Robert R Riley: Turf, Trees, Shrubs, Gardens, Agriculture

This article by Robert R Riley is excellent. Lawn care is still all about the soil. See the full and original article here.

before reading the article, here is a short humorous excerpt from a newspaper text.

org lwn care

Plantain, a perennial weed, has colonised the bare spots on my lawn with rosettes of leaves the size of cocktail napkins. Crab grass waves its crooked arms in the breeze. There is moss in the damp spots. The maples have converted the lawn beneath them to bare dirt. As for the ground near the fir trees, forget it! I was about ready to fall upon my rake. Or worse. A couple of years ago, I actually called a lawn company to come kill the old lawn and start a new one and dose it with plenty of high-nitrogen fertiliser and weed killers.

But I got the eco-jitters, an increasingly common ailment caused by the gap between ecological principles and actual practice. It is worsened by offspring who have been trained to be aware of every ecological nuance. So I called off the assault and decided to call a few organic lawn specialists to see if I could Do the Right Thing, yet recover my ideally, soil aerated, rich matter and pH.

In such grass roots 6 inches proponents say, is that they are low in salts that stunt root growth and high in the humic acids that promote easier uptake of nutrients. Organic matter makes it easier for water and air to get into the soil and also provides a source of food for a healthy population of microbes, which stimulate humus formation and devour thatch. In a healthy lawn, there is seldom a buildup of thatch. But microbes hate acidic soils. So lawn owners usually have to add calcium carbonate lime to the soil to raise the pH to near neutral. But what about the weeds? And what about the bare areas in the shade? Soil improvement alone will not help these conditions. It’s tough to get rid of weeds such as plantain with- . out using poison. When such weeds are hand picked, some part of the taproot usually remains in the ground, so the weeds come right back. An What about and the bare shade? Soil improvement not help conditions. Cinque told me, is to heal the soil .

Robert Riley, owner of Green Pro, a trainer of lawn-care workers in Hempstead, N.Y., agreed. “Soil is paramount,” he said. “And it’s almost always forgotten.” Ideally, soil is well aerated, rich in organic matter and neutral in pH. In such conditions, grass roots will extend 6 inches deep, sometimes more than twice that. What is the usual situation? Slablike soil with a build-up of thatch (a layer of dead grass clippings), lacking organic matter and having a pH just this side of lemon juice. The roots peter out at 2 inches. Sometimes, the weeds that invade a lawn can indicate just how unhealthy the soil is.











Nationally, organic lawn care is a “hot” topic. As if it were something new! It certainly is not. Organic lawn care was exclusively practiced before WWII. After the war, the chemical procedures took over.

There are many misconceptions, myths and outright lies, which have made the subject of organic lawn care almost indefinable.

Chemical lawn care companies claim to offer an “organic” lawn care program, yet often just eliminate pesticides.

Chemical companies hire universities to test their products, making it seem like universities only support chemical programs. In addition, college textbooks for green industry professionals became manuals for chemical product use, totally ignoring the “old way” of maintaining healthy lawns, trees and gardens.

Strong marketing efforts by chemical companies promoting the ease and low cost of “miracle” products, push other options out of consumer consciousness.

Professionals think that using waste products, sewage sludge, manure’s, feathers, dried blood, and machines to punch holes in the ground, constitute an organic lawn care program.

It has only been more recently that the public has become aware of all of the negative side effects of chemical programs.

Until recently, the average homeowner was unaware that truly “organic” programs were available.

No wonder the public is confused. People don’t appreciate what a true organic-based, or organic approach lawn care program is or what it can be. And, sadly there are only a few professionals who understand natural systems well enough, and have available the necessary products and procedures to bring organic lawn care into the twenty-first century by cooperating with natural systems that are immutable.

Organic lawn care is, first and foremost, a methodology, a process, a way of thinking…not just the substitution of “organic-type” products for standard fertilizer formulations, and the automatic elimination of pesticide use because of some “magic.”

Organic lawn care is based upon solid science. First, one must find out what is needed. Then, according to what is needed, specialized organic materials are chosen, applied at the proper time and in the correct quantities. Going organic takes a little more research, however it is practical and cost effective. The end result is a dramatic minimization of chemical usage, and in many cases even elimination. For the practitioner who embraces these practical principles, a healthier, safer environment is the product delivered to their customers.

Organic lawn care can be practiced by the average homeowner using Nature’s Pro® products. Or, if you want your lawn care professional to practice an organic lawn care program for you, he/she can be educated and provided with proven programs by Nature’s Pro®.

What is the basis of an organic approach lawn care program? The soil. WHY?

By Robert R. Riley, Pioneer since 1957 in the Organic Approach for Sustainable Turf & Ornamental Care

What grows in the soil can be no healthier than the soil in which it grows!

The “challenge” then must be obvious. One homeowner has inherited a deep, rich soil; another a measly coating of soil over hard-pan clay, or a sandy soil that simply doesn’t work.

Often, what should be done is to add truckloads of well-rotted compost to the surface and then rototill everything, the grass included, down 6-8 inches. Other materials, amendments recommended by a comprehensive soil analysis, could be incorporated at the same time.

That’s what organic farmers have to do. They plow organic material into their fields every year.

Do you want to rototill up your entire yard? Probably not. It’s unsightly, time consuming, and pretty expensive. Plus, what do you do to keep it healthy after you rebuild your lawn? So the challenge remains.

The solution lies in understanding how to “nurture” the plant AND the soil at the same time.

The secret is oxygen. Oxygen is needed in the root zone of all green plants. Roots cannot grow without oxygen. In addition, oxygen is needed in the soil by a host of hard workers- earthworms, microbes, insects, algae, protozoa, etc., etc. When, and only when, oxygen can freely enter and sustain the LIFE within the soil, can your lawn have the foundation to undertake an organic approach lawn care program. And, no, you CANNOT cause this to happen by poking holes into the soil with a machine or spikes on your shoes. Why, because in 30-60 days the impact is over. Besides, it aerates such a small percentage of the soil, usually less than 5%. Mechanical aeration is not the answer.

After oxygen has been helped to enter the soil, then you have to provide fuel energy for the many life forms within the soil so they can flourish to make the soil truly healthy.

The fuel energy that your soil needs is provided by a product that nature has made for our use. Humates – carbon-rich, mineral-rich, enzyme-rich, with latent microbial life…provides the energy to “feed” the small microbes which then “feed” the larger life within the soil. These hardworking life forms orchestrate a soil-health-sustainable-system which is the foundation for your turf’s health!

Now, you can begin to practice an organic approach! Now, the soil is being “fixed” to promote the growth of turf grass more than weeds. Now, the grass plant is healthy and tough and can withstand diseases. Now, insect pest damage is probably within tolerable limits. Implementing organic programs will continue to improve the quality of any soil, making it more productive and life-sustaining. In the process of improving the soil, all plants, from turf grass to giant redwoods, will be growing in a more supportive, productive, and less stressful (disease-laden) environment.

Just as nature had intended… in order to have healthy plants of all kinds.

Trees and Shrubs

The problem with having healthy trees and shrubs in most residential environments is the environment. Most trees and shrubs prefer to live in the forest, where they can live for many decades without any assistance at all, thank you very much.

Residential environments, on the other hand, make it hard for trees and shrubs to survive for a number of reasons:

  • Inappropriate soil structure
  • Wrong amount of water, poor drainage
  • Wrong amount of sunlight
  • Damage from mowing and trimming equipment
  • Compacted soils
  • Toxicity from products applied to turf, i.e. Turf vs. Trees.

Trees and shrubs can do very well in urban environments and not even require much supporting maintenance if the location can be as similar to the forest as possible. It does not require other trees. It requires the right soil and protection of the root zone.

Things That Trees & Shrubs Hate:

  1. Heavy objects driving over their roots, particularly close to the trunk. Root zones can extend out 2-3 times larger than the crown, the leafy diameter of the tree.
  2. Lawn sprinklers that are constantly making the lower trunk and root flare wet.
  3. Transplanting too low.
  4. Regrading that buries the root flare and part of the trunk. Death may result.
  5. Herbicides
  6. Bark injury due to string trimmers or lawn mowers
  7. Permanently tying wires around trees that limits the flow of nutrients as they grow
  8. Leaving certain types of baskets, cages and balling products on when transplanting
  9. Killing off the microbes in the soil.
  10. Compacted soil.
  11. Too much compost piled up around the truck.
  12. Digging in the root zone, particularly close to the trunk. Cutting off or damaging a large support root may be equivalent to removing an arm or leg from a human being
  13. Excessive pruning – no more than 1/3 of the crown.



How do you “re-create” the forest?

You begin with a comprehensive soil test (not an ag test), similar to the test offered by Prescription Soil Analysis, that looks at 19 different data-points. The Recommendations provide an easy-to-follow program of restoration. Nature’s Pro has a range of products available; liquids, granulars and biologicals, that support optimization of plant health using ingredients that are especially supportive of trees and shrubs.

There are all types of gardens and special plant needs within gardens:

Ground Covers, Shrubs, Flowers, annuals and perennials, Moss, Vegetable Gardens

The list goes on…

Some plants require acid soil, others want less water. Some plants want lots of sunlight and others very little. Most plants need good soil.

We’ll have to leave picking the right plant for the right amount of sunlight up to you, but we can help you with pretty much everything else. We have products that can add lots of organic material or micronutrients. We can add to the life of your soil with live microbes, the result of using compost tea. Some products are liquid and some are granular. Nature’s Pro even has products that can aerate your soil without the use of a machine. So there are many ways we can help.

We suggest you begin at the beginning. It’s important to get a picture of where you are starting. For your body, that is a doctor’s examination. For your plants, you begin with a comprehensive, nutrient-availability soil test, not an agriculture test.

The Prescription Soil Analysis (more about Prescription Analysis – see below) examines many items that a standard test does not, 19 different data points to be exact. Armed with the Recommendations that result from the test(s), you will have a step-by-step plan, not just for the property in general, but each individual bed, or plant type, or vegetable, or individual tree or shrub if you like.

The best way to maintain your gardens is the way that is most natural to them, without a lot of chemicals and control products. By in large, healthy plants do not get sick. Planting quality plants in Healthy Soil, and then managing them, supporting them with balanced food-grade nutrients, conditioning the soil, and providing food sources for the beneficial microbes in the soil, this is what the plants in your gardens prefer.

Nature’s Pro, with 50 years of experience in creating plant-sourced humate products (ideal for plants, soil and soil biology), not animal-sourced products (which are not as compatible to plants), knows what your plants need. We even have food-grade foliar fertilizers with micronutrients that are easy and cost-effective to apply.

To Summarize:

  1. Healthy plants want to grow in as natural environment as possible.
  2. They want an environment that matches their specific pH and nutrient needs.
  3. Healthy plants want to grow in Healthy Soil.
  4. The Prescription Soil Analysis makes specific recommendations to correct poor soil as well as specie-specific nutrient and pH Recommendations for the plant.
  5. Nature’s Pro products are based on plant-sourced ingredients favored by plants.
  6. Nature’s Pro products support all aspects of Healthy Soil including nutrients for plants, food for the soil’s biology, and conditioners to build quality soil structure.



Agriculture today is filled with challenges:

  • The spiraling upward cost of fertilizer, with further increases expected in the future.
  • Increased soil compaction issues.
  • Larger PTO tractors are required to work the compacted soils
  • More expensive seeds with special features, like “Round-up Ready”.
  • Governmental regulations that restrict nutrient application programs.
  • Shrinking yields, in spite of applying more nutrients.
  • Shrinking profit margins, increasing costs with flat or decreasing income.


Are There Options?

Yes. But first, let’s look at some basic principles. The most productive soils:

  • Include at least 5% organic matter.
  • Are teeming with all sorts of biology, including millions of microbes per teaspoon of soil.
  • Are loose, enabling air to penetrate a foot or more into the soil.
  • Drain easily with no pools or puddles after rains.
  • Can store more available water during periods of drought.
  • Work up more easily.
  • Are more productive in both quantity and quality.


Healthy Soils support healthy crops. Healthy soils and the crops they produce require three essential types of inputs:

  1. Nutrients to grow crops
  2. Food sources to feed soil biology
  3. Soil Condioners to maintain proper soil structure and appropriate conditions to support crop production and biological activity, which also supports crop production.

Nature’s Pro products and programs are designed to support these three types of necessary inputs. A simple diagnostic process provides a path to soil health recovery.


Another Option

Where soils are really bad, or as a boost to current nutrient application programs, or as a potential cost savings to current nutrient programs, NP Foliars are what the doctor ordered. These time tested products (over 50 years) absorb directly into the plant membranes (up to 94%), are translocated throughout the plant immediately, and have no negative environmental impact. They are also very cost effective. Click here for more information.

If the birds don’t follow your field equipment looking for earthworms, your soil and your crops are in trouble…


What Chemical-Based Lawn, Tree & Shrub Care Practitioners Do Not Want You To Know!

Side By Side Comparison

Healthy soils, nurtured with specific organic materials – ABSOLUTELY do not need to have holes poked in them with a machine to effect an “aeration.”

A healthy growing environment for turf … absolutely will not cause that turf to develop a destructive layer of dead roots and stems … which is called thatch.

Chemically-dependent plants are weak plants.

Weak plants (turf, trees and shrubs) ATTRACT disease and insect problems.

Improperly nurtured and balanced soils CAUSE “weeds” to grow.

Reacting to all these “problems” with mechanical devices (aerating and de-thatcing), and multitudinous sprays of this and that chemical … earn millions of dollars each week during the season.

Obviously, keeping these facts from the public is a prime concern of many.

Exposing these facts, and then offering materials, programs and procedures to address these moneymaking “problems,” has been the intent of Nature’s Pro®, and many other pioneers, during the last twenty-five years.

It is the public – who is demanding less chemical usage … that is forcing professionals to take another look … a very hard look, at what Nature’s Pro® and others have been doing for decades. It is public opinion that is forcing this revolution … which isn’t a revolution at all, because the organic-approach to landscape care was well entrenched prior to WW II.

However, now the public’s demand for better-looking landscapes, better than what we expected sixty years ago, and maintained at a reasonable cost, has required Nature’s Pro® to develop advanced procedures to meet the public’s demand. This we have done, and continue to improve as we learn and discover more about Natural Systems and our proper role as caretakers.

If this interests you, then maybe you will join us as we “convert” one landscape at a time from chemical-based programs to more natural, organic-based programs of care.