Easy and Affordable Organic Lawn Fertilizing Program

When it comes to organic lawn fertilizers there are many options and different people will find different products useful. I came up with two organic lawn fertilizing schedules that should be effective in many parts of the northeast. I'll be comparing it to a synthetic 4-step lawn program that would cost $24 per 1,000 sq ft per year.

You can use this program to help guide you toward developing your own organic lawn care program.

First thing you should do, if you haven't already, is send a soil sample in to your local cooperative extension because good soil is important if you want a healthy lawn. If your soil's pH is acidic you'll need to add lime. If it's low in organic matter, you'll want to top dress your lawn with 1 cubic yard of compost per 1,000 square feet of lawn. The other major nutrients you should pay attention to are phosphorus and potassium because they are important to grass growth and health.

While you're waiting for your soil test, it's a good idea to measure or map out your lawn areas. Since anything you apply to your lawn will need to be done based on a rate for 1,000 square feet, it's important to know how many sq ft of actual lawn you have. If you know your lot size from your property survey, you should be able to easily subtract the house footprint, driveways, walkways and pathways to get a good estimate.

The most important nutrient you add to your lawn to keep it green is nitrogen (N). Unlike phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), your lawn will use up a lot of nitrogen where the other two will stay in your soil a long time and don't need as much replenishment. With the traditional synthetic 4 step program, you wind up putting 3.26 lbs nitrogen, 0.1 lbs phosphorous and 0.01 lbs of potassium per 1,000 sq ft of lawn each year. If your soil test indicates you need phosphorous or potassium, you'll need to factor that in.

How much nitrogen does a lawn need?

A typical cool season lawn needs 4lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft each year. This will help it grow thick and green.

We're only going to aim to put around 3lbs/1k sq ft down, which is about what the synthetic program applies. About a quarter of the nitrogen will come from not bagging your clippings. As the lawn clippings decompose, they will deliver nitrogen back into the soil. You can adjust this up or down to suit your needs and soil conditions. Unlike with synthetic fertilizers, it's very hard to over apply organics and burn your lawn. For example, the synthetic fertilizers can contain around 30% nitrogen while the most potent organic will contain only 11%. You'd smother your lawn or hurt your back carrying enough bags to provide a burning amount. The organic fertilizers tend to work a bit slower too.

When you mow, remember it's best to leave your grass long (3-3.5") and cut it frequently enough so you never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time. So when it gets to 4.5" cut it to 3" or if you're cutting it to 3.5" you can let it grow to 5.25". Also make sure your mower blade is sharp. Sharpening or changing your blade can be dangerous, so make sure you find instructions on how to do it right or someone that knows what they're doing to do it for you.

There are two different versions. One is just fertilizer, the other has some extra amendments to help the fertilizers out. Both should help you with your organic lawn care program. Choose the one that fits your maintenance and cost requirements.

To make it easier to determine the correct spreader settings, I used the application rates recommended by the manufacturer and worked the program around that.

Just Organic Fertilizer

This organic lawn care program is just a fertilization schedule. For most people, this is more than they want to do with their lawn. It's a very easy program to follow consisting of 3 applications that will deliver 3.45lbs of nitrogen, .03lbs phosphorus and .001lbs of potassium.

The cost of the program would be $37 per 1,000 sq ft per year which is not to bad compared to the $24 synthetic cost. You should be able to find these items locally but if you can't, shipping will only add about $10/1k sq ft to the cost. It's a small price to pay for the benefits of not spreading potentially dangerous chemicals.

You'll need two different fertilizers here. One for the spring and another for the remaining applications. Alternately, you could use the spring fertilizer throughout the year but it might be cheaper and easier to use two different ones.

Early Spring - when the forsythia bloom you want to apply 20 lbs per 1,000 sq ft of Corn Gluten Meal (CGM). This is going to be around early to mid March when the soil temperature gets to be above 55 degrees for a few days at a time. The CGM applied at that rate will provide more than half of the nitrogen we plan on applying the whole year. It will release slowly though. The reason for the heavy application is that CGM acts as a mild pre-emergent for crabgrass and some other weeds when applied at that rate. This will help annual weed seeds from germinating.

This is not the same thing as cornmeal so don't run out to your supermarket to get some. While cornmeal can serve as a fertilizer, you would have to add two and a half times as much and you wouldn't get the crabgrass prevention.

CGM is sometimes hard to find locally. If you have a feed store nearby or a good garden center, you might be able to get it there. The types that are made specifically for use as a fertilizer are sometimes granulated which makes them easier to spread than regular meal which is like flour. If you're using a rotary spreader, you're going to create a dust storm. If you can't find it locally, click on the picture (above right) to order it online. Shipping isn't too bad but one 40lb bag only covers 2,000 square feet.

If you're planning on overseeding your lawn, it's best to wait until fall. If there are dead or thin spots you need to reseed, do not spread CGM in those areas as it might prevent the grass seeds from germinating.

Late Summer - Sometime between late April and early July, depending on how your grass is looking, you'll apply another round of fertilizer. If you want, you can apply CGM again at half the rate (10lbs/1k ft^2) but it's going to be a little bit cheaper and better to use something else.

Either Scotts Organic Care Lawn Food at 7.5lbs/1k sq ft or Organica Lawn Booster at 10lbs/1k sq ft. The Scotts Organic Fertilizer has a little higher concentration of nitrogen and may be easier to find locally, but the Organica Lawn Booster also has some beneficial bacteria and fungi that will help your lawn. If you can't find Organica Lawn Booster near by, shipping isn't too bad, especially if you get more than one bag of product at the same time. If you're getting them through Amazon, using the links in the photos, try and find merchants that are selling all the products you need and order them all at the same time. You can save on shipping and won't have to worry about forgetting to order anything later in the season.

Mid-Late Fall - Somewhere between late August and early November, before the frost comes, maybe after you've taken care of your fall leaves, apply another round of fertilizer. You can use what was used in late summer at the same rate. If you don't have a compost pile for your leaves, you can just mow your leaves into your grass, which will provide them with some nutrients and organic matter. The chopped leaves break down pretty quickly but you may want to make two passes over the lawn in different directions to get them as small as you can.

Organic Lawn Program

This next program is very similar to the last but it adds some more organic treatments that will help your soil and grass. If you're transitioning from a synthetic program or your lawn needs some extra help, this might be better for you as well as adding some compost to your lawn as discussed earlier.

Early Spring - Just like before (when forsythia bloom, around early March), apply Corn Gluten Meal at 20lbs per 1,000 sq ft. This will fertilize the lawn and act as a mild crabgrass pre-emergent.

Late Spring - Somewhere between late April and June, apply Organica Kelp Booster to your lawn at a rate of 4lbs/1k sq ft.

This is a biostimulant that contains plant growth hormones, micronutrients, vitamins & amino acids. Stimulates healthy turf growth, increases root development. Provides turf with essential micronutrients, amino acids & vitamins. It provides turf with increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, foot traffic). Rich in calcium (essential for cell wall development & plant growth).

The effects of Kelp will help your grass grow stronger to be able to deal with the stresses that come with summer. This is a good article that describes the benefits of kelp.

Besides Amazon, one of the cheapest places I found to get Organica Kelp Booster is Yardiac.com
Early Summer - Around mid to late August apply an organic fertilizer such as Scotts Organic Choice Lawn Food at 7.5lbs/1k sq ft or Organica Lawn Booster at 10lbs/1k sq ft. This will give your lawn some food to help it start recovering from the heat of summer.

Late Summer - This is a good time to put down 4lbs/1k sq ft of Organica Microbial Soil Conditioner which contains beneficial soil bacteria, actinomyces, fungi, vitamins, amino acids. provides turf with increased resistance to environmental extremes (drought, heat, foot traffic). Improves nutrient availability (solubilizes P, K, Ca, Mg and fixes atmospheric N). Rich in calcium (essential for cell wall development & plant growth). Improves soil structure, increases humus levels.

We usually attribute bacteria and fungi as bad things, but there are many good bacteria and fungi. These are important to the soil and plants to help them fight off the bad bacteria and fungi.

Both the Soil Conditioner and Kelp Booster have a base of calcium carbonate, which is limestone. Keep that in mind if you are already applying limestone or have alkaline soil. It shouldn't be too much to throw off the pH of your soil.

Yardiac.com usually also carries Organica Microbial Soil Conditioner. If you order the Kelp Booster at the same time you save on shipping.

Late Fall - This is your last treatment of the year. Apply fertilizer as you did in the early summer to help your lawn store up food over winter. This application goes down in early November.

Final Thoughts

The above programs should work well in most situations and give your lawn a good feeding to help it grow thick and healthy, along with proper mowing and watering.

The prices aren't too bad compared to a normal 4-step synthetic program but you are going to lose a lot of the weed killers and pesticides and you might need to come up with alternatives to those if you develop a problem. Once your lawn starts growing thick, it will crowd out the weeds. Until then, you should pull as many as you can from time to time. A little bit of white vinegar sprayed onto many weeds will help kill them.

For some tougher weeds, you might need to reapply for 2-3 days. This will also kill the grass in the surrounding area so try and be careful with your spray and prepare to reseed if necessary. The best advice is to accept a less than weed-free lawn, especially for the first year or two.

Hopefully this helps you get started and you learn more as you go.
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