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.