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How To Fix And Renovate Your Drought Damaged Lawn. Or, “Lawn Renovation? That’s Bull S*#T!”

Lawn Renovation? That’s Bull S*#T!

 

Well…

Yes it is.

Although a better way to call it would be: composted dairy manure. Actually, the best compost pesos can buy in this part of our country.

 

 

We recently had a good sized lawn renovation project in Austin, Texas, and wanted to share with our readership the process of doing it effectively and organically.

 

Although we are all about drastic lawn reduction, sometimes lawns are a necessity. At times, especially strict and vengeful Home Owner Associations won’t approve dramatic changes to the neighborhood landscape. At other times you just want to have a tiny lawn that the kids can run, fall and be reckless in as children should be.

 

An example would be this lawn, which was hit pretty hard in our last Texas drought – dead patches, weeds that the lawn is not able to compete with, strange colored diseased looking spots, you name it. Here is the lawn in distress that we worked on just a few days ago.

lawn-drought-resistant-how-to

Picture 1 of 5

 

So what do you do? Obviously you give us a call. But assuming you are a beefy fellow (or Ma’am) with too much time on your hands, here is the procedure for fixing and renovating your lawn in a few simple and back breaking steps:

1. Aeration: “Aeration” is basically a fancy term for poking holes in the ground. An often forgotten and neglected component (After Fertility, Moisture and Sunlight) regarding plant health is air and oxygen circulation in the soil. The soil and roots “exhale and inhale” air. That is one of the main reasons why raised beds in vegetable gardening do so much better than surface cultivation (Especially on our Texan clayey poor soil).

 

Another advantage of aerating before composting your lawn, is that the added fertility can be absorbed faster and more effectively through the thousands of holes in the lawn.

 

Lawns are prone to compaction mainly due to two reasons most of the time. They are used and abused pretty thoroughly with standing, stomping, serenading and step dancing all occurring pretty regularly on most Texan lawns (that is, if you live your life well) which compacts the soil. The second reason is that sod producers grow it on an especially clayey medium. They use clay because the sod handles better and doesn’t crumble when you try to install it and also because clay holds water exceedingly better than sandy mediums. Lawn sod can be left un-watered for many days on pallets during transport and in reseller places, so water retention is key.

 

By poking thousands of tiny yet deep holes on your lawn you alleviate some of those issues, allowing your lawn to “breath” again. Microbial life in the soil is also highly dependent on oxygen availability in the soil. Lawn aeration in Texas is highly recommended.

 

You can rent a lawn aerator from a tool rental place for especially large lawns (more than 3000 square feet). Or if you want to save a buck and get in shape you can buy a reasonably priced and very effective hand tool from your local home improvement center (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.). When using hand aerators, aerating every 6 inches is a good policy. The gas powered aerator pulls out plugs and the hand ones do not. We had equal success with both and now use exclusively the hand aerators for smaller projects.

 

Here we can see Handsome Andrew using two aerator simultaneously. Unless you are a gentle giant like him, I would recommend sticking to using only one as you really want to apply all of your body weight on every push.

2.Composting. After trying many different products, materials and home brews for lawn fertility we came to three distilled phrases of wisdom: Use Compost. Use Plenty of it. Seriously now, use real good compost and plenty of it.

 

Compost is basically organic matter that has been completely broken down, digested and consumed. It will not continue to shrink in size if left alone like unfinished compost will.

 

How to tell you are getting the real goods? The Fine Belgian chocolate of soil?

 

Compost is such a catch all phrase, and many retailers and wholesellers offer very different products, wildly ranging in price and quality. A yard could sell as low as $16 and as high as $65. On the low end you’ll end up getting a real “deal” paying dirt cheap for “compost” that consists of: sand, bark chips, a few loose pebbles and a chewed up looking twig or two. The quickest and surest way to deal with that kind of material is promptly driving straight away to the closest dumpster from the place of purchase. You can apply one inch layer on some unsightly plastic that may fly away. On the high end you’ll drop $65 American dollars on a pile of beautiful compost. Think that’s bull s#&t? Well, yes it is. (sorry, had to repeat it). So, how to tell the difference from a happy pile and a crappy pile? (I’m on a roll here)

 

Real finished compost is very fine. You cannot identify any solid chunks in it. It is very dark and doesn’t have any fillers. It will not stay in a ball if you squeeze some of it in your hand nor will it crumble and fly away in the wind. It is moist and dark. A little bit of sand is alright as it serves a function – balancing clay on Texan soils – but it should not be the major dominating component.

Furthermore, let’s talk more about fertilizer (which compost’s function truly is). I do not recommend using bagged chemical fertilizer. Proponents of chemical fertilization argue that plants don’t give a hoot about the source of fertility and that nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus are equally the same for them if it comes from a bag or from some juicy moo poo. There are some flaws in that argument. The first is that you want to feed the soil and not the plant, for as you probably know, soil is very much alive and full of extremely complex relations between many hundreds of different life forms. There are bucket loads of undiscovered and misunderstood components and processes in soil life.

General plant health, vigor, disease and pest tolerance are all tied to general soil health.

 

Arguing that a few chemically processed macro nutrients are all that you and your plants need is frankly quite baffling while observing the majestically rich, complex and diverse living system we call Ma Earth.

If macro nutrients are the same and they alone will suffice, imagine this hypothetical and cruel experiment. Take a set of identical twins with the same general health, lifestyle and caloric intake. Be forewarned, I shall digress for a paragraph or two. Twin Billy (the lucky one) will consume a rich diet full of nature’s bounty; Veggies, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, fruits, grains, legumes and herbs. His twin bro, Bubba (poor guy) will subsist on partly diet of sugar water, white bread and one source of highly processed protein and fat. That’s it.

 

A few years fly by and now look at Billy, with his nimble stride and vibrant aura surrounding him. That Billy, I tell ya, step dancing with the ladies at the Broken Spoke till 2:00 am – a magnet in all social gathering and hooteannys. That Billy, I tell ya… Now Look at ole Bubba. Bedraggled looking fellow, isn’t he? Poor soul, there is just something askew with that feller. Clumsy and sickly, mumbles incoherently. Misguided and lost as a torn stray arrow.

 

You could substitute sugar water to Nitrogen and carbs and protein to Potassium and Phosphorus. Yes, they will sustain life but it will be far from an optimal situation.

 

Don’t get me wrong. Bagged chemical fertilizer is better than nothing, and WILL feed the GRASS and make it nice and green but it will be growing in a gloomy and lifeless medium, highly depended on further applications of fertilizer. Disease and weed presence would become a regular guest. That is also seen in many waterways when the highly concentrated amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous chemicals runoff into the water system, encouraging water plants to take over and almost literally choke out other life. A prime example would be Barton Creek (especially downriver from Barton Springs) in Austin, where the bloom of invasive hydrilla has been linked to homeowners over-fertilizing their lawns. Again, I digress…

 

Another major advantage of using an organic fertilization program is that organic matter has extremely higher water holding capacities than ordinary chemical fertilizer. Just think about it, one 50 pound bag of concentrated fertilizer substitutes around 6 cubic yards of organic matter. All those tons and tons of spongy goodness will retain water for much longer and act as a water reservoir for tougher and drier times. As you’ll notice immediately, the grass not only looks greener but you are able to get away with watering it less often. Slowly but surely, all of the organic matter will percolate down to the root system, allowing the roots to go a bit deeper and thus enabling greater drought tolerance. Using superb compost and plenty of it for lawn renovation in Texas is key.

 

Now, to the last question you might have. How much do I apply? Some folks recommend up to 3”, but I noticed that when I use superb compost, a thorough application of 1” proves to be sufficient. You can always do more than 1”, but generally that should be the least amount.

How do you calculate how much compost you need to get for your lawn for 1” coverage? Easy:

Length x Width / by 324

 

Now, I know you are too lazy to calculate anything after reading 1500 words on fixing and renovating lawns here is my exclusive “Quick S#*t Cheat Sheet” (Couldn’t help it):

500 sqft – 1.5 cubic yards.

1000 sqft- 3 cubic yards.

1500 sqft- 4.5 cubic yards.

2000 sqft- 6 cubic yards.

2500 sqft- 8 cubic yards (more like 7.7 but always try to round it up and not down).

3000 sqft- Better call us today buddy or it’s the orthopedic for you next week. Better having a lighter wallet than a heavier back.

 

So let’s review the process before I finish:

  1. A thorough aeration, 6” apart.
  2. A full one inch of the best compost money can buy.
  3. Spread and rake the compost to a nice flat and consistent surface. Hard rakes work pretty well.
  4. Thoroughly water the compost in. Really soak that matter well. It will greatly accelerate the process.
  5. Give yourself a pat on the back!

 

The compost will stay on the lawn between 2 to 4 weeks. Depends on rains, temperature and humidity. Increased watering will hasten the process although even without supplemental moisture the compost will be absorbed in time.

Best times to apply the compost would be early spring and fall.

 

This is not a pet cemetery but a soon to be healthy Texan lawn!

 

So what did we learn today? Well that: A. My grammar is lacking.  B. There is unrelated nutrition propaganda unsubtly hidden in lawn articles. C. You betta call us ASAP unless you are looking forward to moving a 10 ton mountain of poo with your single, wobbly and bent shovel this upcoming weekend.

 

Frequently asked questions:

This last summer was especially hard on my lawn and it looks utterly and completely dead, will doing the aeration compost resurrect it?

Hard to say, grass is actually very resilient and if there is still some life left in the underground roots there is still hope left. If your lawn is completely dead, with huge brown and lifeless patches it might be a better idea to re-sod the area and do it proper.

 

I don’t want to mess with huge piles on my driveway, don’t like shoveling, don’t have a wheelbarrow. Would you approve bagged compost?

Not typically for even small to medium sized projects because of the price per foot for bagged versus tonnage or per cubic foot. The best is to buy it in a wholesale place that delivers in a dumptruck. A busy place with frequent clients are a good indicator of a business that creates great compost (although not absolutely always) because the compost probably wasn’t cooking and drying for half a year – exposed to the sun for too long, and rain leaching out the good stuff. You want your compost freshly finished with all its myriad soil life still buzzing with activity and life. Bagged and sealed products, shipped from who-knows-where cannot guarantee that. I assume that you are on the frugal side because you are still reading this far so I’ll disclose that buying it by the yard is tremendously more cost effective. As in way cheaper.

Enjoy your weekend y’all!

Reed

 

7 comments… add one
  • Zach Tubb

    May 21, 2014, 10:27 am

    Thanks for the post. I just bought a house in the Dallas area and my yard looks very similar to the one above. I think it was because they did not water during the winter very much, and we had a hard winter. However, it is now May 21st and my yard did not spring back like the rest of the neighborhood. So I wanted to know if it is too late into the year to spread compost like you describe above?

    Thanks
    Zach Tubb

    Reply
    • admin

      June 2, 2014, 2:59 pm

      Zach hello,
      Its never too late, although spring and fall are best, good compost will always work. Wet seasons will just ensure the compost is absorbed faster. You might need to water it some to hasten the process in lieu of rain.
      Thanks,
      Reed

      Reply
  • Elizabeth Woodward

    December 26, 2015, 11:55 am

    Would there be any reason not to do this now (end of December, beginning of January)? Our lawn looks like your picture…maybe even a bit worse. We’d love to take advantage of some free time we have now. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Reed

      April 12, 2016, 7:53 am

      In theory you can always do it as organic matter will decompose an get applied regardless of the weather and water. Doing it in the Spring or Fall would make the absorption rate much faster to to the rains. The compost looks unsightly so most clients want it to be absorbed and done with as soon as possible.

      Thanks and good luck!

      Reply
  • David J

    February 8, 2016, 12:52 pm

    Great page i’m looking into different methods to present to my customers in the spring what is the best approach the present these amendments to my lawn customers that only spend a few dollars every week to get the lawn cut?

    Any feed back would help
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Reed

      April 12, 2016, 7:51 am

      David,

      You just have slowly find and match the right clientele to the right product and service.

      For example both Walmart and Whole Foods Market co exist in this economy, both thrive.

      Organic fertilization program is much more expensive then the traditional chemical approach. I would say people with young children or pets would benefit the most.

      Good Luck!

      Reply
  • Travis

    July 24, 2016, 2:16 pm

    I am looking forward to composting and aerating this fall (and again in the spring).

    1) Where can you buy good compost in the Austin/Cedar Park TX area? I’ve bought compost in past years at Whittlesey Landscape and Enchanted Rock and Landscape Supplies. Any specific recommendations??
    2) Do you recommend spreading 100% compost or one of the mixes that are 50%-75% compost (with some sand and other stuff)?

    Thanks for your help!

    Reply

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