Photo courtesy of Professor Christians
I met my friend, Karen, the other day. She looked upset and I asked her what was wrong. She sobbed,
“I just lost my 2 beautiful dogs to cancer in the last year. They were wonderful dogs. I spoke to the breeder about why both of my dogs died of cancer and she told me the cancer gene runs in their breed. I started thinking about all the pesticides that I have used in my yard over the years, especially to banish crabgrass. Could the pesticides have caused cancer in my dogs? They spent so much time outside romping around the lawn. So, I decided to look into more organic ways to take care of my garden. What do you suggest?”
Karen knew she could turn to her eco-minded friend to rid her lawn of crabgrass without using toxic chemicals. She reminded me that spring is just around the corner. I am also facing this very dilemma because my lawn is new and is eighty percent crabgrass. Pulling it out was not the answer. I tried that last year and the crabgrass just laughed at me and said in true Schwarzenegger style, “I’ll be back!”
I had told Karen that we should use corn gluten to treat the crabgrass but I needed to do some more research to make it was a viable alternative. So off I went to do my homework.
Could Corn Gluten Be the Answer to Banish Crabgrass?
I was on a mission to help my friend and started my research. I immediately found Iowa State’s Corn Gluten Meal Research Page featuring Professor Nick Christians. His research led to the discovery of corn gluten as a herbicide. But where can I buy it, I wondered. The website listed so many distributors with products that had different names. Where they all the same products but with different names?
In addition, as I continued my research I ran across the notion that corn gluten might be a genetically modified product. That raised a red flag. Would this harm my vegetable garden? Furthermore, it was confusing as to when to apply the product since it appeared from the general internet consensus that it is better to apply the corn gluten too early than too late. Some advised to apply it before your second cutting of the Spring. But what happens if my second cutting was too late? The questions were endless, and I needed an expert. The last thing I wanted to is give Karen the wrong advice.
Is Corn Gluten GMO?
I took a chance and called Professor Christians. When I reached him, I asked him all of my questions. Of course, my first question was about corn gluten being a GMO product. He explained the product is a byproduct of the corn, and even as a GMO product, it will not alter anything in my garden or soil.
I asked him why they have not created non-GMO corn gluten, and he told me that this version would be very expensive. So, I asked again how he knew that the applied corn gluten did not cause any genetic modifications in the soil or the turf. He replied,
“I have put it on the same plots for more that 17 years and have seen no detrimental effects. In fact, the plots look great every summer.”
If you are uncomfortable with using a GMO product no matter what the research shows, this is not the product for you.
When Do You Apply Corn Gluten
Professor Christians recommended applying the corn gluten in the Midwest and North when the forsythia begin to bloom. This is an easier marker to remember than waiting for your second lawn cut.
In the coastal Pacific Northwest, you should apply corn gluten around March 15. In the South, he suggested that you apply it in February. Apply corn gluten with a spreader at a rate of twenty pounds per thousand square feet.
However, in order to not miss a spot in your lawn, apply ten pounds of the corn gluten in one direction and then begin again at a ninety degree angle (a crisscross pattern) and apply the balance of the corn gluten to your lawn. Corn gluten is applied again in the late summer for perennial weeds reduction.
When applying corn gluten, you must wait at least six weeks before seeding your lawn. However, it is best to seed your lawn in the fall. In my case, I will not be using the corn gluten in the late summer because I am still trying to establish a lawn.
Since I live in the North, the best time to seed is late summer, which is also the time you would apply the corn gluten.
When Will you Banish Crabgrass for Good?
It takes three years of spring applications before you see the end results. According to the literature I read on the Iowa State’s Corn Gluten website, the first year you should expect to see about a fifty percent reduction in crabgrass. In the second year, you should see an 85 percent reduction with the caveat that you applied the herbicide correctly.
In addition, corn gluten works best in dry conditions. If there is excessive rain, then the effectiveness of the corn gluten will be diminished. Be patient!! Crabgrass is pretty stubborn.
Since corn gluten is comprised of ten percent nitrogen, it is also a great fertilizer for your spring application. Nitrogen causes your lawn to become dense and green. In addition to killing crabgrass, the Corn Gluten Fact sheet on the EPA website lists that corn gluten reduces root formation in eleven other weeds.
It takes five to six weeks to decompose and in the meantime, it deters the growth of any seed that is emerging in that time frame. Conversely, due to its nitrogen content, any weeds that exist will be fertilized by the corn gluten.
Test Your Lawn to Insure You Buy the Right Product
How do you know which product to buy? Each product is composed of other nutrients other than corn gluten. Everyone should test their soil every three years to find out what nutrients their lawn needs by obtaining a soil test kit at your local county agricultural extension or buy a kit through the internet. Soil testing should be done each year thereafter if your lawn is deficient in any nutrient until your lawn is healthy.
I actually tested my soil last year because it was a brand new lawn. I was given a detailed report of what my lawn needed. Buy the product that contains the ingredients your lawn needs based on your soil test. For example, my lawn needs phosphorus because it was a meadow before we built our house. I would buy a product containing this additional ingredient.
Would Wildlife Be Attracted to the Corn Gluten?
My friend, Karen, asked me would wildlife camp out at to your property because of the free food. Corn gluten is also in dog food. I thought that was a great question because I already had enough wildlife at my property and did not need to announce there was an all you can eat buffet waiting for my animal friends. Professor Christians assured me that animals would not be attracted to the gluten.
So, whatever happened to my friend, Karen? After my conversation with Professor Christians, I immediately called Karen to tell her of my findings. Karen misses her dogs so much she has started to look for a new puppy who will romp freely on an organic lawn. (Ah, another organic convert.)
As for me, well, stay tuned and I will let you know how my first corn gluten experience was. For information about where to buy corn gluten, go to the following site to see who distributes it in your area.
Special thanks go to Professor Nick Christians for all of his help (and patience) in developing this article.
Additional follow-up articles on how my lawn fared with corn gluten, read: