Organic Lawn Care – An overview
West Texas presents challenges to anyone who wants that lush green thick lawn that is the goal of a lot of homeowners. You can do this organically with a little planning and a little education.
The First Steps
- QUIT SPRAYING POISONS!
- Right now. The use of synthetic herbicides, insecticides, pre-emergents, and fertilizers do more long term damage to your soil than they do good.
- Don’t scalp.
- Scalping exposes the soil to the sun and exacerbates the loss of precious moisture in the soil.
- Switch to a mulching mower. Leave the clippings on the lawn. Every time you bag the clippings and put them in the dumpster you are removing valuable nutrients. Return these nutrients to the soil by mulching and avoid putting huge burdens on an already stressed waste management system.
Organic Lawn Care – Short Version
Our quick bulleted list of what you should do. These are acceptable organic alternatives to lawn care. Some of these recommendations need modifications for the variety of turf grass in your yard. For watering, always follow the recommendations that pertain to your variety of turf.
- Water monthly (or according to the recommendations for your variety of turf).
- Feed your soil. If you are following the organic approach to turf management, it is more important to feed your soil than trying to feed the turf. Healthy soil and the proper management techniques will more than take care of the nutrient needs of your turn. Follow our monthly gardening to do lists for winter feeding requirements.
- Weed Control. Winter weeds will start to appear early in the fall. Apply corn gluten meal in early September for best results as a pre-emergent. For weeds that are already sprouting, spot spray with a 10 or 20 percent organic vinegar solution.
- Water monthly (or according to the recommendations for your variety of turf)
- Feed your soil. Use a good quality organic fertilizer according to the instructions on the packaging. Remember that we are feeding the soil more than the turf. The goal is increasing the microbiome life and creating healthy soil beneath the turf.
- Weed Control. Apply Corn Gluten Meal in late February or early March to control early weeds. Continue to spot spray with a vinegar solution.
- Watering frequency may need to increase as the weather warms. Now is a good time to look at your watering system. Whatever system you use, the goal is to apply only as much water as your turf needs. Overwatering can lead to problems just as underwatering can stress the turf and cause it to return to a dormant state.
- Feed your soil. Continue to feed according to our Garden to do Lists and the recommendations of the manufacturer of whatever organic fertilizer you chose.
- Mowing. Follow the recommendations for the types of turf that you have established. As a rule, never mow lower than 2 to 3 inches. The longer length of the grass will protect the soil and help with moisture retention.
- Water as needed. We recommend that you turn off your automatic irrigation control and put it in manual mode. By and large, you should use only water when it is needed rather than on a pre-set schedule. Managing your irrigation is as much a horticultural issue as it is a water conservation issue.
- Feed your soil. As the heat increases, stress on the turf increases. Keeping the soil healthy is more important now than at any time. As the turf stresses, it needs the support of that microbiome in the soil to maintain its health and ability to deal with the high temperatures, increased stress and wide swings in temperature.
- Weeds. Spot spray with a vinegar solution or weed by hand.
- Mowing. As the heat increases, increase the height of your mower. The longer length of grass stems will help the turf deal with higher temperatures by providing shade to the lower portions of the plants. The longer length also helps maintain moisture levels in the soil and to keep the soil healthy.
- Water as needed. As cool weather approaches, your variety of grass may begin to go dormant. Adjust your watering accordingly. If you have a variety that remains actively growing all winter water as necessary but be aware that even the species that don’t go dormant during the fall and winter require less water during these colder months.
- Feed your soil. It is important to maintain that supply of nutrients to the soil organisms during the fall and winter months. Supporting this microbiome through the colder months will ensure that they are healthy and abundant for the next spring season.
- Weeds. Apply corn gluten meal early in the fall to help control the emergence of early fall weeds. For more information on using corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent see our article on corn gluten meal here.
- Mowing. DON”T SCALP! Leave your turn at the last height you mowed. If it is a dormant species, it will eventually start to decompose and feed those nutrients back into your soil. If it is a non-dormant species, the longer length will help protect it during the colder weather and protect the soil.
Turf Variety Selection
It is important that you select the proper variety of turf. Your goals control the variety of grass to achieve your goals.
Low Maintenance Varieties
If you are looking for a low maintenance turf, your best choice will probably be one of the native species or one of the hybrid native grasses now available.
- Buffalo Grass
- Buffalo Grass is a perennial native grass. It has fine curly blue-green leaves. It can produce a low maintenance drought tolerant turf that is attractive and hardy. However, it will never make a lush dark green golf course like lawn. There are some varieties commonly used for lawns including Prairie and 609. Seed or plugs are preferred when establishing these types of turf. Buffalo grass will not tolerate heavy traffic so is not suitable in backyards where large dogs are present for much of the time or where there is heavy foot traffic regularly. For more information about establishing and managing a buffalo grass turf lawn, see the TAMU paper on Buffalo Grass here.
- A hybrid developed by Texas Tech University and Frontier Seeds, Turffalo is a drought tolerant turf grass developed specifically for the West Texas Area, especially the Lubbock region. Turffalo combines the hardiness of the Buffalo grass varieties but will give a much denser and greener lawn, resembling fescue or Bermuda grass. For more information on Turffalo visit the TTU website here
- Bermuda Grass
- Perhaps the most prevalent turf grass in the Lubbock and West Texas region. Bermudagrass is considered a warm weather variety that does well in West Texas. It is drought tolerant, hardy and spread rapidly. Newer hybrids will develop a finer leaf with a much deeper green color. Bermudagrass does have some downsides, particularly its invasive tendencies. Its deep roots and the fact that it spreads laterally by rhizomes and stolons means that keeping it out of flowerbeds and landscaping can be a challenge. Bermudagrass does not tolerate shade well. For more information on bermudagrass visit the TAMU article
- Not a variety often seen in West Texas or Lubbock, zoysiagrass may be a good alternative. It is a warm season turf grass with good drought tolerance. Like Bermudagrass, it spreads by rhizomes and stolons so is somewhat invasive. It is a coarser textured grass than some other grasses. It is more shade tolerant than bermudagrass and has a relatively high tolerance to traffic. To learn more about zoysiagrass visit the TAMU article here.
- Tall fescue is considered a cool weather grass. It is much more shade tolerant than bermudagrass or zoysiagrass, but it is also much less heat and drought tolerant. IT requires frequent irrigation all year and can suffer in the high heat months in West Texas. I may not do well where it receives direct full sun all day. Getting a thick full coverage can also be a challenge as fescue is a clumping variety so may require frequent reseeding. For more information review the TAMU article here.
Native and Alternatives
There has been some interest in planting native grasses in lawns. While this is certainly doable, the reality of having native rangeland grasses in an urban lawn is that these species are not well suited to this kind of use. However, if you have a larger lot, you may want to consider putting in a rangeland mix of grasses rather than traditional turf. Several companies offer mixes of rangeland grasses specifically for the West Texas area.
More information and Resources on Organic Lawn Care
For more information on native rangeland grasses see the TAMU article on native pasture grasses.