Organic Lawn Treatment

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Dog Lawns

I recently got a new puppy and already I’ve noticed some deterioration in my lawn. Not only is the entire lawn getting way more traffic than it’s used to but dog urine and dog poop will actually burn my organic lawn. The lawn burning occurs because dog excrement in very high in nitrogen. That’s a good thing right? Wrong. If you were to dump an entire bag of high nitrogen organic fertilizer on a single spot on the lawn then the same burning would occur. Nitrogen is great for the lawn in moderation.

Since my puppy is a female, she pees in a single spot and her nitrogen rich urine burns the lawn and I’m left with patchy dead grass spots. If I had gotten a male then my dog would lift his leg and pee all over the fence or something similar leaving my lawn healthy. Even with males you would still have a problem with the dog poop.

My first thought was to try and train my dog to do her business only in a specific spot. For me this is the very back of my lawn which is infected with Creeping Charlie. As any dog owner knows, this is a long process and I’m still working on it. Hopefully in the next few months my puppy will learn but in the meantime she still poops and pees anywhere she pleases. I should just be happy that she’s learning to only do it outdoors.

Dog Lawns

Cute Puppy on the Grass

The best organic lawn treatment that I found was when she does urinate on my organic lawn, I will immediately start hosing the affected area. If enough water is used on the lawn where the puppy peed then the nitrogen will be diluted and spread out over a larger area. This could even be beneficial for the lawn.

When the puppy drops a load of poop in the middle of my grass, it’s best to remove the poop completely and throw it in the trash or otherwise dispose of it. After the offending substance is removed, water the turf where the poop was immediately. Again this will dilute and the nitrogen rich excrement and actually feed the lawn instead of burning it.

I’ve read that some people use sawdust as well as water on the affected lawn area and that the sawdust actually counters the excess nitrogen and will in time turn to compost. While I haven’t tried this yet on my lawn because I don’t have a ready source of sawdust, it sounds good and also has the benefit of reducing the odor produced by the dogs excrement.

A lot of people also remove the poop and pee along with an inch of soil. They then replace the turf grass with compost and grass seed. This is overkill and also requires a daily watering on the spot for the new grass seed.

On a side note, having a dog is just another reason for practicing organic lawn treatment. All those unhealthy pesticides can seriously debilitate any puppy. A healthy dog will spend long hours in your back yard and if any sort of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides are used then your puppy can get very sick. For more information or incentive to practice organic lawn care check out the dangers of some of these nasty chemicals.

Lawn Aeration

If your organic lawn isn’t looking its best and water is having trouble penetrating the soil, it’s probably a good idea to do some aeration. Aeration is basically the process of pulling approximately 1”x2” cores of soil out of your lawn and it is a key step proper organic lawn treatment. Aeration is beneficial to your organic lawn because it reduces turf compaction, reduces thatch buildups, and improves the soil penetration for both water and nutrients. It is also a necessary step before topdressing (adding topsoil to an existing lawn) your lawn.

An organic lawn requires aeration when the soil becomes compacted and the grass roots only reach one to two inches into the soil. A lawn that has heavy “thatch” (thatch is the layer of alive and dead grass between the green grass leaves up top and the dirt down below) is also an indication of compacted soil. Lawns that are rich in clay should be aerated more than sandy lawns but either way, aerating about once a year is a good idea. Once the lawn soil is aerated, your organic lawn will be much healthier, greener, and lush.

Lawn Core Aeration Equipment

Lawn Core Aeration Equipment

There are loads of local lawn service companies that will be more than happy to aerate your lawn for a fee but it’s usually a lot more economical to aerate the lawn yourself. Most large box stores have gas powered motors for rent but these aren’t cheap either and they can get to be well over 300 lbs. I used a hand held manual aerator (Fiskars Coring Aerator) which I found on sale at a local garden supply outlet. It took me a few evenings of leisurely aerating and drinking beer but it saved me some serious cash.

Regardless of the method chosen, the aeration will always be more effective when nice sized cores are removed. When a simple spike aerator is used, the holes tend to close up a lot faster requiring more frequent aeration. Removing cores from the lawn allows longer access to more space and nutrients for the roots.

Before you start the aeration on your organic lawn, be sure to water your lawn thoroughly for a few days. This is especially important for the hand held manual aerator, unless you want a serious workout over the next week or two.

Manual Lawn Core Aerator

Small Cheap Manual Lawn Core Aerator

After aeration is complete, you’ll probably want to water a bit more for encouragement as well as apply some organic fertilizer along with compost or peat moss to complete your organic lawn treatment.

Lawn Treatment – Watering Lawn

Everyone wants a lush green lawn. A healthy organic green lawn will naturally have lower water requirements because the roots will be deeper and more moisture is available further down. The healthy lawn soil will also absorb water more quickly and avoid runoff.

I’ve read that most lawns need about 3/4″ – 1″ of water per week to retain their crisp green color and to encourage active growth. That’s not really a lot of water. Only water your lawn if you see signs of stress. Watch for footprints remaining on the lawn after you walk across it (instead of grass blades bouncing back up). Grasses also tend to turn darker in color as they go under drought stress.

Lawn Care - Watering Lawn

Lawn Care - Watering Lawn

Thoroughly water the lawn if you do need to water. Ideally you want the water to soak down to the roots. With clay-rich soil, it works better if you water a bit first and then give it a good soaking a few minutes later. Also make sure to do it in the early morning or late evening. This is to prevent excessive evaporation which will occur in the hottest, sunniest part of the day and scorching of leaves from the sun. Avoid frequent waterings to your green lawn which would promote shallower grass roots and also encourage weeds.

Don’t water your lawn excessively. Waterlogged grass may turn yellow and develop fungus and diseases. Mineral and oxygen uptake may be restricted on heavy clay soils. Too much watering can also lead to thatch and fertilizer leaching.

Lawn Soil pH Test

One thing that most organic lawn services and lawn consultants do is test the pH of your soil to determine whether it requires some additive other than basic lawn fertilizing. Ideally you would get your soil tested professionally which would be much more accurate and it would also give you an idea of what lawn nutrients your soil may need for a healthy lawn treatment.

If you’re seeing a lot of weeds and your having trouble keeping the lawn green, you may have soil that is either acidic or alkali. Most grasses seem to grow best if the pH of the soil is between 6.5 and 7.0. If your soil is below 6.5 then it is acidic. it’s probably ok as long as it’s above 6.0, otherwise the soil should have lime added it. Soil that is above 7.0 is to alkaline and should have gardener’s sulfur added to it. Most gardener’s supply stores have both lime and sulfur. Soil that is exactly 7.0 is classified as neutral but most grasses like a slightly acidic soil (between 6.5 and 7.0).

I searched around for a ph test kit in a number of gardener supply stores but when I asked for a soil ph testing kit they gave me an odd look and one girl actually referred to me as “being geeky”. I eventually gave up on finding a commercial kit and started looking into other alternatives.

There seem to be two popular methods of obtaining the pH of your lawn soil. Neither of them are notably accurate, but it’s not an exact science so we don’t need extreme accuracy just to get the information that you need for the appropriate organic lawn treatment. Try not to do this shortly after a rain or within two weeks of applying green lawn fertilizer.

1. Red Cabbage pH Soil Test
After boiling chopped up red cabbage, it is possible to use the strained juice to discover the relative pH value of your soil. Red cabbage juice has a neutral pH value and it changes color depending on the pH value of the soil. Acids tend to turn it pink, and bases (alkaline) turn it blue or green. Ideally you want to see a violet color for good soil.

When I tried this out, the result was slightly green and barely noticeable.

Some more specific instructions can be found here and here:
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2. Vinegar and Baking Soda Test
Another way to roughly estimate the pH level of your soil is to use baking soda and vinegar and add it to a very small soil sample. If you mix a soil sample with distilled water and add some baking soda to the mix, soil that is acidic will fizz. With the vinegar test, if the mixture of lawn soil and vinegar fizzes then your soil is fairly alkaline.

Good soil will not fizz at all and that’s what my lawn soil did when I tested it.

Here are some more specific instructions for using vinegar and baking soda to test the pH of your organic lawn and make sure your soil is good:
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