Organic fertilizer and natural lawn care promote healthy, green grass while supporting the wildlife, soil, and waterways in your community.
Natural lawn care revolves around the philosophy that healthy soil with a good amount of organic matter has nearly all of the nutrients turfgrass needs to thrive. Build healthy soil by leaving clippings on your lawn, top-dressing with compost when possible, mowing high rather than low when possible, and watering only as needed.
Types of Organic Fertilizers
Organic fertilizer supports natural lawn care by adding nutrients to the soil in a way that promotes good soil health and structure. Organic fertilizers are derived from plant and animal sources. Popular plant sources for organic fertilizers include alfalfa, cottonseed meal, and seaweed. Animal sources include bone meal, bat guano, and manure from chickens, cows, and horses.
When shopping for an organic lawn food, look for a product that contains some soluble nitrogen. Organic nitrogen fertilizer is typically in a slow-release form. The soil will slowly break down the complex nitrogen structures so that plants can use it. Soluble nitrogen, on the other hand, is readily available to plants and will be absorbed quickly, helping grass turn a lush green color.
Organic fertilizer availability varies greatly by region. Visit your local garden center, or talk with a state extension office agent to learn more about organic lawn fertilizers that are readily available and effective for turfgrass in your region.
If you don't want to purchase fertilizer, you can also compost your own! Learn how to make organic compost fertilizer from food waste, leaves, and more.
Time It Right
Timing is important when using any type of fertilizer. Make your first application of organic plant fertilizer about a month after your grass begins actively growing for the season. The timing will vary from mid-March through late May, depending on where you live. Apply a slow-release organic fertilizer that gradually releases nitrogen that the grass can use all summer long.
Spread a second application about one month after the first application if the grass is still actively growing. Don't fertilize if the grass is turning brown and experiencing drought stress. Make a final organic fertilizer application in early fall to promote faster greening and growth the following spring.
Special Note: If you leave clippings on your lawn as you mow, the nitrogen in the clippings will release as the clippings decompose, providing an additional fertilizer application of nitrogen during the year.
If you are transitioning to natural lawn care after having cared for your lawn with the help of traditional chemicals and fertilizers, things will be different. Keep these tips in mind as you work to make your lawn safer for your family and the ecosystem in your community. You are doing good work!
Organic fertilizer does not green up a lawn at the same rate as conventional fertilizers. Organic fertilizers contain complex nitrogen compounds. The soil microorganisms slowly break down the compounds and make the nitrogen—the element responsible for greening up a lawn—available to plant roots. This process takes time.
Look for Organic Fertilizer with Soluble Nitrogen
Soluble nitrogen is ready for absorption upon application. Grass will green up faster when soluble nitrogen is present. This easily absorbed form of nitrogen is especially important in spring and fall, when soil microbes slow down.
Follow Label Directions
Most organic fertilizers contain phosphorus and have the potential to contaminate groundwater. Apply fertilizer as directed, and always sweep fertilizer off solid surfaces and avoid applying it directly to bodies of water.
Begin With a Good Foundation
Organic lawn feed is most environmentally effective when it is paired with natural lawn care practices. Use these tips to guide your lawn care. It's likely that you'll find natural lawn care to be the same amount of work, or even less work, than traditional lawn care.
Water the lawn only when drought stress is evident. Watch for the lawn to appear bluish-gray in color or look for visible footprints after someone walks across the turf. Water early in the morning if you must have a green lawn. Another viable option is to let the lawn go dormant. Cool-season grasses will survive without water for several weeks.
Mow Grass 3 to 4 Inches
Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade at any one mowing. Keep mower blades sharp.
The best way to avoid weeds, insect pests, and fungal diseases is to mow, water, and fertilize to promote healthy turf. Lawn grass with a deep root system, adequate and consistent source of nutrients, and regular mowing will generally be able to fend off any pests and diseases that try to attack it. Intentional lawn management goes a long way toward preventing problems, and it leaves you more time to enjoy your lawn.