Benefits of Organic Compost
in Fighting Lawn Diseases

Quality organic matter found in organic compost is one of the most important elements of healthy lawns. However, compost has far more benefits than just improving soil conditions and providing nutrients. Depending on the starting materials used composts are extremely effective in controlling turfgrass diseases as well. As little as 10 lbs per 1000sq. ft. of compost per month has been shown to suppress diseases such as dollar spot, brown patch/large patch, summer patch, pythium blight, typhula blight, red thread and others.

Organic Compost Vs Fungicides

Currently, the most often used method of combating lawn diseases is with fungicides. However, many diseases have developed immunities against various fungicides. Not only that, but beneficial microorganisms are also harmed by the frequent or over use of fungicides. With a decline in microbes that are antagonistic to disease causing microorganisms, if a disease does begin, it will often be more severe.

This is where composts can be very beneficial. In the agricultural industry, organic composts have been used successfully to suppress diseases on both an experimental and commercial basis. It is proving to be just as effective on turfgrass as well. Organic composts when used properly can work continuously benefiting the lawn while fighting back harmful pathogens.

Facts When Starting Organic Compost

The starting materials that are used for developing compost are extremely important to consider. Why? Because, to date, there is no reliable method of predicting the disease suppression ability of any given material since the recolonizing of beneficial microbes are left to chance.

The best way to ensure you end up with a quality compost is to make sure you begin with the best materials. Researchers understand that different starting materials contain varying amounts of beneficial microorganisms. Additionally, compost at different stages of decomposition will greatly alter the disease suppression ability as well as the types of diseases they will control.

Some of the best starting materials include manures and sewage sludges, food, agricultural and lawn wastes. Materials with the least disease-suppressive properties include sand and sphagnum peats.

These last two are used largely in the professional golf and sports industry as topdressing, but can be used by homeowners. They serve an important purpose, but if disease suppression is part of your goal then these less suppressive materials should be replaced or combined with the more disease suppressive types.

If you are using a commercial organic compost, look at the label to see what ingredients were used.

What to Consider When Making Your Own Compost

There is much division among people about the need to compost as opposed to using raw uncomposted manures and other materials. Many people use raw manures around ornamental plants as well as vegetable gardens.

Uncomposted materials may contain disease causing organisms that would normally be killed after it is composted. There is also a chance of spreading disease when eating vegetables grown with uncomposted manures. When I was visiting Kenya, Africa we were strictly advised not to eat vegetables because, in that area, they used untreated human waste for fertilizer and diseases were common as a result.

When making compost, using compost recipes, etc. success is dependent on the technique used. Failure to maintain the proper conditions necessary for rich compost could jeopardize the quality and its disease fighting ability.

Below are a few facts to consider.

  • Organic compost is produced completely by the action of microorganisms. It will need a lot of oxygen to begin and complete decomposition. To provide the necessary oxygen your compost pile will frequently need to be turned. If there is a period of low oxygen conditions it could become anaerobic. 
  • Anaerobic compost is toxic. When this happens the compost can become toxic from lack of oxygen, and if used, could harm or kill desirable plants. One of the signs of an anaerobic condition is a foul odor. Properly maintained compost will have an earthy smell and no bad odor.
  • Using a compost starter will speed the process along. When making compost, the use of a compost tumbler, compost barrel, or a compost bin is helpful. They can be purchased or you can easily build a compost bin from scrap lumber.
  • Be sure to allow for complete decomposition. As a general rule, the longer the compost is allowed to cure, the more numerous and diverse the microorganisms become.
  • The size of the compost pile is also important. It needs to be large enough to be self-insulating. This means that the heat that is developed internally should not be able to escape. However, the pile should not be too large and heavy as too compact and reduce air exchange.

The Three Phases of Compost Development

When all conditions are favorable, the compost should proceed through the first of three phases.

  • The first phase should last for one day to several days in length. During this period the internal temperature begins to rise, resulting in the mass growth of mesophilic microorganisms. Mesophilic refers to moderate temperature microorganisms. At this time the most fragile materials begin to degrade.
  • The second phase begins when internal temperatures approach 110 degrees. The mesophilic microorganisms are replaced by thermophilic (high temperature) microorganisms. Even though their numbers are far less than it was during the mesophilic phase, they are responsible for decomposition of more resistant materials such as cellulose and hemicellulose. 
  • This 2nd stage may last for several months depending on the materials used and their cellulose content. These higher temperatures require more oxygen, so careful attention should be paid as to how often the compost pile is turned.
  • The 3rd and last phase is when all the cellulose is consumed. At this point the compost pile begins to cool and starts to stabilize and cure. As it cools, the theromphilic microorganisms are replaced by mesophilic microorganisms once again. A longer cure time will result in a more diverse microflora.

Other benefits of organic compost

Other important benefits of organic compost are as follows:

  • Organic composts can substantially increase soil CEC (cation exchange capacity). In fact, composts have approximately ten times higher CEC than most loam soils. The higher CEC allows the soil to retain a larger amount of nutrients that can be used throughout the year.
  • Most composts tend to have near neutral pH. Soils amended with compost will often record pH levels similar to the compost used.
  • Organic compost amended soils break down pesticides and other chemicals faster than soils that have not been amended with compost.
  • Composts combined with sewage sludge appears to be the formula for bioremediation of soils. Bioremediation is a word that refers to the use of organics to clean contaminated soil by rapidly breaking down pollutants.

Organic Top Dressing for Lawns

Top dressing is relatively new for home lawns, but has been used for years in the sports industry. Find the best materials, methods, and techniques for top dressing your lawn.

Understanding Organics and Organic Lawn Fertilizer

Organics is often misunderstood. Click the link for an unbiased look at organics and how they are best used.

Manure as Fertilizer and for Top Dressing

Livestock manure may be the original organic fertilizer. Both compost manure and raw manure can be used. Find complete information about safely using manure as fertilizer for your lawn and garden along with its benefits, precautions, and more.

Secrets to Using Less Fertilizer while Improving Uptake

Developing deep and far reaching grass roots is a major factor for increased nutrient uptake and less fertilization. Find specific and proven techniques for improved root growth.

Soil Microorganisms

Soil Microorganisms are essential for all plant life. Click here to learn about the different types of soil microbes, the conditions they are most active in and the best ways to stimulate them.

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