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Compost in the organic lawn

Don't compost piles smell bad?
Compost piles never smell bad if they are properly managed. They do have a smell that will remind you of the country around a farm. So if that's a bad smell, then they do smell. When compost piles get out of wack, they will stink--no doubt about that. It's important to keep the compost pile active. That means rotating fresh green cuttings. This keeps everything in balance. Don't put any meat or dairy products in the pile. Don't put dog manure in the pile. Try to keep the pile from getting soggy from too much water.

Does compost carry disease?
No. Aerobic composting with a good heat cycle kills off the disease causing microbes in the compost. If compost smells sour, rotten, rancid, or bad in any way, it is not finished cooking. Fluff it up to let more air in and let it sit for another few weeks. Read more about disease suppression at

I’ve used compost every year for years but my neighbor’s lawn is always greener. What’s wrong?
Compost is not a very good fertilizer all by itself. Compost is a great soil surface amendment used primarily to bring beneficial soil microbes to your soil. If you want a thick, green turf grass, you need to add protein to feed the soil microbes. The microbes, in turn, will feed the grass.

How much does organic gardening cost? I’ve heard it is very expensive.
Following a full organic program should cost less than a chemical program. The first application of compost can be expensive, but it is not always needed. Still it is important to look at the longer term. Protein fertilizer costs about the same per square foot as chemical fertilizer. The reason the organic program is less expensive is the fact that you won’t need expensive herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides.

Can I put too much compost on?
It is possible and happens to people who get bad advice about applying compost and manure. Unfortunately you can easily smother many grasses by putting too much compost on. That is why the recommended rate is 1 cubic yard of compost for every 1,000 square feet. This will result in application of 1/3" of compost if spread out uniformly — a very thin layer. The overuse of compost on turf is one of the main reasons people get discouraged by an organic program.

Can I put too much organic fertilizer on?
This cannot happen unless you use enough to smother the grass. Protein fertilizer must be eaten by the soil microbes before the grass gets any benefit. With an organic program, nothing goes to waste and nothing is washed away. Blood meal is an exception to this rule. I never recommend using blood meal for anything. It's a good protein source, but it is "hot." Since other products work as well, I just leave it alone.

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