Spring is in the air, birds are chirping, and the forsythias and daffodils are starting to bloom. In conventional lawn care, late March is the time of the year many are broadcasting pre-emergent herbicide products to prevent weed seeds from germinating. Since this is an organic lawn care series, what can you use that consists of natural ingredients to prevent weed germination?

The answer… corn gluten meal! Corn gluten meal is a by-product from the wet-milling process of corn when making corn syrup. Corn gluten is found as an additive in most livestock feed, dog foods and fish foods. Dr. Nick Christians from Iowa State University discovered its magical property to suppress seed germination and patented this product. The extremely high protein content in corn gluten is the hidden secret that prevents seeds from germinating.

Just like conventional herbicidal pre-emergent timing is very crucial when applying corn gluten. It is typically late March or early April when soil temperature rises above 50 degrees. A good rule of thumb is to apply your pre-emergent when the forsythia and daffodils start to bloom. It takes four to six weeks for the corn gluten to break down, which is approximately the seed germination time for cool season weeds. It is also recommended apply corn gluten again in mid-September for the first couple of years, unless you are reseeding your lawn. Some experts feel that the fall application is not required since we have harsh winters and winter weed germination is not usually an issue in northeast Ohio.

It is recommended to use the pelletized or granulated over the powdery form. Apply the corn gluten at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Dump the contents in a spreader and broadcast the pellets. If it does not rain within a few days after applying corn gluten to your lawn, then it is highly recommended to water your lawn to start the breakdown process before seeds take root. You also need a day or two of what is called the drying period for pre-emergent products to work properly.

Corn gluten is more than a pre-emergent, it is also a fertilizer! It contains about 10 percent of nitrogen or 4 pounds per 1,000 square foot. It releases slowly adding nitrogen to your soil and grass for several months. Since this nitrogen is released slowly there is no browning of your grass nor killing of beneficial microbes in your soil.

Like any other pre-emergent, corn gluten will not work on existing weeds. It will only prevent new seeds from germinating when applied properly. You will still need to manually pull existing weeds, use organic broad-leaf herbicide or torch them (which we will cover in a future article). By changing your mowing behavior, core aerating, overseeding and testing your soil, you will create a healthy environment to assist with your battle on weeds.

Be sure to follow the labels and proper instructions on your product’s bag. The nice thing is your pets and children do not have to wait 48-72 hours before playing on the treated lawn. In fact, because its chemical free and safe, you can even enlist your children to help you apply it! This spring is the right time to take that first step toward organic lawn care with a healthy dose of corn gluten meal!

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