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Adelgids, Clover & Compost, Oh My!

Here’s a wide-ranging question from a SafeLawns.org follower that came in just this morning:

Hi Paul,

First let me thank you for your efforts to spread the importance of learning and practicing Organic Gardening. I live on Long Island and I am acutely aware of the enormous amount of pesticides that are dumped on lawns to create that perfect patch of green, without regard to the consequences. So I am glad to a be a part of this very important movement.

I wanted to ask your opinion on how I might tackle the adelgid bug that has taken up residence on my hemlocks. In the past I did have them routinely sprayed but I got weary of the unending expense to keep up with them. I do have to replace two of them but the other 6 are ok and I want to protect them safely if possible. What would you suggest. And what type of evergreen would you recommend to replace the 2 hemlocks that need to be at least 10ft tall to match the others.

Also, I have read on your site that clover is a natural nitrogen source for the lawn. I have learned to deal with the clover. I do go around and pull it up so it does not totally take over but this year it has gotten out of hand. I have patches of clover that are taking over the lawn. Is there anything that can be done to keep at bay without of course using chemicals?

And last, I was told by a nursery where I plan to buy a lot of compost for my beds, that compost on the lawn does not do anything. From what I have read of your work, you would not agree to that yes? So, should I lay down some compost on the lawn along with organic fertilizer. I have not fertilized since the first spring feeding and that was done by my landscaper who did not use organic. I only have him do spring and fall prep, we do the rest.

Thanks kindly for you insight and ideas
Karen in Floral Park.

Dear Karen,
That’s quite a question. Here’s a pass at the answers:

1) Wooly adelgid — This insect pest has decimated the hemlocks of the Eastern forest for the past decade and, unfortunately, a certain inevitability exists here. The hemlock forest will be gone as we know it before long. Each individual needs to decide if it’s worth the trouble and expense of spraying with dormant oil in the spring EVERY YEAR for eternity. Replacement trees is probably the way to go. The Arnold Arboretum is testing Chinese hemlocks with some success, but these are very slow growing. Unfortunately, no other evergreen really possesses hemlocks’ shade tolerance. But if you have a full-sun area, then Eastern white pines and any number of spruces will do the trick.

Clover — An abundance of clover is a sign that your soil is craving nitrogen and given that you haven’t fertilized in a while, that explains all the clover. Clover is a legume that fixes atmospheric nitrogen to its roots and all lawns should have at least 5 to 10 percent clover. A good dose of high nitrogen fertilizer later this fall — corn gluten works well — will leave you with less clover next year.

Compost — Whoever told you that compost doesn’t do any good on the lawn is flat-out wrong. Try to find a good, bulk source of compost and spread a half-inch layer across your entire lawn at least once a year. This will give your soil a good base from which all other fertilizer applications can thrive.

Hope this helps.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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  • Cristobal Colon

    Perhaps the person telling Karen that compost doesn’t do anything is correct when it is applied to a traditionally chemicaled lawn. We all know that it does work when used with organic methods.

    Thoughts on this Paul?

    • Paul Tukey

      Cristobal,
      Applying a layer of compost to an existing lawn — provided we’re talking about a good grade of “finished” compost that is full of micronutrients — is valuable if the lawn is treated organically or chemically. But it is true that you’ll see the results of applying the compost faster if you are already tending your lawn with organic methods.

  • Rosanne Aman

    Howdy,
    I also have quite a lot of clover and I used corn gluten in April. I recently read an article entitled “Redefining Lawns” by Kristie Keith. She recommends encouraging the clover as it makes a better lawn than grass. I am inclined to think she has a good point, especially in certain situations. What do you think?

    Rosanne
    in Wisconsin

    • Paul Tukey

      Absolutely agree. Most American lawns were judged by the amount of the clover present prior to the widespread arrival of an herbicide known as 2,4-D in the 1960s. Clover is low-growing, drought tolerant, evergreen, makes its own fertilizer . . . what’s not to like? Don’t get me going. I’ll post more on this later.

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