Turf Maintenance Plan to Make Your Job Easier

In agriculture, farmers are concerned about nutrient efficiency: how to get the most out of the inputs of time, equipment, energy, rainfall, irrigation, and, most importantly, fertilizers – all while reducing weeds and pests!

Groundskeeper concerns aren’t too dissimilar – only their budgets are MUCH SMALLER!

As a landscaper, groundskeeper, or turf manager how do you maximize efficiency to keep your turf and soil healthy, lush, soft, and growing for as many months as possible while also reducing weeds and pests?

One of the best ways to improve your turf is by improving your soil.

Applying as little as a 1/4″ layer of organic compost can have last effects on your turf – for over three years!

To read all of the benefits of compost, visit this post where we covered the topic and included a HOW to for the most common 4 ways compost is used.

The Proof is in the Comparison

Below is a comparison of turf roots; the section on the left received compost and compost tea applications whereas the section on the right did not.  This is a clear depiction of why turf grown in healthy soils can manage the stresses of summers, floods, droughts better than turf in unhealthy soils.

turf comparision

Turf Maintenance and Protection Plan to Make Your Job Easier

Whether you’re intent on maintaining your turf organically, biologically, or conventionally, these recommendations will make your job easier.


Start in Fall.

We often recommend starting in the Fall when temperatures drop a little and rain is more prevalent to keep your turf growing, especially if seeding.

Core Aerate.

First, assess the soil structure, compaction.  If soils are dense or clay, then always start with a core aeration.  This will open up soils for more oxygen, moisture, microbe, and nutrient infiltration.  Weeds often prefer – or can thrive better – in dense, lower-oxygen soils than turf.  So, help your turf out-compete weeds by giving it more air.  If soils are sandy, skip to step three to add more moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity.

Topdress with compost.

After aerating if you need to, apply a layer of quality compost.  Purple Cow Classic Compost works great.  It is packed with microbes, nutrients and organic matter and screened down to an industry leading 3/8” product.  The amount of Classic compost you would apply depends on the current state of the soil and the budget.  About a semi-trailers worth of compost (~35cy) per 1 acre –  which ends up being about a ¼” layer – is a good starting point for some slight correction.  [Increase or decrease this rate based on budget or timeframe expectations.  Athletic fields that receive more traffic often require more TLC than parks or general use areas with less aggressive foot traffic.]  After applying this amount of compost ~3 years in a row, you can often start reducing the application rate to “maintain” healthy soils.


If there are current bare spots in your turf, that can impact soil structure and encourage weed germination and growth.  A great time to overseed is in conjunction with a compost topdress.  The microbial life in the compost will help the seed germinate quickly and will also keep the seed and new roots moist for early success between rains or watering.
Compost again in Spring if your budget allows.  If you’re growing organically, some people will include a corn-gluten application as a pre-emergent as well.  If you do compost, just make sure the soil is firm and dry enough to handle any equipment driving on it.


We recommend (and sell) an organic, slow-release, granular fertilizer – available in 8-4-4 or 4-6-4.  An application of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet will provide nutrients in a slow-release method.

Apply a liquid biological.

During the summer, if you have the equipment or relationships, we recommend two applications of Purple Cow CX-1, which is a liquid biological which introduces hundreds of species of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi.

These buggers can:

  • Help cycle nutrients in the compost and fertilizer and existing soil to feed the turf.
  • Affix to the blades of grass and help feed and protect the plant from the leaf surface.
  • Provide some trace nutrients to the soil through Purple Cow Activator – a soluble nutrient packet.

Mow higher.

We suggest mowing the turf slightly higher if possible or when not in use.  This will help crowd out weed germination and weed growth.

Organic weed killers

They available, but can be expensive and mostly unnecessary.  If it is necessary, we recommend spot treating with a product like Fiesta, which chelates iron.

A healthy turf grown in healthy soil will naturally out-compete weeds for sun, moisture, and nutrients.

Following the above steps for 2-3 years will make a dramatic impact on your soil and turf – and make anything you do during and after this time much more effective.  If you’re on a tight budget, start with steps 1-4 & 8, and add 5-9 – in that order – as budget allows or as you cut back on compost.

Shorewood River Park, Shorewood, WI; maintained organically

Shorewood River Park, Shorewood, WI; maintained organically

Soccer and Rugby clubs who have followed similar programs notice a difference in the softness of the soil – which makes a difference on joint impact and when sliding and tackling.  In addition, these fields stay greener throughout the growing season and require less irrigation.

Investing in your soil is an investment in your turf, which is an investment in the health and well-being of anyone who enjoys that turf.

compost benefits

List of Compost Benefits for Soil Health

Compost has many uses and benefits. The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) states that compost provides the following benefits that should be music to the ears of groundskeepers,  large-scale farmers and home-growers around the world:

  1. Improves soil structure and porosity – creating a better plant root environment
  2. Increases moisture infiltration and permeability, and reduces bulk density of heavy soils – improving moisture infiltration rates and reducing erosion and runoff
  3. Improves the moisture holding capacity of light soils – reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and improving moisture retention
  4. Improves the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soils
  5. Supplies organic matter
  6. Aids the proliferation of soil microbes
  7. Supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils and growing media
  8. Encourages vigorous root growth
  9. Allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching
  10. Enables soils to retain nutrients longer
  11. Contains humus – assisting in soil aggregation and making nutrients more available for plant uptake
  12. Buffers soil pH

What do I do with Compost?

Below is an infographic with directions for 4 of the most common uses.

  1. Plant a garden (flower or vegetable) bed
  2. Plant a potted plant
  3. General planting
  4. Planting a tree or shrub root ball


Fall is in the air! What to do?

Ok, so maybe it’s not quite fall yet in your area, but fall is right around the corner: school is starting soon, vacations are wrapping up, garden harvests may be getting thinner, lawns are showing signs of stress, spring and summer flowers are staring to wane, and so on…

Q: So, what can we do to keep some color around, finish the lawn/growing season strong, and set ourselves up for successful gardening next year?

A: (Re)build the soil using organic compost!


Landscape: Color your world

Keep some beautiful color in your landscape! Garden centers should have an influx of fall plants for your planting pleasure.  Might I recommend the typical Chrysanthemums and Pansies and dare you to consider less commonly known varieties like Turtleheads, Toad Lilies, Sedums, Japanese Anemone, and Goldenrod.  Cover your beds with an inch or two of compost before planting – and/or fill the bottom third of the hole you dug when transplanting new plants – to ease the shock of transplanting and get the new plants off to a great start!  High quality, organic compost, which is full of root-loving nutrients, moisture-holding organic matter, and beneficial microbes, will help feed these plants through the end of the year and into next year!


Lawns: Feed your turf

As temperatures are high and rainfalls decrease, lawns may start to show signs of stress by growing slower, thinning out, turning yellow or brown, and getting crunchy.  The soil below can also show signs of hardness and cracking.  Prevent these symptoms from even occurring by improving your lawn’s soil.  As rainfall amounts and frequencies decrease, it can be helpful to have soil that can absorb and hold moisture (like a sponge or reservoir) when it does rain so that moisture is available for plants when it isn’t raining as much.  Organic matter – which is a component of mature compost – is a great holder of moisture and nutrients.  Increasing the organic matter percentage of 1 acre of land will increase the water-holding capacity of that acre by 16,500 gallons.  Clay soils can cause water to run-off.  Sandy soils allow water to escape.  But rich, loamy soils from compost will hold water in place for when plants need it.  Mature, quality compost also provides nutrients to turf slowly – over a multi-year period of time!  (See our upcoming blog post on turf maintenance for more details.) 1 to 2 bags of compost per 1,000 square feet of lawn annually can make a difference; and over applying will only help your lawn – no concern of burning like soluble synthetic fertilizers.


Fall Cover Crops

Gardens: Fall Cover Cropping

Cover cropping is the concept of growing plants mainly for the benefit of the soil.  Cover crops are reservoirs for important plant nutrients and micronutrients.  Cover crops help with soil structure, weed reduction, and the proliferation of beneficial soil microbes.  Some common cover crops include clover, oats, peas, winter rye, ryegrass, and winter wheat.  These can be planted in the fall in the Midwest and cut down before flowering/seeding by hand or with a trimmer or mower.  Working these crops back into the soil returns nutrients for future vegetables grown in that garden.  Increased organic matter and improved soil structure are also benefits of using cover crops.


Put Your Garden to Bed for the Winter

A late fall option to improve your spring gardening success is to ‘put your garden to bed’ before winter.  Introducing compost and minerals in fall (with or without cover crops) is a great way to introduce organic matter, microbes, and slow-release fertility into your beds.  Doing this in spring instead will still work, but incorporating in fall gives the compost, nutrients and microbes more time and opportunity to infiltrate the existing soil without unnecessarily tilling or turning the soil (which can breakup fungal strands already existent in the soil).

Organic compost may not be a silver bullet, but it is a versatile soil amendment for nearly all of your growing environments.

Learn more about soil amendments.

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Earth Day: Benefits to healthy soil VIDEO

On Earth Day, Ryan Hartberg visited Milwaukee’s channel 12 news station and while the cameras were rolling, talked about planting and healthy soils with Andy Choi who’s a self-professed newbie to gardening. Watch the segment here. Full transcript is below.


Ryan on the news

Earth Day! Ryan Hartberg on Channel 12 News in Milwaukee talking about compost and planting.

Full transcript:

New on WISN 12 news, we are of course talking about earth day and all of the gray importance of earth day. And joining us today to talk about gardening–we’re talking about gardening and this beautiful set you brought with us here. Ryan Hartberg of Purple Cow Organics is here to talk about why healthy soil is essential to getting the best results for your garden. Thank you for coming in.

Thank you, Andy.

A lot of people are talking about gardening with the sun shining and the temperatures warming up.

First of all, happy earth day. It is like Mother’s Day. You should love your mother all year long. But it is nice to have one day you pay attention to her.


So here is what top soil looks like or some soils look like. We see it on a farm field or our backyard. This is the.Are this is used over and over again.

We have been taking, taking, taking. 95% of the food that we heat comes from soil and top soil specifically. If this is what it looks like we may not get nutrients. It takes a thousand years to create three inches of top soil. A long time.

So how do we give the love?

It is great and common and easy to get, compost. This is materials that come from the earth, sustainable. And broken down to a useful, soil again, the difference between a topsoil used and compost. This is dark and rich, full of nutrients, biology. And holds moisture well. You can do it in your back yard or a garden center and buy compost.

And I’m not exactly a green thumb. So for the folks watching, if I can do it.

You can do it. So should we start planting something.

Yes. Great.

We have a couple of peppers here. We take a little bit of compost. So put it.

So a little handful in the hole there. You get the goodness by the man’s roots.

Goodness for mother nature.

And all right. That in the hole there. And then put a little bit more compost.

More compost.

And cover the top of the pot.

Part of is, just, you see the topsoil that is ragged and not doing too much for you, you have to show mother earth the love.

Yes. The compost is like the super vitamin and hold moisture and give the plant the nutrients it needs. And then fertilizer.

A kick there. It is a great way to get more nutrients around the plant.

All right. Thank you. My green thumb is upgraded quite a bit there. Happy earth day to you. If you would like to learn more about the great recommendations here for the soil, check out purplecoworganics.com.

Where to Buy

What does “Organic” mean in terms of compost?

How is compost anything but organic?

Recently we had a response to a blog post about our compost and how it is considered Organic.  The question was, “How is compost anything but organic? You put the term organic in front of it so you can charge more for the same thing.”

This is a great question!  This is an answer that is probably helpful to a lot of interested consumers about the necessity, purpose, or value of the “organic” label.

To a certain extent, you are correct: most compost – if it truly is compost – is what we call “lower case ‘o’ organic” – meaning it is made from natural, carbon-based ingredients like plants or manure.  We, too, have seen some other companies and products on the market that refer to their compost as “organic compost”, perhaps to – as you say – be able to charge more, but are nothing other than compost – and of varying quality.

What do we mean by Organic?

When Purple Cow Organics refers to its compost products as Organic (conversely, we use the phrase “capital “O” Organic” to describe Purple Cow products) we are referring to products that are approved for use in USDA Certified Organic production and/or OMRI Listed for Organic Use.  The process in which we craft the aerobically-made compost – taking into account time, temperature, turning – is highly standardized to insure quality and consistency every time.

UOMRI Green Logo smallnlike food, which gets the designation “USDA Certified Organic”, products like compost that are used in organic production need to be approved by a certifier.  Having a product OMRI Listed allows certifiers and growers expedite the approval process for those products.  OMRI is the Organic Materials Review Institute, which is a private, nonprofit organization that does independent vetting of products to make sure they are approved for organic production.  Our composting process and compost products are subject to one of the most stringent vetting processes to insure consistency, quality, safety, and sustainability.  You can see a list of approved (OMRI Listed) products at www.OMRI.org.

Purple Cow compost not only meets, but exceeds the standards set forth by OMRI and the US Compost Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (USCC-STA) in terms of maturity, quality, consistency, growing emergence and vigor, particle size, etc.

OMRI is the organization that we use for pre-approval, but there are others including NOP (https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program)

Thanks again for the question!