The history of conventional turf management practices and how a natural approach differs. What is a systems approach?
We will begin with a brief introduction to natural turf management and how it differs from a conventional approach. A conventional approach to turf management generally has been centered upon product application. Often times this product application is based on calendar date rather than on site considerations. Discussion will center around the three concepts of a systems based approach; healthy biologically active soils, exclusive use of natural, organic products, and revised horticultural practices. By using a systems approach we will see how a series of preventative steps can be put in place to help mitigate potential pest and other turf problems.
Soil and the soil biomass
The success of a natural program begins with an understanding and creation of healthy soils. Soil health is not an abstract concept, but a cornerstone in chemical free management. We will discuss organic matter, the living portion of the soil, humus, nutrient, and texture and how they all interact as part of the system.
Soil tests, managing soil fertility, turfgrass nutrition
All sound management programs begin with a soil test. An in-‐depth discussion of soil testing protocols and a breakout session reading various soil test reports will be part of the program. We will discuss how to interpret results and then see how those results guide us in our soil building and plant health programs. Turfgrass nutrition is fundamental to the growth of grass. A full explanation of conventional fertility products will be presented as a counterpoint to natural, organic inputs. It will become evident that the biomass is responsible for nitrogen availability with the use of organic fertilizers.
Liming, soil amendments, product rates and calculations
In those areas of the country where acid soils are predominant, a full discussion on neutralizing those soils will be presented. We will discuss soil amendments not generally regarded as fertilizers and how they benefit the system.
Insects and fungal diseases of turf and appropriate control products
This section will deal with turf insects including scouting, identification, lifecycles, and control measures. We will discuss product that is accepted in a natural system both EPA registered and those that the EPA chooses to exempt from registration, otherwise known as 25b. The identification of fungal diseases of turf and the conditions that foster their growth will be discussed, as well as preventative strategies. The discussion of product will emphasize that just because something is considered ” organic” it cannot be used indiscriminately. All products have associated risks.
Turf weeds, control products, and strategies
This section will discuss the common broadleaf and grassy weeds of turf and the limited product available to mitigate them. Preventative strategies built into the systems approach are the real tools of the natural turf professional. There is product that has recently come to market that is used for weed control and an honest assessment of efficacy will be discussed. The concept that a healthy, vigorously growing grass will generally have the ability to stand up to many pest pressures will be stressed.
Choosing the right grass
In a natural turf program, without the ability to intervene with a chemical approach, we have to rely on other factors to get to the point of having a strong turf system. One of these is choosing the right grass. The genetics of turfgrass is critically important in choosing the right grass for the right application. A detailed discussion will be presented on the grasses that we have available and we will look at the strengths and weaknesses of each species.
Revised horticultural practices
Mowing, cultivation, irrigation, and over seeding
Proper horticultural practices move to the forefront in a natural management program. In the absence of applied materials for pest control, these practices become critically important. Often times we have put them in the background in the past. The importance of these practices will be stressed and detailed strategies regarding their implementation will be presented.
Compost and topdressing
Compost and the proper composting process will be addressed from the perspective of product quality and safety. We will discuss topdressing as a strategy for creating healthy turf system that will help us to reduce the reliance on chemical control products. This is not appropriate for every application, but can be a key factor in helping to move a system toward sustainability. Also discussed will be the potential nutrient load that might be realized from the use of compost and how we as stewards of the land need to be aware of this and use it in moderation.
The transition period
In any program that moves from synthetic chemical use or from “organic by neglect” towards a natural approach has to acknowledge that there is a period of time to get the desired results. This time frame is referred to as the transition period. Some of the strategies that we employ during this transition period are critical to future success. As the turf system begins to have the ability to function in a healthy way some of these inputs, both product and labor, experience decline.