Anyone who is in the professional lawn care business, and by that I mean lawn healthcare, is aware of compost tea. Lawn treatments such as fertilizing, lime, weed & insect control have always been a staple in the efforts toward improving and managing turf grass in a residential or commercial environment. There is a new school of thought that focuses not on improving or protecting the grass plant itself, but the soil it lives in.
Although this is not a radical thought, it is certainly a departure as it focuses on the issues at hand in the soil versus treating the signs or symptoms of unhealthy lawns; mainly the grass itself or some pest. Since so many issues in a lawn can be attributed to poor soil conditions, compost tea has risen as one means to improve the soil which then promotes healthy grass. Although not a quick cure all, the strategy here is to add bio-organisms into the soil which then help break down organic matter, thus lending to natural “fertilizer” production. Although this is over simplified, adding bacteria and fungi into any lawn has lots of benefits.
Compost tea is usually a blend or mixture of different kind of bio-organisms, many which have been reduced or lost in the soil due to a variety of issues. Some of these issues include, but are not limited to, high salt content from extensive manufactured fertilizer use, poor soil, and or use of weed and insect controls over time. If we go back to basic high school biology, we find that soil is a living eco-system. As such, soil is influenced by what is put into it such as fertilizers, or removed, such as grass clippings(versus mulching). Protozoa, bacteria, and fungi all live in specific concentrations to help break down organic matter and pollutants in the soil substructure.
Anything that is applied to a lawn will move below ground and affect these biological populations. When these organisms can be easily destroyed by any number of means, you can expect that the natural cycle of life is broken, resulting in a broken lawn and the entire ramifications one can expect from such actions. Salt toxicity is a common occurrence by the overuse of fertilizers.
Highly soluble nitrogen along with potassium salts lend to reducing or even eliminating beneficial organisms in the soil beneath your lawn. Compost tea is meant to not only add organic matter to the lawn, but to help rebuild those fragile, damaged micro-ecosystems which may have been reduced due to prior lawn treatments. Adding bacteria, fungi, and in some cases protozoa, helps balance how nitrogen and other valuable nutrients are slowly added around the turf root system for a more uniform supply of “food” if you will.
Remember, nutrients are technically not food for any plant as they manufacture real food from the sun through photosynthesis, not from fertilizers. Fertilizers only help provide some building blocks which improve the plants ability to fight off harm such as disease, insects, and stay greener so it can grow healthier. This explanation is over simplified, but for the sake of a blog article, it will do just nicely.
Compost tea then, is a rescue line toward saving and improving your soil. Instead of targeting the issue at hand, whatever it may be from poor color, to a disease, or poor grass density; compost tea seeks to correct the underlying issues in the soil versus what you see above ground. Only by focusing on improving the soil can we ever achieve a truly healthy lawn with a decreased demand on fertilizer and other artificial stimuli.
The lawn pictures included in this blog post have only received one natural fertilizer treatment in the spring plus several compost tea sprays and kelp. With the client’s good mowing and watering habits, it is clear that this is a great looking lawn, especially in August when most lawns are dormant and full of crabgrass and or broadleaf weeds due to record heat in 2012.
Compost tea can be done at any time of the year and is known to be especially valuable in the spring to jump start the soil biology after a cold winter. I like to use compost tea after seeding to increase germination, disease resistance, and promote healthy growth. Compost tea increases organic matter, stabilizes a soil system beneath the lawn, and helps prevent issues by replacing lost organisms around the grass roots to create a more natural balance.