The conventional wisdom in the spring is to go out to your local big box store and get some weed-n-feed for your lawn. Your lawn couldn’t be unhappier with you putting that down. Weed n feed’s are full of salts and aren’t very effective in actually controlling weeds. In order for that product or suite of products to be effective, the weed leaves need to be wet so that the product sticks to the leaf. If that doesn’t happen, you’re putting down a product that will do little more than add unnecessary herbicides to your soil. Better to get down a pre-emergent before the weed seeds have germinated but if you miss your window, post emergent herbicide liquid is going to be your best bet. When soil temps reach at least 58 degrees Fahrenheit, those seeds are now germinating.
So what should I be doing this spring?
The best thing you can do for your lawn in the spring, hands down, is to core aerate and compost top dress your lawn with a quality leaf mold compost. If you keep your lawn cut low, you’ll definitely want to get as fined screen compost as possible without a lot of wood in it. Most so called “composts”, shouldn’t be considered compost. They are more like mulch with very little biology. Good compost should smell earthy and have very little or not bio-solids present like manure. If it smells bad, pass on it. It means either it’s not done “composting” or has manure in it. Plus, if it hasn’t composted long enough, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be loaded with weed seeds. Never go heavier than ½ inch at one application. A quality compost can be effective with as little as ¼ inch.
What will the core aeration & compost top dressing cost me?
Depends on your source of compost but expect to pay anywhere from $75-$110 per yard. You’ll likely spend 50-60% of the cost doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it. It likely comes down to time and your physical ability to get it done. You’ll have to consider a vehicle to transport a core aerator, pick up or coordinate a delivery of compost, and spread it yourself with a wheel barrow. A normal sized yard of 3300 square feet, semi close to your provider, will likely cost you between $600-$750.
How much compost do I need for my yard?
In general, it is recommended to apply 1 yard of compost for roughly every 1500 square feet of turf. You can go a little heavier but again, you don’t want to apply it too heavy or you could run into issues like suffocating the turf and causing excess moisture.
When should I be doing this?
Best to do in the spring but it can be applied anytime the grass is actively growing. Most people want it done in the spring because it preps the grass for the growing season. You can do it all summer long and into the early fall. You don’t want to wait too long in the fall when the cooler temps and potential rains come. If you’re having an abnormally wet fall, best to wait until the spring.
Is there ever a time when I should NOT be compost top dressing?
There is. When you have a situation where your lawn is not draining properly, you should wait to put down any organic matter like compost because it will retain moisture, potentially making your situation worse. Better to get drains put in first, let the dust settle, then consider getting it top dressed. What you can do is core aerate to help it drain better. You still won’t want to do it when your lawn is too wet.
Why should I be going to all this trouble?
Your lawn craves organic matter. If you have clay soils, compost is one of the only ways to help break up the clay. Most lawns are lucky if they have 1.5% organic matter in the soil when they should be striving to achieve 5%. Compost helps cleanse the soil of toxins like pesticides, removes salts, and adjusts the PH down to good 6.8-7.0 where your lawn will have optimal nutrient uptake. Not only that, it adds live cultures to your soil, making your soil food web explode in a good way. You’ll also be able to water your yard less over time, saving you money. With enough compost in the soil, it will act like a sponge. If you could only afford 1 thing to do for your yard for the year, core aerate and compost top dress.
I can’t afford the compost, what should I do?
If you can’t swing the compost, your next best bet to get organic matter into the soil is to use a good organic fertilizer. The thing about organic fertilizers is that they don’t contain a lot of nitrogen, but they do contain a ton of other benefits. You have to use a lot of it and more often than using synthetics to get your lawn the amount of nitrogen that it needs for the year. St. Augustine yards need roughly 2 pounds of nitrogen per year. Bermuda and Zoysia need more, roughly 2.5-3 pounds. When spreading the organic fertilizer, you’ll also likely get macronutrients that aren’t included in NPK ratios. Choose carefully! MicroLife products are a good place to start.
How often should I be compost top dressing and do I still need to fertilize?
You do still need to fertilize with a quality organic fertilizer but not for at least 4-6 weeks after compost top dressing. The compost has nitrogen in it too. How often you need to do it depends on your soil and how much organic matter it has. If it’s a new build and likely has a very thin layer of top soil, you likely need to top dress in the spring and early fall for 2-3 years minimum. Doing it once or twice is great but to really change your soil, making it more of a sandy loam, you have to repeatedly do it.
If you are serious about taking control of your lawn and having a beautiful space, call to get estimates early after the new year. It’s better to get your lawn scheduled ahead of time so your provider can get out to you in a timely manner when you want it done. If someone says they can come out to you tomorrow or next week, you have to ask yourself how much of a “specialist” they are at this kind of work. Go with a pro, call Green Pro! www.greenpro.net