Myths & Misperceptions about Organic Lawn Care

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Organic Fertilizing

You’d likely assume that because I am in the professional lawn care industry that I would immediately be dismissive of organic lawn care products. I am not. In my career, I have applied hundreds of tons of organic fertilizers to golf courses and sports fields and I have yet to find an organic fertilizer that I have disliked. They all have their pluses and minuses, certainly. However, it is very challenging to bring a truly organic lawn care program to the market that can match the results of a not-so-organic program. Let’s look at these common myths about organic lawn care.

Myth: You have to use organic products in order to have an organic lawn

This is exactly backwards. The lawn is already an organic system. Lawns are only the part of that ecosystem that we see. Besides all of the turfgrass, there are innumerable fungi, bacteria, viruses and animal life that live with the grass in a symbiotic relationship. The lawn cannot survive without them and the fungi, bacteria, viruses and animal life are fortified by having the grasses around, too. 

Myth: Turfgrass plants know the difference between organic and synthetic fertilizers

Funny thing that you notice in the lawn care business – unless you call them out on it, when loading their trucks, our route managers will walk past already opened bags of fertilizer sitting in the warehouse and go straight to the shiny, clean bags that are on the pallet. Human nature, right? We pick and choose produce in the supermarket the same way. Bruise on the apple? Not buying that.

The difference between human beings and turfgrasses is that turfgrasses don’t have brains and have no concept of the source of the fertilizer they take up from the soil. Turfgrasses only know the form of nitrogen that they can use – nitrate (and to a lesser extent ammonium). The fertilizers that we apply, both organic and synthetic, contain no nitrate. The nitrogen component of the fertilizer must go through a nitrification process in order to be available to plants. It makes zero difference to the plant if the fertilizer applied to the lawn was organic or synthetic, came from a bright shiny bag or one already opened, cost $60 per bag or $10 per bag.

Myth: Organic lawn care products are better for the environment

What’s most important in applying fertilizer to turfgrass is that you do not apply any more that the plants can reasonably use over a given period of time. When growing, turfgrass plants will consume about one-tenth of a pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet per week. Through a combination of quick-releasing and slow-releasing nitrogen sources, turfgrass managers attempt to apply fertilizer that will supply just enough for the turfgrass’s needs and no more. Apply more than this and you risk losing fertilizer to the environment unnecessarily.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, as my mother would say, and that applies to proper fertilization techniques. Whether you have a lawn care company perform fertilization services for you or you do it yourself, be sure to remove any fertilizer that lands on your driveway or sidewalks. When fertilizer lands on areas such as this there is nothing to prevent it from escaping to groundwater. The extensive, fibrous root system of a stand of turfgrass will grab onto the fertilizer that is applied to it, releasing very little of it to the environment. All you need to do is use a leaf blower to move off target fertilizer back onto the lawn. This applies to organic fertilizers as well as synthetic.

Fact: Logistics Cost Money and Raise Prices

When Lawn Dawg receives a shipment of synthetic fertilizer there is enough product on the truck to feed about a thousand average sized lawns. In order to apply the same amount of nutrient to the same average sized lawn, we need to apply approximately three times the amount of organic fertilizer. For example, what could be accomplished with 25 pounds of synthetic fertilizer will require 75 pounds of organic fertilizer

The impact of this simple math is significant in that you can purchase a bag of synthetic fertilizer for about the same price as a bag of organic, but it will only go one-third as far. That means three times the truckloads to our branch offices and that we can only carry one-third the product in our trucks. It makes us much less productive and drives up our costs. Those costs have to be absorbed somewhere and unfortunately the costs are passed on to you, the customer. We don’t want to do that any more than you want it done to you.

It really comes down to economics. If the plant cannot discern the difference between synthetic and organic and the organic consumes far more resources per unit of nutrition, the math is pretty easy in favor of the synthetic. No doubt that the organics are fine products, but in addition to our pledge to bring you the safest, most effective lawn care products, we must do it while making it affordable for you as well.

Learn more about lawn care myths: The Top 10 Myths about Lawn Care

- Bob Mann, Agronomist