Tue 26 Nov, 2002 12:16 pm
Okay, some of you folks are bound to know more about this than I do.
I've got backyard (rental house) in which I need to regrow grass over the next year or so, but the soil is shot. It's just dead dust.
I don't want to use a fertilizer for both watershed reasons and because I've got two dogs who go out in that yard and like to, er, eat things on the ground.
I've also got a big pile of leaves from the two cherry trees out front that I moved around to the back in hopes of them turning to mulch and bringing some life back to the soil in the yard.
Anybody know (a) if this is going to work; (b) what I should do to expedite the process (i.e. is a deep pile better than a shallow one, is there anything around the house I can add to the pile to improve conditios for whatever microbes turn leaves into detritus, should I tarp the pile or leave it uncovered; and (c) what kind of time frame I should be looking at?
The piles sat out front for about a week and were already pretty well decomposed at the very bottom, so I'm hoping to get some really nice leaf-rot over the winter. My main concern is that cherry trees may be like certain other species -- that is, their leaves are acidic and actually function to choke out competing vegetation at the base of the tree. Since the grass under the cherry trees is the healthiest on the property, this seems unlikely.
Any comments welcome!
Ummm.. Ok, I think you want to create "compost" here not "mulch" (Mulch is what you'd use to choke out grass/weeds...) but in my experience a 3' around by 3' high "barrel" of chicken wire works pretty well. You can just pound stakes into the ground and surround them with the chicken wire (or chain link if you have it!) and then fill it loosely. I used to have a row of these in my backyard to handle all my leaves.
You do have to go out every few days and turn the pile a bit to keep things moving otherwise it will compress and no air will get in so the decomposition process will stop. You can tarp the pile LOOSELY to keep snow/rain off the top but you don't want to restrict air flow.
You should look on the Web for sites on Composting for a list of items not to throw in there. (Meat scraps are a big no-no but usually veggie scraps are ok.)
The grass may be growing well under the trees for two very different reasons - the trees may be using the acidity in the soil so that the grass has more neutral soil to grow in or the leaves may be providing acidity to the soil which may originally have been to neutral. Only testing a soil sample will tell you if the compost you create is to acidic or not. Many garden centers will test it for you for free.
Deep pile is definitely better than shallow. Coffee grounds are supposed to be the magic bullet. Various other organic leftovers work -- NOT citrus, though. Citrus just gets NASTY.
We have the chicken wire barrel that fishin' describes, and it works really well. E.G. did all kinds of research on how you are supposed to cultivate a compost pile, then basically put in a bunch of leaves, some twigs, and some coffee grounds, and left it. It worked just fine.
We have minimal requirements of our compost, though -- our garden soil is already pretty good. So you may want to do it with more care if you need to revitalize a whole yard's worth of soil.
Hey, thanks, kids. If I get a good compost going and mix it into the soil in early spring, I might have a shot, then, eh? It doesn't need to be beautiful -- far from it, it was butt-ugly to start with, but I don't want to leave the place a dust bowl when I split; just get enough ryegrass going to make it look like we tried. (And it's only this one area, for some reason. The grass grows everywhere else.)
Deep is better. A compost heap that's working right will generate heat, which you want to retain. If you start adding woody material, you may want to add a bit of nitrogen fertilizer. Cherry should be okay; walnut is definately not, as it contains a compound toxic to almost any plants other than itself. The husks of the black walnuts are especially bad about this.
I've got a composter in back, but i also use the leaves from my maple as mulch in front. I spread the leaves out reasonably evenly, flip the pancake of leaves over about every 2 weeks til it snows and then leave it til spring, when i dig what's left in somewhere. My front yard was barren when i moved in here. As a result of this mulching process, I haven't had to put any fertilizer in the front yard for 5 years now, and i've got a lush little forest microsystem. It's been a wonderful process. It freaked the neighbours out at first when i didn't rake away the leaves. They're still not thrilled, but they've adjusted and tell me they like the results in the spring.
ohhhhhhh - don't bother trying to do anything with the grass in the spring. autumn is grass prep time.
Yeah? I am in Seattle, where "season" doesn't mean a whole lot except for changes in day length...
Huh. Just read a site that says that for cool season grasses (i.e. ryegrass), spring planting is all right, though fall is better -- and it says to plant when daytime temps are between 60 and 75 degrees. Goddamn, I'll be waiting until July for that to happen!
That's definitely season-talk. The grass does it's busiest work in approximately September - November, and then rests a bit. Then in spring you get the benefit of the work. I hate grass (sort of a matter of environmental principle) but i do have a knack for making it grow.
I don't know where you live, but this is my suggestion. From your description you are a candidate for lawn replacement which your landlord will possibly opt for - but this is what I would do, I did it in a yard in N.J. and it worked. I coverd the lawn with 3/4" of new topsoil which I had mixed with aged and well washed cow manure. Then as the revitalized grass came up I composted with the grass clippings from mowing. Then if your yard is patchy throw around a little grass seed.
You couldn't just replace the grass with moss? Seems like the Seattle way to go.
I'd love to. I friggin' hate grass. Monoculture garbage. But that's what was there when I moved in (well, grass and lots of weeds, anyway). The landlords really don't give a damn about the place, as they've made abundantly clear, so I'm not really sweating it; I've been throwing a ton of seed around and turning the soil over, but it's just kaput. The weeds won't even grow there any more. Nonetheless, I don't want former landlords telling prospective landlords things like "they killed the lawn," whether it was true or not. (Starting to get flashbacks of the last house, though, where we replaced the back door and the kitchen and bathroom floors because of pet damage and ultimately left the house in better shape than we found it.)
As far as getting them the landlords to do anything about it -- well, if they were going to start caring about the property, there's a lot more to be done than throwing some sod down (i.e., regrading the backyard so it gets proper drainage, refinishing the floors, replacing out-of-square doorframes, updating appliances to a 1960s vintage, etc.).
I just figured I had these leaves I'd raked up, maybe I'd see what I could do with 'em rather than just have the city cart 'em away.
Leaf mulch will make the grass happy, enrich the soil, and not annoy you (and i think it smells amazing in the spring, as it's starting to turn into loam).
Enjoy your leaves!
Thanks. I am enjoying my leaves. This morning they were frosted. Very nice.