the soil absorbs it somewhat like a sponge (ever try to water a dry sponge?).
Maintenance. I feed the worms rabbit food which I pick up at Wal-Mart for $7 per bag and grind it up in an old coffee grinder and spread it on the soil. I do this about once per week. Occasionally I spread on some corn meal, as well. To force the roots deep I also purchase a bag of bone meal about once each year and apply during the spring. I also spot treat all the bare spots with a mix of grass seed, topsoil and compost.
Watch for grubs, they love healthy soil and will eat your grass from below. I apply Milky Spore, they naturally kill the grubs and prevent them from eating the grass or becoming Japanese Beetles. One treatment lasts for years.