Organic Lawn Care
Lawn care consists of fertilization, pest control, mowing and watering. Fertilization maintains or improves the growth of the grass plants in the lawn. Pest control is the control of the population of weeds, insects and diseases present in the lawn environment. Complete elimination of pests is impractical and impossible to achieve. Mowing maintains the proper density and composition of the lawn. And, timely watering keeps the lawn growing well throughout the season.
Organic lawn care can vary in intensity from completely organic to practically organic. Starting with the source of nutrients being "natural" as opposed to "chemical", from a practical point of view the source of the nutrient being "natural" or "chemically" derived is of no true consequence to the plant using the nutrient. A molecule of available Nitrogen is the same regardless of source. A molecule of Ammonia emitting from wet organic fertilizer that has been applied to a lawn smells just like the milking parlor of yore. The point of contention appears to be over the source of the Nitrogen component of the fertilizer, where some folks say "natural" is good and "chemical" is bad for lawns.
Generally speaking organic fertilizers are slower to release than inorganic fertilizer. Inorganic fertilizers are treated to become slower to release. Slow release can be a good property for a fertilizer as it reduces the potential for a surge in growth. It is claimed that organic fertilizers will not burn a lawn. However, if one were to apply any uncomposted manure (an organic fertilizer) to a lawn in the amount required to obtain a growth response, you would run a high risk of burning the lawn with it.
Most commercially available organic fertilizers are processed and bagged in factories much the same way inorganic fertilizers are processed. Much of the nutrients in a bag of fertilizer are naturally derived from minerals and compounds available in the environment. These minerals are just concentrated in the bag for more efficient application.
Chemical fertilizer sources are as follows: Urea, the prime source for Nitrogen used in inorganic fertilizer, is derived from processing natural gas and ammonia in a refractory column. The resulting solid is then milled, shaped, and possibly coated for slow release. Super phosphate is predominately used for the Phosphous component of lawn fertilizers and is "natural" as it is minerally derived. The Potassium can come from Potassium Chloride or Potassium Sulphate. Both are natural minerials. Potassium Sulphate has less burn potential and lower salt index for your lawn because it does not contain Chlorides.
Organic fertilizer sources are as follows: Composted manure (animal and human), waste offal (uncomsumable animal parts - feathers, bones and other cartilage) and plant parts (shells, seeds, and skins), and many other amino acid sources are used in organic fertilizer factories. The material is molded, milled, and coated to make it uniform for application,
Choosing organic fertilization can be expensive. There is a major difference between organic and inorganic fertilizers and that is the concentration of the available nutrients. In inorganic fertilizer the concentration is 2 to 5 times greater than the organic fertilizer. Therefore, in order to apply the same amount of nutrient to a given area it takes 4 or 5 times more of the organic fertilizer. It also takes 2 to 5 times longer to make the application. In addition, manufacturers charge 2 to 3 times more for a bag of organic fertilizer compared to a bag of inorganic fertilizer. This means you could be charged more for the additional material and the time to make the application of the additional material.
Run-off of lawn chemicals into lakes and ponds are another area of contention in prescribing the use of organic versus inorganic fertilizers. The lake and pond eutrophication problems are from naturally occurring sources of nutrients in the environment around the lakes and ponds. Using organic fertilizer will not make a noticeable difference in the amount of nutrients in the run-off from a treated area. Organic fertilizers coming from uncontrolled septic systems, composting vegetation, and fall leaf burning on the beach are contributing to the weed and algae growth in lakes and ponds at a greater degree than lawn care run off. A healthy turf of rye, blue and or fescue that is wider than 10 feet is a natural filter that will screen run-off from lawn care products, organic or in-organic. Inorganic fertilizers can be made without phosphates in them and therefore reduce the "phosphate" load on a lake or pond. Organic fertilizers all contain a certain amount of phosphates.
Organic pesticides such as pyrethrethum (a derivative of chrysthamum, used as an insecticide) and corn gluten (used as a herbicide) are all processed commercially and require the same EPA restrictions and testing as the inorganic chemicals that duplicate the natural organic chemistry. These organic, third and fourth generation pesticides are engineered and manufactured to be environmentally sound when applied according to label directions. Home brews of organic horticultural "teas" are questionable as to their level of toxicity in the environment. Just because the brews are from "natural" elements does not mean they are safe to use.
The use of natural products can cause unintended consequences by attracting nuisance animals, insects and fungi when broadcast over a lawn. Putting down 20 pounds of cracked corn certainly pleases the squirrels as well as reducing certain weeds. Placing alfalfa hay on the ice to control water weeds can lead to increased oxygen demand, kill some of the fish and add to the muck layer on the bottom of a pond. Organic remedies need to be thoroughly investigated before being applied to the environment on a large scale.
In contrast, Gyphosate (Round-up), a non-selective herbicide, becomes inert when it comes in contact with naturally occurring Aluminum in the clay component of the soil. It can not be mixed with muddy water and be effective in the control of weeds. Merit, an insecticide used for the control of grubs in lawns, becomes systemic in the grass plants and does not run off into the lakes. The environment is protected through EPA testing and the correct application of the product in the environment.
Some organic lawn care steps you can take to improve your lawn environment are as follows:
- Core aerate the lawn at least once a year to allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate deeper to the roots.
- Overseed in the Early Fall with improved varieties of grass.
- Use Grass Recycling mowing techniques where the clippings are left to decomposed in place. This adds about 1 pound of Nitrogen per year to the lawn.
- Mow high at least at 3" and try to not remove more than 1/3rd of the height in any one mowing.
- Mow when the lawn is at 4 to 4-1/2 inches high.
- Sharpen your blade every 8 hours mowing.
- Water the lawn deeply when it needs it. Allow the lawn to go into its natural summer dormancy. Fall rains should kick in by mid-August.
- Practice Active Pest Management and chemically treat the pest problem while it is small to avoid broadcast applications of organic or inorganic pesticides.
- Use only composted or cured mulches.
So, in conclusion, Organic Lawn Care - Who Needs It? Well, maybe you do, if you can afford the added costs of materials and application time and have the patience to put up with "little" imperfections in your lawn. Organic lawn care is not as effective because the diluted nature of the chemicals occurring in the products manufactured for use. Organic lawn care requires a dedication to the thought that natural is better.
Inorganic lawn care is more efficient through the concentration of the needed chemicals to the lawn environment And, more economical. Inorganic lawn care can reflect the thought that modern technology can deliver the desired results economically, safely and efficiently.
In the end all of us lawn owners want the same thing - a healthy, green, weed free lawn without damaging pests. One can go either direction to achieve that end goal - organic or inorganic. Hyperbole on the part of some lawn care advocates should be thoroughly investigated and thought out as to intents and purposes.
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