Step 4 - Compost
No product is quite like compost. With chemically maintained lawns, there is great focus on fertilizers and pesticides, but when you talk with organic landscapers, the discussion often comes around to compost. This is because compost provides multiple benefits. With organic lawn care, the strategy is to provide natural defenses against weeds, disease, and inset pests by establishing a healthy soil ecology. Healthy organic lawns begin with soil that contains a diverse and vibrant community of beneficial micro-organisms. Compost is key because it contains both beneficial microbes, and the organic matter or food they need to thrive.
Compost is particularly helpful in restoring soil that has been chemically treated and has had its soil life suppressed. Compost benefits soil structure, improving water retention and aeration of the soil. It also is valuable for adding organic matter to sandy soils, which are common on Long Island.
To apply compost to your lawn, spread ¼ inch thick with a shovel (ideally after core aerating) then use the back of a metal rake to smooth it into the turf. Although compost can be used at any time, it is particularly beneficial during the first two years of transition to an organic program.
For lawn care, it is important to use high-quality compost that has been finely screened. Coarser compost can be used for gardens, plant beds and around bushes and trees. Find quality compost at better lawn and garden supply stores, or get it from municipal composting facilities (usually at no charge). Long Island Compost is a local company that provides a high quality product that is widely available and appropriate for lawn applications. Getting compost from a reliable source ensures that it is completely composted. During the composting process, heat levels rise, killing weed seeds and pathogens that might be present in incompletely composted organic matter, or topsoil.
In addition to being an excellent amendment to enhance soil biological activity, compost is also a highly sustainable means of recycling yard waste, food wastes and other biologically-sourced waste products. This reduces the use of landfills and incineration, and the trucking of waste off Long Island. This all saves tax dollars. You can make your own compost, but most people will not have sufficient compost from yard waste and kitchen scraps to apply to their entire lawn, but it will benefit your flowerbeds, gardens and shrubs. The Town of North Hempstead has a very popular backyard composting program that provides education and a compost tumbler to residents.
Compost tea has many of the benefits of compost, but is easier to apply. Although some small compost tea brewer kits are available online and in garden supply stores, generally compost tea brewers are expensive and are only practical for golf courses and professional landscapers.
Municipal Compost Sites
The following towns and villages supply compost free of charge to their residents:
Brookhaven (2 sites): Holtsville 758-9664 , Manorhaven 451-6224
Garden City* 742-5800 x 237
Oyster Bay 677-5801
For more information
- Soil Biology Primer
- Composting at Home
- Compost Bin at Home
- Newsday List of sites that recycle organic waste
- Compost Tea (Roger Cook from "This Old House" at Harvard discussing compost tea)
- Compost Tea: Does it work or not? (Safelawns.org)
- According to Cornell University Turfgrass Times (CUTT), poor soil without compost can cause "inadequate drainage, reduced nutrient availability, soil compaction, and decreased microbial activity"
Long Island Organic Landscapers
Although it's easy for the average homeowner to maintain their lawn organically, some may too busy and wish to hire a professional. In that case there are thousands of landscapers on Long Island to choose from, but only a small but growing number of experts who can maintain your lawn and landscape without the use of chemical pesticides. They can be found here.