Maintaining Fertility for Your Lawn & Minimizing Watering Needs - BY TEAM ECO-CYCLE
In maintaining the fertility of our lawns, there is no need for synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers supply a lawn with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (“N-P-K”) – the three basic nutrients plants need to survive – which then gives the plant little incentive to grow deep roots, and to produce sugar to exchange with soil microbes for the soil’s own storehouse of nutrients. The result is that chemical fertilizers make your lawn and other plants dependent on them, and dependent on frequent watering because of the resulting shallow, undeveloped root system.
A myriad of organic fertilizer products are available as well. While organic fertilizers contain nutrients from natural sources and frequently also contain “micronutrients” – trace amounts of the 15-20 other nutrients a healthy plant needs – they, too, potentially create dependence and dis-incentivize root growth.
Neither of those options, then, are good options for sequestering carbon or the long term vitality of your lawn. So what do you use? Compost, of course! As you’ve experienced from applying compost to your home trials, it can be a bit of an exercise to apply compost to larger areas, but nothing builds soil like compost.
Compost vs. Synthetic Fertilizer
In comparison to N-P-K synthetic fertilizers, compost contains only small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It’s classified as a “soil amendment” rather than a fertilizer for that reason. What compost does contain is a micro-universe of beneficial soil microorganisms, and well-decomposed organic matter to feed them. Rather than the jolt of bright green that you might get from a fertilizer, compost slowly releases plant-available nutrients over time – years, in fact.
The result of applying compost rather than synthetic fertilizer is that not only does grass grow deeper roots, but the soil reaches a new level of microbial life and stays that way for a long time, which makes your lawn much more resilient to scalding summer sun. Compost also creates a spongy soil able to soak up water that might otherwise run off, while at the same time opens up any hardpan (a hardened layer) to allow water to infiltrate deeper into the soil.
How to Apply Compost to Your Lawn
As with your compost test plot, you don’t need to incorporate compost into the soil when applying to turf. Keep in mind, though, that you do want to get the compost in direct contact with the soil surface so microbes and worms can incorporate it for you.
- Apply ¼” to ½” thick layer of compost, gently rake it into the grass to spread it evenly. A typical 1 cubic yard bag of compost covers a 5’x5’ area at ½”, or a 5’x10’ area at ¼”.
- You might not be able to avoid burying a small fraction of grass blades, but as long as you break up any chunks of compost and don’t have areas where no grass is poking through, don’t worry that you’re smothering your grass.
- Then water it in thoroughly to achieve soil contact and allow the compost to further sink in among the blades of grass.
- Watch this short video for a step-by-step demonstration of how to apply compost to your lawn!
One final tip: Leave grass clippings on your lawn. Clippings will quickly decompose on healthy, living soil, providing more organic matter food for your soil microbes.
A NOTE FROM TEAM HUGELRADO: We LOVE supporting Colorado non-profits like EcoCycle. If you like this blog and have bandwidth to link up with them, consider joining EcoCycle's Carbon Farmer program or sign up for their newsletter distribution!