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Grub Control w/o pesticides? Why yes... consider Milky Spore
Lawn mowing... how high should I cut my grass?
Is there a disease in your lawn?
Ants "eating" your house?
Leaves as fertilizer?


compacted clay soil
core aeration
crabgrass control
dog urine spots
fall lawn fertilizing
garden tips
green spring lawn
lawn aeration
lawn care
lawn disease
Lawn Mowing
lawn winterizing
Leaves... bag them or mulch them?
organic control of brown spots
organic crabgrass control
organic garden tips
organic grub control
Organic lawn care
organic lawn care, calcium, gypsum, dog urine spots on lawn
organic tree care
pure prairie organics
snow mold
Summer Lawn Care Tips
Tree care
Weather report
weed control
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Lawn Clippings (Bill's blog)

compacted clay soil

Heavy rains and our evaporation rate here in Chicago

Hi Everybody!

Yesterday we got another two/thirds inch of rain to go with the 7" we got last week.  My basement was just starting to dry out!  We have had fans going non stop for five days now.

Last year was very sunny which is code for dry.  Well, any deficit from last year is long gone.  I'm sure those of you on wells now have a very high water table to draw from.

Our subsoil moisture has been thoroughly replenished.  This wet period began in late January and for a long time the creeks were dry or very low as the water percolated into the very dry soil.

A couple weeks ago the creeks started running a little higher as the soils were getting replenished and some rainfall was beginning to runoff and flow downstream.  And then we got 7" last Thursday which has saturated everything.


Here is something no one thinks about; Our evaporation rate.

Even tho we got all that rain last Thursday, by Monday afternoon the soil was dry enough to begin gardening.

As I have mentioned before, DO NOT WORK THE SOIL WHEN IT IS WET!!  It will set up like cement.  But one of the secrets of gardening in the Chicago area is that we dry out very quickly.

If your soil is wet then just wait a few hours or a day or two and it will be just right.

This is really important to know in the summertime.  People will tell me that their lawn should be fine because it rained a few days before but I remind them that in the summertime we evaporate one and a half inches of water PER WEEK  !!  

The average sprinkler puts out a half inch of water per hour so that is three hours of water just to replace what evaporated!  

Most people just look at the rainfall but no one considers how quickly we evaporate it back into the air.

If the sun is out and there is a light breeze, it is amazing how fast our sidewalks dry off and we can get back into our gardens.

I lived in Seattle for five years.  In the time I was there we had a one inch rain only ONE time !!  It took two weeks to dry everything out.

We get one inch rains all the time!  And three hours later the sidewalks are dry and we are out walking the dogs.

In the Chicago area, it is very important for gardeners to understand this point and to know how our strong evaporation rate has such a strong influence on our gardening.  

We get the same amount of rain as Seattle! The temperature is much cooler there so the evaporation rate is very low.  We are much warmer so we evaporate quicker.


Just as Nancy McEwen predicted, our warm up begins this weekend and next week it looks sunny and 70 with the farmers and gardeners getting in *lots* of field work.

We are getting in lots of field work as well.  For expert lawn and tree care In the Western suburbs of Chicago contact Chris Burisek at pureprairieorganics@gmail.com and schedule an estimate for us to feed your lawn and trees the nutrients that are designed to make your plants healthy and happy and resistant to bugs, diseases and drought.

Happy gardening everybody and leave a comment if you have a question on something in your garden.



Great weather and Spring gardening tips

Hi Everybody!

This nice weather is about a month late and the plants are more ready than we are!  This weekend looks like the temperatures will be fantastic so there will be a lot of people out gardening this weekend.  

Here are a couple of tips that are important for organic gardeners in the Chicago area to keep in mind.

1) DO NOT WORK THE SOIL WHEN IT IS WET !!  The soil will set up like cement.  This is a really big deal so please be patient until the soil has had a chance to dry out a little bit.  

Here is how you can tell;  take a little soil in your hand and gently roll it into a ball.  Stand up and hold the ball of soil at your belt and drop the ball of soil on to something hard.  For example; the ground or sidewalk or stone or even your shoes.

If the soil stays in a ball then it is too wet.  If the ball shatters then it is dry enough to begin digging.

This includes after a rain in the summertime.  It is not only for the Springtime.

I know a guy who liked to rototill his weeds (which is *not* a good idea) and he rototilled his garden after a rainfall in July and the soil was like sharp rocks for the rest of the year.  Frost will soften the soil again so this is not permanent thing but it is important to know this point.

2) Leaf compost is the best for your gardens.  As I mentioned last time, rake your leaves into your beds so they can decompose over the summer and feed your plants.  If your neighbor is crazy enough to bag their leaves and take it to the curb then grab those too!  Just grind it up with a lawn mower and add it to your beds.

Leaves are high in phosphorus which is extremely important for plant health.  Do NOT burn the leaves!  Many important nutrients go up in the smoke.  (like carbon)

3) Now is a great time to feed your trees!  Fruit trees can get an application of dormant oil to control insects and landscape trees can get an application of Miracle Gro and molasses.  The Miracle Gro mix that I recommend is called "Bloom Buster" which is high in the middle number.  I mix according to the instructions and also add an equal amount of molasses.  I spray this on the trunk of the tree.  

Trees absorb very well thru the bark of the tree and within 4 days the nutrients will be all the way to the tips of the branches.  

I realize Miracle Gro is not organic but the nutrients are very high quality and help the trees enormously.  Kind of like vitamins. Also the molasses has complex carbohydrates which helps balance the Miracle Gro.

Chemical fertilizers work much better when we add sugar to them.

4) Now is a great time to add gypsum to the lawn, as I have mentioned before.

That's all for today!  

Contact Chris or I for expert organic lawn and tree service for the Naperville, Wheaton, Glen Ellen, Hinsdale and Fox Valley areas.  DuPage and Kane Counties.  We have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of experience working with these soils and this weather.

You can contact us at;  pureprairieorganics@gmail.com

Happy gardening!


Weather report, Spring cleanup and mulching our beds.

Greetings gardeners!

I see that Tom Skilling took the clouds out of the forecast for next Friday and I've been shouting from the rooftops about a big winter storm on the 29th.  Well, at this point I hope he is right because I am tired of cold and grey.  Nancy did say that we would get most of our winter in March and it sure feels like it.

Starting Thursday we are forecasted to be in a 50-30 degree weather pattern which suits me just fine.  I'm a month behind in my field work so things are gonna be busy for a while trying to get caught up.


Here's something interesting you should look for; notice how soft the soil is after a frost.

Freeze-thaw is the best way to aerate the soil.  When the temperatures go above and below freezing like they do now the water in the soil will freeze and then thaw during the day and it makes the soil as soft as a babies bottom.  No rototilling!

Of course it settles again and becomes more hard like we are familiar but it's good to notice when it happens.  This soil softening is very important for the roots.

Here's a big secret to gardening; roots need as much air as they do water.  When roots can breathe you will see amazing growth in your plants.

How do we do this in our garden beds? Aged wood chips and leaves.  Think of the Forest Preserve; layers of leaves and branches.

We pick up our leaves and branches so the soil has lost its source of fiber which is what makes the soil so crumbly.  This Spring, as the weather warms up and we do our Spring cleanups, rake the leaves into the beds where it will break down gradually thru the year.  If that looks ugly then rake it into a pile and grind it up with the lawn mower and then put it in the beds.  The smaller the pieces the faster it will break down.

Definitely mulch your beds this Spring and I recommend the local wood chips which are usually free.  North Aurora has a free pile on Route 56 and also the tree chipper guys will be happy to drop a load in your driveway for free.  It saves them a trip to composting place!

That's it for today.. Next time I will explain how the we can soften the soil in our lawns where we can't mulch with wood chips.

If you need help with your lawn and gardens this year, give Chris a call and we can suggest natural ways to make your lawn and trees healthy and happy without the poisons.

We do organic lawn and tree care in DuPage and Kane Counties and we have a lot of experience at working with these soils and knowing which products will get results.  Chris can be reached at 630-649-1476.

You can also reach us by email at; pureprairieorganics (at) gmail.com.

Happy gardening everybody!


btw, these blog posts can be sent to your email!  Just sign up in the box on the left and these garden tips and comments will come straight to your email box.  That way you will stay up to date on my latest garden tips and modest attempts at weather forecasting. :-)

Dog urine spots, road salt, grubs and other brown spots in the lawn

Happy Spring Everyone!

Yesterday was March 20 and the wind chill was -4 degrees.  What is wrong with this picture?!

According to my weather friends, the quarter moon can be very windy.  I have noticed this in the past but it is not every month. On Tuesday we had a quarter moon with the moon in Gemini which is an air sign.  Wind on top of wind.  I think our peak gusts were about 35-40 mph.

Nancy McEwen says we won't really warm up until April 1.  Right now we are in a 30 degree - 20 degree weather pattern and April looks like a 50-30 and 60-40 pattern.  

That would be a nice warm up without getting too hot and making the plants go crazy.  Sometimes we are concerned that if the weather is extreme one way then it will flip and become extreme the other way.  

Kind of like last Spring where we had 5 days of 80 degree weather in March with 5 nights of 20 degree frost in April that froze all the blossoms on the tree fruits.

North America is still on track to have an extreme weather event on March 28-29 with a strong snow storm here in the Chicago area.  We may also get some winter storm on April 6 and that should be the end of it.


Now is a great time to put down gypsum to neutralize road salt and to fix dog urine spots.  Call Chris if you need to save time and would like us to do it.  If you would like to do this yourself, gypsum is available at Home Depot and Menards and a 40# bag is about $6. We apply a 40# bag for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn area to neutralize the salt and urine.

Sugar also works for dog urine spots.  Put one or two handfuls of table sugar on each spot and let the rain water it in.

Spring is a great time to apply gypsum to the entire lawn.  It will soften the clay and help control lawn diseases which will show up in July.  

These lawn diseases are actually a fungi attacking the roots of the grass.  This fungi is the food for the grubs.  The advertising says the grubs eat the rots of the grass but that is not true.  Grubs eat the FUNGUS attacking the roots of the grass.  Control the fungus and we control the grubs.

Gypsum helps us control the fungus.

A spring application of gypsum gives it time to work before the brown spots show up in the Summer.  Once the brown spots show up it's too late so it's best to get on it early.  

If brown spots come in the summer then an application of gypsum and lime will stop it from spreading.

Gypsum and lime both contain calcium which is very important for plant health.  When plants are healthy they resist diseases naturally.

Summer temperatures are also important because it can put a lot of stress on the turf so feeding good nutrients like lime and gypsum help the plants prepare for this.

Plants are strong but we need to give them a chance by feeding them good nutrients.

Chemical lawn fertilizers lack the supporting minerals and carbs to make plants healthy.  The high nitrogen pushes plant growth but the cells are poorly mineralized and the lawns get sick in the summer because they lack the nutrients to protect themselves.

Our organic lawn applications have the minerals that help the plants be healthy.  Not 100% because weather and types of grasses make a big difference but we make your plants strong so when the high heat of summer comes then your lawn will be the last to brown and the first to recover.

I know it sounds crazy to talk about the high heat of summer when it is 12 degrees outside right now but the time to prepare our plants is now, in the Spring.

That's it for today....Contact Chris or myself if you have any questions and if you would like expert help for your lawn this year then call Chris at 630-649-1476 for an estimate for our lawn and tree feeding program and we will get your plants well fed and happy.

Happy gardening everybody!


Chris and I can be reached at; pureprairieorganics (at) gmail.com

The Sap Moon means it's maple syrup season!

Greetings gardeners!

A few weeks ago I mentioned that in late January or early February that plants get a signal from the soil to wake up from their winter dormancy.  

Popular culture refers to this as Ground Hog Day but tribal and traditional cultures were very aware that both plants and animals would become active, the sap would begin to rise and that the new growing season is about to begin.   

Two to three weeks after Ground Hog Day begins maple syrup season which shows that traditional cultures had a keen sensitivity to the seasons of the soil.

Tribal cultures poetically referred to the full moon in February as the "Sap Moon" because it was time to begin collecting sap from the maple trees and boil it down to make maple syrup.

The tribal cultures of the Potowatamie, Iroquois, Algonquin, all knew how to make maple syrup and taught the Europeans how to do it when they arrived.

According to tribal lore, a chief was going out on hunt and threw his tomahawk into a tree.  The tree oozed some sap into a bucket that happened to be under the tree and his wife collected the bucket thinking her husband had thoughtfully brought her some water to cook with.  She heated up the sap water to make a stew and it boiled down to a sweet syrup and this is how maple syrup was born.

Everyone has a sweet tooth and word of this new food spread quickly!

This past weekend, the Kane County Forest Preserve hosted "sugaring" demonstrations where people could go to learn where maple syrup comes from and how it is made.

There were many tables, each showing one step of the process. 

So at one table we learned what a maple tree looked like and how to determine the number of holes to drill in a tree.  At another table we learned that tree sap is very clear early in the season but as we get closer to the emergence of leaves the sap becomes darker colored with the addition of minerals.

At another table we saw the sap being boiled down to syrup and we learned that it takes 30 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup! There was also a table showing the tools used to drill and collect maple sap.

Maple syrup season lasts 2-4 weeks.  

Everyone who watched the demonstration realized that a lot of work goes into making maple syrup.  It is labor intensive to collect and boil the sap and stoke the fire for literally three straight weeks. 

While it does seem like a lot of work, what else are farmers doing this time of year?  Making maple syrup seems like a great way to start the new growing year.  Or maybe a sweet way to bring an end to winter.

Happy gardening!



This is an article I wrote for a local newspaper called "The Voice"
which is printed in Aurora, IL.  I posted this here because it's important to understand biology if we are going to do organic lawn and tree care in the Chicago area.  Not just the biology of the trees
but also the tremendous influence that the moon has on our weather and the seasons in the soil.  I hope you find these posts interesting
and informative and if you need organic lawn or organic tree care
in the Chicago area, especially Wheaton, Glen Ellen, Naperville,
Geneva, Batavia, St Charles, then give Chris a call and he will
help you get started so your family can enjoy happy healthy plants
all cared for without poisons.  Call Chris today!  630-649-1476

How to drought proof your lawn

Greetings gardeners!

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!

We love to read your comments and questions!  Let us know what you think in the comment box and we'll be happy to answer.  Happy gardening!


Organic crabgrass control

Hi Everybody!

Did you know that there is crabgrass seed everywhere?

If crabgrass seed is everywhere then why doesn't it germinate and grow everywhere?

That's because crabgrass only germinates where there is salt.

Here in the Upper Midwest, crabgrass grows along the side of the road where the snow plows push the snow.  It also grows along the sides of the driveway where the salt melts off our tires.  Round Up breaks down to a high salt so if someone sprays Round Up then they may get some crabgrass germinating in that spot.

Gypsum neutralizes road salt.  Gypsum (calcium sulfate) is a better crabgrass control than the chemicals are.  The first year it may only reduce some of the crabgrass but by the second year it should be much more under control.  

For organic crabgrass control,  we recommend applying gypsum at Thanksgiving and Easter.  In the Chicago  area, that will work out to be before and after the snow season. 

Here in the Chicago area, we mix some lime with the gypsum (50-50) and it makes the gypsum work much better.  Adding a few pounds of table sugar also helps.

We don't worry about the pH of the soil...the microbes will take care of it for us.  The main thing is to get plenty of calcium in the soil.

Crabgrass also grows along the Gulf states(Mississippi, Louisiana)  as well as sandy areas like vacation spots.  This is because crabgrass will also grow in soils that are low in calcium and phosphorus and low in biology.

If you have sandy soil and crabgrass is growing everywhere then it is not worth it to try and control it.  Just mow it and call it good.  

If you are in the Western suburbs of Chicago,  call us (630-649-1476) and we will help you with your crabgrass problem.  Over time, we will correct the cause of the problem and  do it without the use of harmful chemicals.  Very cool!

Thank you for reading our blog and happy gardening!

Bill Scheffler

Organic lawns use less water!

Hi Everybody!

An important part of sustainability is managing water wisely.  Did you know that organic lawns need less water in the summertime?

Here's an interesting factoid; one carbon will hold four waters.


For example, one pound of carbon will hold four pounds of water. So, if I add one pound of sugar to the lawn, the soil will hold an additional 4 pounds of water (a half gallon).

 Organic fertilizers are high in carbohydrates.  This not only feeds the microbes but also adds carbon to the soil so it can hold more water.

Long time customers tell me that they have far fewer puddles than before and that the rainfall percolates much faster and deeper than even their neighbors lawn.

Harvesting more rainfall and holding it deeper in the soil means the lawn stays greener longer into the summer.  Organic lawns also recover quicker from summer stress than the chemical lawns do. 

A greener lawn that's less work *and* more sustainable.  :-)

Trust me, we have way more fun than the chemical guys do!

Call Chris (630-649-1476) for a free estimate and we'll get started to make your lawn look great  by taking great care of your soil.  Naturally!

Happy gardening!


Leave a comment in the box below and I will be happy to continue the discussion!

Dog Urine Spots

It's the time of year when lawns are greening up.... except where their dog has gone potty.  These spots have been "burnt out" and will not grow again.  The grass around it might be nice and green and my start to fill in slowly but more can be done and with quicker results!

We recommend spreading some gypsum on those bare spots. We use gypsum all year to loosen up the soil in "our" lawns mainly because of all of the clay compaction we have. The gypsum dissolves when wet and the small particles work their way down into the soil to the clay and loosens the tight bond of the clay. This permits water to trickle thru and reach  deeper. Thus getting the roots to grow deeper as well. Soon organic matter is carried to that loosened clay and the soil is transformed from compacted clay to healthy soil that is full of life! Gypsum also supplies the nutrients calcium and sulfur.  It may be applied anytime during the year and is safe for the environment too!

Once the gypsum is applied and possibly worked into the soil to a depth of about an inch or so the areas can be reseeded with the appropriate grass seed blend. With adequate moisture and sunlight, the grass sprout and the lawn will fill in, looking wonderful again. This will probably not be the last potty spot your dog makes so keep the gypsum, a rake and seed handy for next time. 

Visit our Calender of Services to learn how we can help you create a healthy soil and a healthy lush organic lawn that is safe for your whole family.

Happy Gardening!

Helpful tips for transplanting trees

 Hi everybody! 
We wrote this up for a fruit club that we belong to, Midwest Fruit Explorers (a fruit club with serious hobby fruit growers). We shared some tips on transplanting fruit trees. It will work for all trees so we thought we would share it with you. Enjoy!
 Helpful tips for transplanting
With springtime just around the corner we are all excited to start the new gardening year by cleaning up our beds and planting new fruit trees and berry bushes.  Here are a few planting tips that will make our efforts more successful.
1) Do not work the soil when it is wet, it will set up like cement! 
Working the soil when it is wet destroys air spaces and the chunks of soil become rock hard which will not soften until the freeze-thaw of another winter has loosened it back up. How do we know when the soil is ready to be worked? Place some soil in one hand and roll it into a ball, next drop it to the ground from waist height. If it shatters then it is dry enough and we can dig or cultivate. If it does not shatter then it is too wet and we should wait a couple of days. 
2) When roots can breathe, magic happens.  
One secret to growing healthy plants is knowing that roots need as much air as they do water. Compaction kills. Trees and shrubs love wood chips and leaf mold because of the beautiful crumb it makes. Just like the soil in the forest preserve which is leaves and branches layered and aged. For planting young fruit trees, we should amend the planting area with aged wood chips and leaves. Whether it is a deep hole or a shallow hole, generous amounts of this mulch will allow the roots to quickly establish. 
I have planted trees on top of the soil without even digging a hole and covered the roots with a mini mound of wood chips and the trees have done extremely well.  In a few short months, beneficial fungi had softened the soil beneath the mulch and the tree was rapidly rooting and setting healthy leaves and growing bark that did not split.
3)  Plants don't have a stomach so the digestion has to happen in the soil.
Grasses are fed by bacteria and trees are fed by fungi.  Fungi like wood chips. To jump start the system, we like to add some aged wood chip compost which has fungal hyphae and fungal spores already in it. If we don't have that then we can use some soil from an untouched forested area of our yard or sometimes a nearby Park or Forest Preserve. A small bucket of duff (decaying vegetable matter covering the ground under trees) from wooded areas is rich in fungi that will quickly colonize our new planting area. Tree root
exudates will feed the fungi and a beneficial relationship will quickly establish.
4)  Higher orders of plants, like fruit trees, require a high calcium and high phosphorus environment in order to be healthy. 
We add a handful each of lime, gypsum and bone meal to every new plant to make sure it has enough minerals to be healthy. Bone meal has a small amount of nitrogen in it which should be enough for the fruit tree. Soil has many nitrogen fixing microbes that will feed the tree once it is established. Nitrogen fixing microbes take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil but this can only happen if the soil can breathe. Compacted soils cut off air from the microbes so they cannot do their work. This is a big problem in suburban and urban soils. Aged wood chips and leaves is the best way to open a compacted soil.
These simple tips will greatly reduce transplant shock and grow healthy and happy fruit trees. 

Happy planting! 
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