Posts tagged amend

Using (free!) compost to restore flooded yards

 

Screening equipment and compost piles at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency's site in southwest Cedar Rapids (Cindy Hadish photo)

Screening equipment and compost piles at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency's site in southwest Cedar Rapids (Cindy Hadish photo)

   Stacie Johnson, compost expert extraordinaire, sent me a note about getting flooded yards back in shape. Stacie, education coordinator for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, said owners of flood-damaged homes have been calling the agency about using compost as fill as they begin work on their yards this spring.  Last June’s floods wiped out the vegetation of thousands of homes in Eastern Iowa, especially in the Cedar Rapids area. One caller wanted to put compost 4 inches deep on her lawn, but Stacie advises against using compost as fill or topsoil. The grass might sprout, but would have long-term problems growing. Also, it would make a very soft spot in the yard, as compost is mostly organic matter with little mineral content. 

      The Agency is giving away free compost for Linn County residents and Stacie wants it to be used so it’s most beneficial to these homeowners.

Here is what she says:

    Compost is a good source of soil organic matter and shouldn’t be used as you would topsoil.  The three compost applications recommended by the Solid Waste Agency are mulching, amending and top-dressing.

Mulching: add one inch of compost as a mulch layer, no need to work in and can be topped off with wood mulch for a formal landscape.

 Amending: (most likely the best approach for flood homes)  work one to two inches into the top six inches of existing soil.

 Top Dressing – spread 1/4 to ½-inch layer of compost over existing lawn; best to aerate before top dressing and reseed after.

A rule of thumb for how much compost is needed to complete a project:  square footage x depth x .0031 = cubic yards needed for your soil amendment project.

The agency’s Web site: www.solidwasteagency.org has more information on hours and where you can pick up the compost. The compost is made from the leaves and other natural materials collected in Yardys. It is aged in piles and unwanted materials are removed with a heavy-duty screening machine. The result is rich, dark compost that is great for the soil.

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When to transplant

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

    I was so ready to start my ditch project.  That’s the area I wrote about in an earlier blog that due to last summer’s over abundance of rain is now inaccessible by lawn mower.  The weather seemed to be cooperating and the ground temperature is almost warm enough.   Commencing with a hoe and a good pair of gloves, I’m tackling the winter debris of branches and weeds.  As some coaches will tell you, the best defense is a good offense:  removing any pest and disease infestation creates a healthier plant bed.  I do have some weed spray for the tough stuff.  There’s enough left over ground cloth to cover the area.  Garden centers have mulch just waiting for me to pick up.  The fall perennials are peeking about 3-4 inches out of the ground and are begging to be moved. (Rule of thumb:  transplant spring flowering plants in the fall and fall flowering plants in the spring.)  Hurrah! The growing and planting season has begun.  However, when I picked up a handful of dirt, it balled up in my hand.  So, time out!  That ground is definitely not dry enough.   “Mudding in” transplants will result in a hardened clumpy soil that will be very difficult to work going forward.  So, instead of transplanting right now, I’ll amend the soil by adding that wonderful stuff weathered horse droppings are made of.  Several inches of home grown compost and/or organic matter means I don’t have to fork out funds for commercial fertilizers.   In a few days, baring additional downpours, I will plant the transplants, remembering to water in the plants then gently tamping the soil down around them to remove air pockets. 

    Once the plants are in place, the ongoing project involves seasoning the seeder wagon, moving it to the middle of the area and planning how flowers will cascade out of it.  My son will bring a load of rock for the erosion control.  I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for how I perceive my new garden will evolve.

 

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All about lawns

   It’s spring and attention is turning to lawns. Two things today about lawn care. The first is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith and the second came to me from Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent the message to remind homeowners that spring is an ideal time to improve soil quality in our yards and that restoration of the soil can help retain water, prevent erosion and protect water quality.

 

This is from Claire Smith:

 

   Are you ready for some mowing?  Depending on the weather, your summer lawn mowing and maintenance can begin anytime in April.

Did you service the mower last fall?  If you didn’t have time then, you should take time now.  Beg or bribe your favorite spouse or relative to change the oil, kick the tires, replace the spark plug and air filter, and be certain the blades are sharp and not bent. 

If the ground temperature is 55-60’ you can commence any necessary re-seeding and repairs. Lawn repair kits that will contain seed and mulch can be purchased.  But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is so do not succumb to terrific sounding no maintenance grasses and groundcover.   Apply the patch after you have removed the dead turf and loosened and amended the soil.

   Pizza or ice cream treats may create some enthusiasm to have the kids or grandkids help you rake and remove clumps of leaves and other debris left over from winter ice and snow. Initiate a game of pickup sticks (branches). Tamp down runways created by winter vole activity and fill in holes. 

  Hose off lawn areas along walks, drives and roadways that have been exposed to deicing compounds or your grass may not reappear.  Keep newly seeded and sodded areas moist to reduce stress on young and developing root systems.   Watering an established lawn is not necessary now.  Wait until May to fertilize.  Over watering and over fertilizing does more harm than good on your lawn:  strike a happy medium.  Excessive use of insecticides may reduce nature’s aerating machines, the earthworm. Monitor your lawn for any insect damage prior to spraying. 

   Proper mowing is a real key to a healthy lawn.  The suggested mowing height is 3-3 ½” Taller grass forms a deeper root system.  Stronger plants are more likely to fend off insects, disease and weeds.  Remove only 1/3 of the total height of the grass and leave the clippings on the lawn to decompose. Clippings add nitrogen, moisture and organic matter to the soil.  Varying the direction and pattern of mowing will reduce the wear and tear on the lawn.

   So, are you ready for some mowing?  Grab a bottle of lemonade and your hat and sunscreen. Hop on the mower and enjoy the spring weather and the start of a beautiful lawn.

 

From Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship:

 

    Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged homeowners to consider incorporating soil quality restoration efforts into their annual spring yard work.

   Often in urban areas, especially new developments, the topsoil has been removed and what is left is compacted.  Restoring soil quality helps yards and green spaces absorb and infiltrate rainfall, which reduces the homeowners need to water their yard while protecting water quality and preventing runoff.

   “Iowa is known for it’s great soil, and rightfully so, but we need to make sure we are taking care of that soil so that it is healthy,” Northey said.  “What made our soil so productive was the high organic matter content and porosity that absorbed rain and allowed roots to grow deep.  Soil quality restoration helps recreate those conditions that allow plants to thrive.”

   If you are establishing a new lawn, perform deep tillage (8-12 inches deep) before seeding or sodding to breaks up compacted soils.  Add compost to increase organic matter.  It is recommended that soils have 5 percent or more organic matter before sodding or seeding, which can be achieved by incorporating 1 to 3 inches of compost.

   If you have an existing lawn, consider aerating the soil and then apply a blanket of compost in the spring or fall.  An application of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of compost following aeration will help fill the holes with organic matter to amend the soil and allow existing turf to grow through the compost amendment. If your turf is patchy, add seed to the compost application to thicken up the vegetation.

   “Improving the soil quality in your yard will make your lawn healthier, require less water and reduce the need for fertilizer and pesticide applications,” Northey added.  “A better looking lawn and improved water quality in the state are possible when we better manage runoff through soil quality restoration and other measures that allow water to infiltrate.”

   There are a number of other lawn care tips to help care for your soil and promote infiltration of water and prevent runoff.

  • Begin mowing after the first of May and end near Labor Day.
  • Set the mower at three inches high. The higher the grass shoots the deeper the grass roots, making it better able to survive dry periods.
  • Use the mulch setting on your mower to leave the grass clippings on the yard. Don’t lower organic matter content by removing clippings.
  • Consider using native plants for accent in planting beds or in rain gardens to minimize the amount of turf grass.
  • Seed your lawn to a native turf mixture that has deep roots and thrives in Iowa’s weather conditions without extra care.

   More information about urban conservation, rain gardens and a soil quality brochure are available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov

 

 

               

               

 

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