Lawn Care Part 5 – Organic Lawn Fertilizers

In this series of posts we have attempted to provide you with enough information to enable you to make informed decisions on feeding and care of your lawn. In part two we discussed the several types of fertilizers that are available. In part three we discussed the timing for applying fertilizer. We provided tables with general guidelines which you can use to help determine the best fertilization program for you and your lawn. In part four we provided tips for distributing lawn fertilizer. We hope that you take the time to do it right. Too much nitrogen applied improperly can definitely ruin your lawn.

In this post we will discuss organic lawn fertilizers. The primary advantage of these fertilizers is that the slow-release nitrogen sources do not have to be applied as often as do the quick-release sources and that the potential of damaging your grass from over fertilization is greatly reduced. These natural products require the microorganisms in the soil to break them down before grass can use the nutrients contained in them. Complete decomposition of most organic fertilizers takes around two months in warm soil. This means that the nutrient goodness you get from them is steadily introduced into the soil on a slow pace, just like nature intended.

The oldest slow-release products are the natural fertilizers such as compost, cottonseed meal, sewage sludge, and manures. These products are not typically used as turf fertilizer, for obvious reasons. They are normally used as soil conditioners in gardens to add nutrients, to help improve soil structure and to help to retain soil moisture, reducing plant stress due to temporary moisture stress.

There are several commercial organic dry fertilizers, such as Ringers, Espoma, Greensense, and Texas Tee. They 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, alfalfa, cottonseed, corn gluten meal, soy, other grains, as well as blood meal and feather meal. 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, 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. Commercial brands can be found at organic garden supply stores and at some farm and feed stores. The commercial brands might go as high as $30 for a 30-pound bag. A typical retail price for 50 pounds of bulk alfalfa pellets or corn meal is $3-$7 at a farm/feed store. Call around, as prices will vary depending on the availability in your area.

Organics also increase soil biotic activity that is good for everything that resides there including grass roots, earthworm and microbes. All of these things working in tandem creates a super stable structure for the grass to “dig” into and stay healthy for the long haul. Organic lawn fertilizers are an environmentally positive way to produce a lush, vibrant lawn, supporting overall plant growth and health better than chemicals targeted for specific performance.

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Lawn Care Part 4 – Tips for Distributing Lawn Fertilizer

We have written about why and when to fertilize your lawn. We will now discuss how to apply that food your lawn so desperately needs.

Lawn fertilizers are high in nitrogen. Nitrogen can burn the grass if applied improperly. Nitrogen is needed for green leafy top growth, but if too much is applied or if it’s applied on a hot summer day without watering it in, the lawn may be damaged. The best time to plan your fertilizer application is immediately before a rain. The rain will wash the fertilizer into the root zone to be utilized by the grass. If you need to apply when no rain is in sight, you may need to water the fertilizer in to keep from burning the grass. Read the directions on the label!

You can use a number of techniques for applying fertilizer. Drop spreaders, walk-behind broadcasters, hand-held broadcasters, and hose-end sprayers all work well. Hose-end sprayers and hand-held broadcasters are perhaps the best for spot fertilizing, but are inefficient if you’re trying to cover a full lawn area. Hose-end sprayers are only good for applying liquid fertilizers.

Borrow or buy a fertilizer spreader and be sure you understand how to calibrate it for your lawn’s favorite granular food. Big Box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s carry a good selection of spreaders for around $60 that will work well for the average homeowner. Drop spreaders are considered the more efficient, most precise tools for applying granular fertilizer directly and evenly onto a lawn.

Finally, you need to consider your walking speed. The faster your move, the faster the spreader disk spins and the product is spread out wider and less concentrated. If you walk slower, you put down more fertilizer in a smaller pattern. When applying fertilizer, you should “walk with a purpose,” which means not a stroll, but not a power walk either just in between. Walk behind the spreader at a good pace (but don’t run), and make a pattern that covers each area of the lawn only once.

Do not fill the spreader when it is sitting on the lawn. Spilling water-soluble fertilizer causes a large dead spot that persists for weeks. Begin applying the fertilizer by making “header” strips around the border of the lawn. Then start at one edge and go back and forth across the lawn. You’ll want to overlap each pass to avoid missing sections and causing a striped pattern as the lawn grows out, but be sure to turn off the flow on the spreader when you reach the border area to avoid over-fertilizing the perimeter. If you’re using a rotary spreader, you may have coverage problems. If that’s the case, reduce the flow and cut the width of your swaths.

Turn off the spreader when the header strip is reached. Do not turn the spreader while fertilizer is dropping through onto the grass. Such corners are over-fertilized and the grass could be burned. Use caution when applying fertilizer combined with herbicide, especially with broadcast spreaders. These spreaders can throw the material into flower beds where the herbicide can injure desirable ornamental plants, or tree and shrub roots can pick these up from under lawns.

If there is an overlap when using a broadcast spreader, the lawn will acquire a green striped effect. If that’s the case, consider a drop spreader, which makes it much easier to see where fertilizer has already been applied.

A treatment for over-fertilization is the same as one for removing pet urine spots. Water consistently (but not so as to drown the lawn) and the nitrogen and salts should eventually flush out. And finally, always wash out the sprayer over turf or soil — never over concrete. The fertilizer or herbicide may run off the concrete area and into storm drains, which lead directly to creeks, bays and rivers.

Remember, we love your lawn. When it looks good – we look good. If you are in the Atlanta area, call Precision Lawn Care. Let our experts take care of your lawn the professional way.

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