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Organic Lawn Fertilizer Options

More people are asking for information regarding organic lawn care. Many people want to decrease or eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in their home lawns. There is some concern that synthetic lawn products may be harmful to humans, beneficial insects, wildlife, and pets.

With proper knowledge, the homeowner can use naturally occurring resources to maintain a home lawn without using so-called synthetic products.

The term "conventional lawn care" implies the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides applied by a homeowner or lawn care service. Natural organic lawn care is different from conventional lawn care. Soil can be improved by adding organic matter such as compost (made from plant wastes), certain animal manures (chiefly composted cow, chicken, or horse manures) and other naturally occurring substances.

Improving the soil contributes to healthy plants less susceptible to damage from pests or other environmental stresses. Fertilizer is applied less often than in conventional lawn care, but timing of that application becomes especially important.

Weeds, insects, and diseases are managed by cultural practices oriented toward prevention. Natural organic methods also emphasize the recycling of organic wastes.

Limited scientific research has been done on exclusively natural organic lawn care programs. However, well-documented research has been done on many practices that are integral to organic lawn care such as core aeration, mowing height, and top-dressing with compost.

Recommendations for a completely natural organic approach are therefore based on years of collective experience.

How do I fertilize organically?

Read also: Sea Kelp | Manure/Compost | Soil Amendments | Mulching

Commercial organic dry fertilizers, such as Epsoma, Ringers, Greensense, and Texas Tee, are protein based and must be digested by soil microbes before the nitrogen becomes available to the roots. The ingredients of these commercial fertilizers include ground corn, feather meal, alfalfa, cottonseed, corn gluten meal, soy, and other grains.

Any ground seed or bean is good as an organic fertilizer including used coffee grounds. You can often find these same ingredients in bulk form at farm or feed stores. A good application rate for these grain based fertilizers is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Organic fertilizer may be applied any day, any time of day, rain or shine, and at any amount without fear of hurting the turf. Give it 3 weeks for the microbes to process the protein before the benefit is seen in the grass. After 200 years of an Nitrogen - Potash - Potassium (NPK) mentality toward fertility, university researchers are just now returning to study soil microbes and protein based microbe food. As yet, not much has been published. Industry and consumers are leading the way on protein fertilizers.

How do I get started in an organic program?

Getting started is as easy as stopping the use of chemicals. You can easily replenish the microbes with a thin layer of compost. The next thing to do is start using protein based fertilizers like corn meal, alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, soy meal, cottonseed meal, sorghum meal, or what ever you can get inexpensively at your local feed supply store.

Are organic fertilizers better than conventional fertilizers?

Whether a fertilizer is organic or synthetic, after applied to the lawn it must convert to a form the plant can use. Once converted, the plant does not know the difference as to the nitrogen source. One of the advantages associated with organic sources is low chance of burning grass. Some synthetic fast-release sources have high salt levels that increase the chances of burning. On the other hand, most synthetic controlled-release sources are very unlikely to burn grass.

A drawback of many organic nitrogen sources is the percent nitrogen is quite low, meaning it takes considerable material to be spread over the lawn to give the proper rate of nitrogen. Some materials, such as compost, are best used as a soil conditioner to improve soil quality, rather than to supply nutrients.

Furthermore, most organic and some synthetic fertilizer sources rely on soil microbes to break them down to release nitrogen, so they do not work when soils are cold. So as you can see, there are tradeoffs to consider when making these comparisons.