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 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.
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.
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.
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.