It has been seven years since we built our new home here in North Carolina, arriving from Maryland excited about the opportunity to create a beautiful lawn to complement our beautiful home.
Well, after our initial year of very hot weather, which caused the wonderful lush sod the contractor had installed to become dry and sparse, I found out how challenging it is to maintain a lawn of cool season grass in the south.
I asked the contractor why my lawn had so many bare spots. He said fescue does not spread to fill in bare spots and it requires a lot of water to establish roots.
So after three summers of extreme heat and drought wreaking havoc on my lawn, I began with the “tried and true” method of applying fertilizer, lime, and various other chemicals in an attempt to rejuvenate the fescue. Four years later, I was still filling in spots that did not want to grow grass in an effort to develop that nice, lush lawn all “do-it-yourselfers” strive for.
It became apparent that applying various fertilizers and way more water — which cost more than I ever imagined — was not providing the results I wanted.
After joining the McGill team last year, I attended seminars about the use of compost on turfgrass to build the organic matter in soils, helping turfgrass establish deep root systems with limited or no chemicals. I became excited when speaking with our many customers and hearing their success stories, with one landscaper stating: “McGill SoilBuilder compost grows grass on concrete.” Now, I didn’t believe our product was that impressive, but I couldn’t wait to find out for myself.
Getting the lawn of our dreams
After convincing my wife that I had not given up turning our lawn into the green gem of our dreams, I ordered a load of our compost and, with her help, spent an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in early March spreading the compost with nothing but a shovel, wheelbarrow, and rake.
I had rented a lawn plug aerator the weekend before to prep the yard by opening small plug holes that would be filled with the compost. After we spread our wonderfully screened and easy-to-handle compost, I over-seeded the following day and watered in, as directed.
We have obtained the results that I have been striving for the past seven years — without the use of harmful chemicals. I had great germination results with the seeding and the turfgrass has greened up amazingly, but the main thing I have been working to achieve — to establish a thick root system — is now reality.
I am looking forward to the water savings that compost has been shown to provide (25-50 percent less water use, according to the research). I feel much more comfortable not having to add various chemicals, because compost provides slow release of nutrients for years of benefit. And if we ever build another home, I now know that applying a thin layer of topsoil does nothing to prepare the soil for growing a good stand of turfgrass. Instead, to get the beautiful lawn we want, we’ll add a couple inches of compost BEFORE we lay sod or seed to add organic matter and build healthier soil.
EDITOR’S NOTE: When he’s not concentrating on his lawn, Gary works as McGill’s compost sales and marketing manager for its U.S. operations.
Yale professors “invented” the Freedom Lawn in the early 1990s. It’s a concept rooted in low maintenance residential turf areas. No watering, chemical management, or power mowers allowed.
Freedom Lawns replace the intensively-managed suburban lawn. They offer joyously weedy landscapes as a more environmentally-responsible option.
You’ll note the word invented is in quotes. Some forward-thinking homeowners have long used this method of lawn care. But growing awareness of “greener” practices draws more and more people to the Freedom Lawn. It’s an intentional lawn management method designed to protect ground and surface waters.
Unfortunately, great ideas don’t always work quite the way visionaries expect. There’s a difference between the drawing board and real life situations. So, the Virginia Turfgrass Council’s journal added a caveat to the no-maintenance lawn.
The intention of the Freedom Lawn may be right for the times. But research shows the reality can do more damage to water quality than traditional care. In a nutshell, it says Freedom Lawns can be environmentally irresponsible.
The article offers a few tweaks to correct the failings of the no-input Freedom Lawn. At no surprise to us, many of these suggestions include the use of compost.
Among 12 Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Sustainable Lawns are the following tenets:
- Add a 1″-2” layer of quality compost before seedbed prep to benefit lawn health and aid water infiltration.
- Repeatedly apply organic matter via the compost. Builds topsoil, binds nutrients and water, and promotes soil aggregation. This improves water infiltration and compaction resistance.
- Add two compost applications per year at 100 lbs./1,000 sq. ft. (500 lbs. per application of compost for the typical 5,000 sq. ft. suburban lawn). This provides all the fertility the lawn requires and limits any potential P or N runoff.
- Phosphorous (P) does not leach if there’s enough clay and/or organic matter in the soil. Leaves, clippings, and compost add organic matter. Because it’s slow-release, compost can help with N runoff, too.
High maintenance lawns are fast becoming as passé as the era of poodle skirts from which they came. Learn to love those dandelions. Rejoice to find ourselves, quite literally, in the clover. It’s important to remember the role healthy soil plays in maintaining a healthy lawn and planet.
Use chemicals or not, embrace species diversity for your lawn or not, mow it or not. But do maintain soil organic matter. Healthy soil makes any lawn care regime an environmentally-responsible effort.
Access the full article: Are Freedom Lawns Environmentally Responsible? It’s well worth the read, even if your lawn is still stuck in the ‘50s.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE this blog post: Fixing patches in a centipede lawn — why use compost?
PHOTO: Flickr/by Susan Harris
A: Yes. Our premium SoilBuilder compost is an excellent soil amendment for lawns and gardens and is very suitable for food crops. Some of the largest commercial produce farms on the East Coast are using our products with excellent results.
Prior to planting, incorporate 2-3 inches of compost into the top 6-8 inches of soil. Some gardeners will also periodically topdress with a sprinkle of compost throughout the growing season or use it as mulch.
At the end of the growing season, add a layer of compost on top of the dormant bed. Soil critters will do the job of “tilling” the soil amendment in over the winter months, prepping the bed for spring activity.
Use compost to make your own potting and landscape mixes
SoilBuilder can also be used as an ingredient in potting mixes for container gardens and landscape mixes for raised beds. Just blend about 30 percent compost in with topsoil and other soil amendments or ingredients. We use SoilBuilder in much the same way when we make McGill LandscapeMix and other blended soil amendment products.