Going organic - soil analysis

dyingthumbNovember 8, 2012

Long time lurker, first time poster. I have battled my St. Augustine against my neighbor's weed gardens for years and I'm tired of losing. I've never been happy using chemicals so I figure why not give organic a shot. Details:

Central Florida

St. Augustine

pH - 7.2

Phosphorus - 20ppm

Potassium - 46ppm

Magnesium - 46ppm

Calcium - > 1114ppm

They label the Mg as high. It's been about 2 months since any chemicals were used. I was thinking about top-dressing with Mushroom compost. Where do I go from here?

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andy10917(NY 6a)

That test is useless for any real analysis. There is nothing about what the base saturations are or the CEC/TEC that are used to figure what the soil could be (or should be). Get a real soil test from a professional lab. They cost around $20 for a really good test.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 7:51PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Who doesn't have sand in Central Florida?

How often do you water and for how long? How long does it take to fill a cat food or tuna can with your sprinklers?

How high/low do you mow and how often?

When were the last two times you fertilized and what did you use?

Have you used any other products (herbicide, insecticide, fungicide) in the past year? What and when?

St Aug is easy to grow. It is also easy to mess up with your management of it. Answer the questions and we can go from there.

I was never happy with chemicals either. I've been organic since 2002.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 12:42AM
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How often do you water and for how long? How long does it take to fill a cat food or tuna can with your sprinklers?

- I used to water twice a week. I've been learning and now water only when needed. I look at my grass and water when it starts getting wilted. In about 90 min of watering, a cat tin gets about 1" of water.

How high/low do you mow and how often?

- The highest setting of my riding mower. This still cuts too low, but does not scalp. My lawn is spongy (not from wetness) so the riding mower sinks a bit.

When were the last two times you fertilized and what did you use?

- April, June - Scott's Bonus-S W&F

Have you used any other products (herbicide, insecticide, fungicide) in the past year? What and when?

- Insecticide early Sept. I still have bugs in the lawn - worms periodically crawl on the driveway.

I was never happy with chemicals either. I've been organic since 2002.

- That's my plan!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 7:56AM
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Spongy sand?

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 11:41AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Thank you for the excellent answers. Gold Star!

Start watering at 90 minutes and see how long the grass goes before wilting. Water can percolate down through sand and become not available whereas with any amount of clay it will last longer. At the very first sign of wilting anywhere, water again - deeply. One inch is your starting point. You can adjust up or down from there.

Highest mower setting is about all you can do. You can let it go longer than a week if you like.

Spongy soil? I am assuming it is sand. Is it gravelly sand or coarse (like fishbowl sand)?

Good info on fertilizer. Since you want to go forward with organic I won't dwell on the use of weed and feed. Just don't use it again. With organic fertilizer you can feed any time of the year, day or night, rain or shine. The only thing that matters is your budget and time available. Because you can fertilize any time, you can really fine tune your lawn. In the case of organic fertilizer, more is better up to the point where you are literally burying the grass in fertilizer. There is an approach; however, that will make you happier at the git go. That is to not overdo it at first.

Organic fertilizer works by biological conversion. You apply protein to the soil, microbes "eat" it, and the waste product of their digestion is pure plant food. Protein contains nitrogen so we look for relatively high protein materials to fertilize with. The highest protein material commonly available is blood meal, then feathers or hair, then meat or fish, and then you come to the grains. We generally use grains because there are problems with the animal products. Blood becomes available instantly and can burn your roots overnight in dosages around 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Feathers and hair will not decompose until the next ice age. Meat is nice but expensive and a little smelly. Grains, on the other hand, are inexpensive and show results in about 3 weeks.

The best grains for protein content are corn gluten meal, soy bean meal, alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow), and corn or coffee grounds. These are all international commodities and subject to price fluctuation as commodities. When I first started doing this corn was $3 for a 50-pound bag. This year it was more like $20. Alfalfa has always held steady at around $12 per bag, so this year that was the product to use. Here is a picture (taken in June 2011) of a patch of zoysia lawn fertilized in May 2011 with alfalfa.

Note the improved color, density, and growth. Since he only fertilized the one spot you can really see the difference. When you fertilize your entire lawn, you will not see a marked difference like that...unless you are looking up against your neighbor.

Organic fertilizer depends on the local population of microbes for the conversion of food to plant food. Until your soil/sand is highly populated with microbes, the organic fertilizer you use will take a little longer to decompose. Until then I would start out on the light side. Normally we apply 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The higher protein content materials can get "aromatic" fast if the soil is not ready. You might start out with something like corn meal at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 and repeat that in a month. Or, if you can't find corn, use alfalfa at the same rate. After the second app your soil should be much healthier and more ready for higher doses. You can go to 15 or even 20 if you're daring.

There is a guy on another forum who did an experiment to see if he could overdose his lawn with organics. He could not. He applied 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet of soy and Milorganite every weekend all season long. I don't have that budget but I did try 20 pounds of corn gluten meal every month, and my lawn never looked that good!

Monthly feedings is nice if you have the budget and time. You don't really need to. I try to keep to a schedule marked by the federal holidays. I start on Washington's Birthday then Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. These are easy to remember. A lot of people do Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving (3 total apps). Any amount of organics you put down will really help the soil and improve the density, color, and growth (and the health) of the grass.

Get your grains at a local feed store. Anyplace that caters to horses will have everything you need. I would not use horse pellet sized alfalfa simply because they don't go through a broadcast spreader like little rabbit or chinchilla pellets will.

Regarding insects: live with them. Most are not harmful. Once you start using organics you'll see more birds and maybe more lizards, geckos, and toads. They will keep all your insects in check. You will get the occasional outbreak of grubs, a summer time pest, and possibly chinch bugs. The organic solution to most bugs is called beneficial nematodes. No, these are not the root knot nematodes that we have in the south. These nematodes transmit a disease to insects that kills them almost overnight. Keep that in mind rather than resorting to chemical insecticides. The problem there is that many of the microbes in your soil are in the insect class of creatures. They will die from the insecticide and throw off the balance of beneficial populations in the soil. You need them all. There are other organic solutions to pests and potential pests. Please don't automatically jump back to a chemical solution without asking around about organic solutions.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 3:50PM
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Wow! Thanks for the info and your time!

I think the spongy part is the crabgrass growing on the surface.

Where can I get beneficial nematodes in central FL? I read something about a sponge that you wring out and apply with a sprayer.

Also, since my soil is mostly sand (other than the soil that came with the grass), should I top off with mushroom compost?

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Hi dchall_san_antonio,

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in publishing this information. It�s easy to find that you simply have an understanding of what you are discussing about. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 12:10AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I get nematodes locally but they come from here They look like a bit of paste on a blue sponge. Wring it out in a small bucket of water and spray with a hose end sprayer. Make sure your soil is very wet before applying. They can only move on a film of water. I always tell people to apply them on the 3rd day of a 4-day rain storm. Apply them into wet soil and then water them in.

Crabgrass forms a thatch right away. That could be the spongy stuff.

You can apply compost but in my opinion you get 10x more bang for the buck just by applying organic fertilizer. Compost is best at providing microbes. Hopefully you have not poisoned your soil and the microbes are there. If so then all you have to do is feed them. The app rate for compost is 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. In my neighborhood that translates to $70 per 1,000 square feet. Organic fertilizer is more like $6 per 1,000 square feet.

Jackallenss, where are you in Australia?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 2:50AM
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