Organic Lawn Care in Florida???

January 23, 2008

I have been in Florida for 2 1/2 years now. I have managed to kill everything I have planted as well as what the previous owners have planted. I do not want to use harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Can anyone recommend some fertiliers and pesticides that will work in my Florida home? I am north of Tampa and have already had cinch bugs and tons of red ants. Do I need to use the harmful stuff to get good results?

Comments (7)

  • dchall_san_antonio

    I think your results will be better with organics. Why? Not because organics give exceedingly good results, but because it is very hard to make a mistake with organics. There are three rules for good lawn.

    1. Water deeply and infrequently. This goes most of the way toward keeping weeds out. Watering frequently and lightly is exactly what weed (and grass) seed need for germination.

    2. Mulch mow at your mower's highest setting. This goes the rest of the way toward keeping the weeds out. That's all you can do for weed prevention (as far as I'm concerned).

    3. Fertilize regularly. If you want to use organic fertilizer, you can follow my favorite plan. I fertilize at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet with ordinary corn meal (agricultural) on all the federal holidays starting with Washington's Birthday. Then Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and for you in FL, Thanksgiving.

    If you think you might have an insect problem, you can get started by applying beneficial nematodes. In FL you can probably apply now and again in June.

    For real time weed control, if the weeds have a tap root, use a Weed Hound tool. They work great. For clover looking weeds, hand pull. Usually it pulls out very easily and stays pulled out. If you get crabgrass in St Augustine in FL, write back. There is a special solution for that situation.

    The beauty of the organic approach is that if you forget to do something, or if you accidentally double the application rate, there is no problem either way. You don't have to worry about timing one application of something against another, or timing your watering/mowing with an application. You can mow, water, apply fertilizer, and apply beneficial nematodes all in the same day (or night). This is no-hassle lawn care. The real keys are steps 1 and 2 above.

  • lou_spicewood_tx

    CM isn't that expensive. Compost is a lot more expensive. I think you are missing the point. Compost should be one time application to introduce beneficial microbes into the soil. The purpose of CM and other grains like soybean meal, alfalfa meal and such is to FEED the microbes in the soil which will help improve the soil, increasing the water holding capacity. It's much cheaper that way and a lot less work. I don't see how they "break down and washes away" when wet. It doesn't even make sense. They just stay where they are in the grass. It might not improve over night but it will over time dramatically. Grass clippings and leaves are your organic materials that will turn into compost in the grass anyway so it's a waste of time trying to make compost in your little space in the backyard. If it was me, I'd grow some trees or grab bags of leaves off the curbs and throw them on the lawn and mow them. Easy as pie...

    "Trust me on that one"??? - I'm rolling my eyes over that...

  • dchall_san_antonio

    Okay, just to be clear, does CM stand for corn meal? Are we all talking about ORDINARY ground up corn, the kind you can get at the food store and very similar to the kind you can get at the feed store? Because corn does not break down and wash away. That's what chemical salts do.

    Ordinary agricultural corn meal in my neighborhood costs me about $6/50-pound bag. That's $2/1000 square feet. Store bought compost delivered in bulk costs me $35/cubic yard plus $40 delivery fee. At a rate of 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet that's $75/1000 square feet. So I can apply ordinary corn meal more than 30 times before I have spent the cost of one application of compost. I will concede that ordinary corn meal is not the highest protein value per $ (not always), but certainly it is an extremely valuable addition to your organic program.

    My underlying soil (call it sub soil if you have the nerve) is crushed limestone. Below that is solid limestone. Our landscape had been neglected for decades and all the soil that might have supported much turf was washed out. At first we brought in "topsoil" to bring the level up to that of the surrounding concrete walkways and curbs. We nearly broke out backs on the clods in the topsoil. For our next round of surface preparation we bought a sand-compost mix. It was pure white beach sand (from our ancient Texas beaches that are now 50 miles inland) and pig manure (fresh, hot, and very rank smelling). We all know that compost will decompose completely. That was back in 1992. Since then our sandy soil is completely black with humates and byproducts of the organic program started in 2001. In that time I applied compost once before I learned that I could not afford any organic program that relied on compost. Then I discovered ordinary corn meal, corn gluten meal, and other ground grains available to me but maybe not to you in other areas. Since 1965 I've been working on yards in Calif, Ohio, and here in San Antonio. I've never had a yard this easy to keep and that looks even remotely this nice. My California yards were more lush than most I've seen in Texas. Florida yards are unbelievable to anyone who has not seen them. Here we have trouble growing house plants that down in FL are full sized shade trees.

    So, all that to say that I think sandy soil is excellent. Adding ordinary corn meal will feed the microbes that are already there. ONE application of compost will bring in more microbes that may not already be there. Repeated applications of compost tea is so INexpensive that if you are of the mind to make your OWN, I will not argue. In fact I have posted a website for an acquaintance who put off posting the info on his website. If anything else could be done to improve sandy soil, I would say add clay, but that is a topic with so many paths that is way beyond my ability to track. Clay is not clay is not clay. In my previous life we used a certain type of clay as a heat shield inside jet engines, but not any other type of clay, only the clay mined from a certain mine in Massachusetts (or somewhere). I usually don't get too involved in detailed clay/sand discussions.

  • maplerbirch

    I have recently been to Florida and floridaorganiclawn is correct. The sand there is good for mortar crete, but not really good for lawns. Brush piles in the back are gobbled up in decay leaving nothing behind but pure clean sand. Can't even find a thin layer of topsoil in the forested areas.

    The grass does surprisingly well and it must be because it creates its own micro-environment to extract moisture and nutrient from the sand. There is a cactus weed that does very well there and sandspurs too.

  • dchall_san_antonio

    For St Augustine grass, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with sand, pure sand, sugar sand. Unless the Florida sand is different from Texas coastal sand, it should grow fine. I have pictures of St Aug invading the sand dunes from a condo at Port Aransas, TX. The St Aug is not irrigated or fertilized and has grown out about 100 feet from the curb where it was originally planted which is about 500 feet away from the surf. The only thing that makes this grass different from a lawn is that it has never been mowed. Some of it is just under 30 inches high.

    I think there is some important protection provided by the very tall grass, because elsewhere, where the St Aug has been mowed but not irrigated, the St Aug is dead and bermuda has moved in. We have been going there twice a year since the early 90s and the dunes keep getting more and more St Augustine.

  • reddevil1628

    OK- I am switching from chemicals to organic. I have used fertilizers for the 2 years I have lived here but am changing my living habits.

    A little history of my property- I live in Jupiter, FL which is north of West Palm Beach. My property used to be a wetland and was a transfer spot for runoff heading west towards Lake Okeechobee. Soil condition is very poor, I havent found an earthworm ever!! My backyard is very wet and have replaced the sod back there 2x because of fungus. Front yard is fairly dry and drains well.

    Is there any way either of you could provide me a month by month guide for getting started? I tried the link for and its under construction. Going organic is something I have wanted to do for a while and your help would be greatly appreciated. Material shouldnt be a problem, as to the west of me is mainly agriculture as well as many ranches with horses. Thank you in advance for any help you provide me.

  • florganicnatives

    Hi all,
    I'd love to join in. We have a 0.5 acre native landscape with a sizeable St Augustine lawn, all planted about 3 years ago. We've never used any disease or pest management, but we have been using commercial weed and feed that seems to cause my hubby a rash and we're not trying to switch to organic. We're organic in the kitchen.
    We're not knowledgable enough to do it all ourselves, but if there are no service people out there to transition us to organic, we'll have to give it a try.
    So, questions:
    Is there anyone who's providing lawn care service in Palm Beach county organic route?
    Where does one obtain microbe health tests for soil, where does one obtain microbe rich compost to top an existing lawn, where does one purchase nematodes and protein based fertilizer... I went to Lesco, Home Depot and Delray Garden center,,, no luck.
    I'm now also wondering if Milorganite, which is what LawnDoctor and Lesco are recommending I use instead of current Weed and Feed would be considered compatible with microbial based soil approach. Is it going to help soil biology improve? It's inexpensive and widely available. I couldn't really find any information on why it should be harmful, it seems to deliver a kind of clay.

    reddevil: if it's always too wet, your irrigation is likely the first thing you've got to fix. It's hard stuff. I was told all St Augustine in Florida is being overwatered. Someone told me to watch the blades and when they start to curl, water long and hard and then wait again. It's not easy to do this: typical yards have got different exposure sections. Some dry up way faster than others and the spread may be such that plant itself is uable to regulate before disease strikes.

    All answers on my questions appreciated.

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