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Give Your Lawn a Microbe Makeover

by Gabby Hyman, All About Lawns Columnist

When spring rolls around, lawns generally perk right up, greening right before your eyes. If your grass stays a dull winter-brown color well into the spring, it's natural to blame a shortfall of nitrogen. It's not an automatic remedy. Fertilizer has a way of damaging earthworms and healthy microbes that transmit nutrients to grass roots. It may be time to mulch and top-dress your lawn.

Check with your local lawn-care experts about organic mulch and dressings that work for your grass type (cool vs. warm-season grasses) and region. A rule of green thumb is that your soil should have a generous 5 percent composition of organic materials to feed helpful microbes. Every year, billions of microbes in your soil help digest thatch, clippings, and increase water percolation. And they return nutrients and humic acid to your lawn.

Using Organic Mulch or Top-dressings

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Nitrogen-rich fertilizers release salts that are harmful to microbes and earthworms. Consider adding a top dressing of mushroom compost and/or peat to the surface of your turf in a fresh layer from a quarter to half-inch thick. Keep the mulch or dressing wet as you apply it, laying down a cubic yard over each 1,000 feet of lawn.

Dressing not only helps your lawn retain moisture and nutrients, but it can correct a pH imbalance in the soil. Plus, mulch and dressings add heat, encouraging grass seed germination. Decomposing mulch also releases nitrogen into the soil, allowing you to cut down on potentially harmful excesses in ammonia-based fertilizers.

Be sure any topsoil you buy from a lawn and garden center has a dark color and a rich feel. If you haven't aerated your lawn in a while, using an aerator or vertical rake after mulching and applying top dressing can yield good results.

About the Author
Gabby Hyman has created online strategies and written content for Fortune 500 companies including eToys,, Siebel Systems, Microsoft Encarta, Avaya, and Nissan UK.

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