From the weather reports that I have been getting from Nancy, 2013 looks to be dry year for the Chicago area. For those of us that practice organic lawn care I would like to recommend a few tips to help your lawn and landscape get thru dry weather.
1) Add sugar to your fertilizers. In nature, carbon regulates moisture. One carbon will hold four waters. So for every pound of sugar we put out there the lawn will hold four pounds of water which is a half gallon. Sugar will also feed the microbes in the soil and the activity of the microbes will open up the clay and allow water to penetrate.
2) Mulch your beds. Wood chip mulch and leaf mulch add fantastic amounts of carbon to the soil and also keep the sunshine off of the soil so the water won't evaporate.
3) Add gypsum to the lawn and beds. Gypsum will soften clay and allow water to penetrate more easily. Gypsum has calcium in it and the microbes in the soil require a high calcium environment.
4) Mulch your grass clippings. This is similar to mulching our landscape beds. Grass clippings will form a small layer of thatch which is very good for the lawns. The perfect amount of thatch is a half inch. Thatch keeps sunlight off of the soil and holds in moisture. Thatch will also decompose over time and add carbon back into the soil so it will hold more water. Thatch is our future topsoil so I never recommend dethatching a lawn even though it is often advertized.
5) Encourage earthworms. How do we do that? Feed them! The favorite food for earthworms is bacteria. Bacteria need sugars and a high calcium environment.
So by using organic lawn fertilizers, sugar and calcium the population of microbes will rapidly increase and the earthworms will soon follow. The secret is that it needs to be done regularly. Bacteria consume enormous amounts of food and need to be fed regularly, just like us!
Earthworms tunnel more than 10' per week. These underground tunnels allow precious water to go deep into the soil where it is protected and where the roots have access to it.
6) Mow high. The longer the grass the longer the roots. We can reduce our watering in half just by raising the mower to the highest setting. In the summer we definitely need to allow the turf to get long so it can support deep root growth. Sometimes I only mow once a month. The longer grass will also shade the soil and in the heat of summer we need every protection we can think of.
7) Water at night. I know this goes against everything you've read but for those of us in the Upper Midwest this is absolutely true. Our evaporation rate is so high that the only way we can get water to percolate down to the roots is to water at night. If we water in the morning it will be gone by 11am. We just cannot keep up with the evaporation from our hot sun. The advice to water in the morning comes from the East Coast where they have high humidity and they get more diseases if they water at night. The Chicago area is drier than the East Coast so we don't have the problem as much as they do. Turf diseases are a calcium deficiency so if we are having problems that way then we need to add lime AND gypsum to our soils. Try this for yourself ! Make your own observations and conclusions on this point. You don't have to take my word for it but my opinion is based on 20 years of observations.
As they say; Read books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books!
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