I moved into my house in May 2009. Its a cute little house on a cul-de-sac in the Braeswood area of Houston, Tx. My wife and I bought this house for a few reasons, among which, adorableness, hardwood floors and a huge backyard were pre-imminent. Its a great house and we have really enjoyed living there.
Organic Lawn Care Step One
When we first moved in, however, the large back lawn was in bad shape. Hurricane Ike had recently knocked down two medium sized trees and those trees left bare spots that were a sign of severe soil damage. Around those damaged areas we had lots of weeds. The main lawn is St. Augustine; although I do not mind multiple type of plants in my yard, I knew that this grass would outcompete any other challengers if given the appropriate soil settings.
Organic Lawn Care Starts With Plants
The appropriate soil setting can only be truly determined by the plants. I know that might seem confusing but we, as a culture, think to much in-terms-of immediate and short-term solutions. A healthy plant will communicate to the population of organism in the soil around its roots. It does this through a release of exudates, a gooey substance that micro-organisms go bonkers over. This exudate has chemical messages in it; so plant releases it from its roots, tiny organisms gobble it up and then they understand and obey the plants message. Its simple and amazing. Rich, diverse soil life is the only way to harness this excellent situation. I knew my lawn wasn’t harnessing it; so I took some steps
The first few steps of soil remediation use a process called compost topdressing. Compost Topdressing is fairly simple. Once the compost is on site, it needs spreading around all over the top of the spaces that need dressing. Biologically rich and diverse compost is key; it not only holds millions of organisms but, also, their tiny foods and their tiny homes. When we apply it to lawns, it falls through to the soil level and begins a journey of inches. Inches are miles to a microscopic creature! Much of the work of tilling and nutrient building is accomplished by a system call the soil food web. Props to many science folks that have worked on and educated us about this phenomenon, mostly Dr. Elaine Ingham.
Thank You Very Mulch
This is how I got my lawn turned around. Back then my gardening company held our office at my home. Occasionally, we were left with extra material in the only trailer we had. Gravel, mulch, and compost were the materials that were most often left behind. Ideally, we would find a client to buy it, adding gravel to a pathway or patio, little bit of mulch around a fruit tree or two, adding compost to vegetable beds. We couldn’t always find a place for these leftovers, and compost was the toughest to relocate.
So, maybe three times a year for two years, a small part of my lawn was treated with compost topdressing. A bit here and there added up to enough to qualify as a complete compost topdressing per year.
After multiple years of backyard floods, the Great Drought of 2011 struck! Drought can be the most damaging natural crisis that strikes Houston’s soil civilization. The grass got very patchy. It was nearly impossible to irrigate because the water would just flow down past the main roots of my grass or be mercilessly evaporated by the brutal dry sun. The health of the lawn suffered, but when the drought was over the lawn recovered very quickly and filled in the many bare patches. We irrigated weekly through the fall and saw excellent growth of our sod and competing weeds. I then received two more years of paid annual compost topdressing.
Recapping My Organic Lawn Care Project
So, to recap, for four years, I effectively received a full-lawn compost top-dressing. During that time and since, Houston has had severe rain, severe drought, record high summer temps, and one of the worse sod-web-worm infestations in memory.
When we spent our energy addressing the soil problems and not the plant problems, I saw incredible plant success. This sustainable method did take a while, but as of March 2018, I haven’t watered my very healthy lawn since late 2011. I no longer have long lasting standing water. My lawn is unaffected by any Patch, worm or bug. The St. augustine has out-competed all other contenders. This outcome is pretty incredible, but fully science based and expected. Still…Yay!
Effects of yearly compost topdressing:
- Fewer weeds,
- Healthier plants,
- More production (produce, flowers, etc),
- Fewer water needs,
- Quicker stress recovery
Did it look perfect every second? No.
Did I stick with the plan? Yes.
Am I happy I did stick with it? Very. Because now I have a lush green lawn that never needs fertilizers or watering…almost never.
Now a bag of Microlife once a year and leaving my “mulched” grass clippings on the lawn are the only necessary action needed. If we have another major stress crisis, like a drought, I can trust the resiliency of my lawn.