GROWING GRASS ORGANICALLY IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
Being the pro-Earth, tree-hugging, panda saving girl that I am, my decision to have a nice lawn in Central Florida puzzles even myself. The soil that “supports” the lawn is Mayakka fine sand. It is the soil of Florida and no other state has it. Lucky other states! It truly is sand- like on the beach, in the litterbox sand. Plants require nutrients and microorganisms to grow. Good soil holds water for the plants to drink. Our sandy soil provides none of these. How much vegetation do you see on a beach? Very little!
In L.A., I used worm castings on my lawn and for my roses. I bought bags of it and incorporated it into all my plantings. Darling Husband spread it over the lawn every month. My mow, blow and go guy was terrific. He was a good listener, came on schedule and did a beautiful job on any special projects that I needed to have done. My roses went from 3 blooms per season, each one producing flowers about 25% smaller, to just exploding all summer. I was truly the envy of the neighborhood and met many neighbors when they stopped to admire my floral abundance! And I did all of this without using harmful chemicals. But, I started off with soil that really was soil, not sand.
Here’s my long and sad tale. PART ONE!
At my previous home in Tampa, I got rid of the grass and planted tropicals and natives. It looked great! There were several gardeners in my neighborhood who went the same route and we enjoyed one another’s work tremendously. One of them is a Master Gardener who trained extensively in the science and art of gardening. She advises and educates the public on gardening and horticulture, driving all over the county to speak at libraries and different organizations. Her specialty is Florida natives and her garden is amazing and full of life- birds, butterflies and blooms.
When I moved to Clearwater, the neighborhood was your typical 1950’s street- low, flat houses with green lawns, just like my hometown of Phoenix. Here, the streamline view is broken up by looming, moss draped oaks, but it’s still pretty linear. I like to be a good neighbor, so I decided to grow grass so as not to disrupt the flow of the streetscape.
I feel that part of being a good neighbor is not poisoning the doggies that walk by every day, noses down in the grass. One of my neighbor’s dogs was having some problems and the diagnosis of cancer was being considered. My feeling is that these creatures who depend on us deserve better and I was hoping to provide it.
Being close to the beach, we are frequently visited by lovely white egrets looking for lunch in the lawn. I have no desire to feed these natural creatures toxic bugs. And, I didn’t want to add to the population of weirdly mutated lizards that hang around my porch.
The lawn I had when I purchased the house was mostly weeds and bare spots. My first intention was to start building the soil, hoping to add enough nutrients to help the grass flourish. My mow-blow-&-go guy had several suggestions, most of which made no sense with to the soil testing I had done at the County Extension Office. These offices are the local branch of a nationwide network that works with local universities providing non-biased, research-based information on a variety of subjects, including lawn and garden. When I first bought my house, I had my soil tested and it showed a deficiency of nitrogen and potassium and its phosphorus content was off the charts. Florida is a phosphorus mining state so that is not surprising. My lawn care guy suggested using several products that are heavy on phosphorus. I didn’t. He also suggested that he cut the weeds very short to reduce their ability to photosynthesize. This did not increase the weeds, but did not decrease them. It makes sense to do this to decrease their ability to photosynthesize and to keep them from going to seed. Perhaps he didn’t do it often enough, long enough?
Florida’s climate is crazy- months of dry spring followed by months of summer monsoon. It is important to keep your water as regulated as possible and the only way to do this is with an irrigation system. We have recycled water which was we discovered was somehow hooked up to evade the water meter, so we straightened that out and tried to get it fully operational. The aforementioned mow, blow and go guy did several rounds of tweaks to the tune of several hundred dollars. We still didn’t seem to be getting adequate coverage in all areas. When we fired his sorry you-know-what, we discovered that the system was completely oddball. It was essentially a large drip system made of tubing instead of pipes. We were never informed of this so we just kept pouring money into this stupid system was that doomed to fail.
After speaking with several people I decided that the only way to have a chemical free lawn was to start over and plant sod. So, I located a sod installation company that had some good reviews. When I called, I discovered that it was too late in the year to install and had to wait until next spring. That was fine. I still needed to get my irrigation system handled and wanted to do some soil building. I also felt like I still wasn’t sufficiently educated to maintain what would likely be a $10,000 investment, so I kept reading.
Back to soil building. One of the main issues I had was that all but one of the expert organic spraying companies were located in the next county. I spoke with the one in my county who said to call him after my grass was installed. After thinking about it, I found this puzzling because soil building is the way to get grass, or anything else to grow, and takes some time to cultivate. Seemed like yesterday was the right time to start. I called him several times, attempting to get the timing question answered, but got no response. I’m not crazy about service providers who don’t communicate so I wrote him off.
I tried to contact the sod installer to ask him about soil building and never heard back from him either. After a year of trying to find someone who could help me create an organic lawn, I was back at square one. You might think that I would have learned something from this, like, ”Girl, you’re in Florida. You want grass, you’re gonna have to suffer for it.” But I was stubborn and just continued bashing my head against the Myakka sand.
Stay tuned for another round of Bozos in part 2.