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Best Organic Fertilizer for a Greener Lawn

Writen By
Alex M. [Permaculturist & Regenerative Agriculture Consultant]

What to Consider when Choosing the Best Organic Lawn Fertilizer:          Liquid vs Granular?

As you nourish and maintain the living monocultural carpet that is your lawn, the choice and application method of organic fertilizer can be daunting. With the number of products available and the saturation of ill-informed garden “hacks” on the market today, sometimes it can be just too much to sift through when assessing your course of action.

Check out some of the best organic lawn fertilizers available today, along with regenerative and organic methods so you can narrow down your selection of organic fertilizer, timing, and system of application.

What is the Difference Between Synthetic, Granular, and Biofertilizers?

  • Organic Chemical-Based Fertilizer:

These nutrients are taken up into the roots immediately and bypass the natural process and cooperation between plants and microbes, this is not the way they naturally function, and I do not recommend using these products. These types of fertilizers speed up the exchange between electrons in the soil, expending the energy in the soil even faster causing it to oxidize. This is the most widely common and available type of fertilizer, unfortunately.

  • Granular Organic Fertilizer:

Naturally sourced solid fertilizer which has a slower release and is slowly broken down by the soil. These are a good choice to mix with liquid biofertilizers as they will speed up and enliven the process of nutrient breakdown and facilitation while cultivating beneficial microbes at the same time.

  • Biofertilizers:

The microbes that are surrounding the root zone are attracted to this area because they release sugars, proteins, and carbohydrates to the organisms through the roots. Not only are the plants taking up the nutrients being broken down around them by the microorganisms, but the microbes themselves get consumed directly by the root tips, mined of nutrients, then cycled back out of the roots. This process is what’s called the rhizophagy cycle and was recently discovered to be the primary way all plants prefer to get their nutrition, and how they’ve adapted for at least three-quarters of a billion years!

Are Organic Fertilizers Safe?

Even if you have organically certified fertilizer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the safest and healthiest option to use for your lawn. Many common fertilizers, including organic ones, have the nutrients already solubilized in a plant-available form, initially, this sounds desirable and convenient. It can help when you’re in a pinch, but upon further investigation, the reality tells a different story, this method of fertilization negatively impacts the living biology inside and outside of plants which are so critical to keeping your lawn healthy, green, and drought-resistant. 

With a conventional lawn and the extreme lack of biodiversity that comes with it, something that is rare in the wild, the application of chemical-based fertilizers, whether organic or non-organic, can come with a price. Amongst these are wasting water, nutrient leaching, toxicity buildup, and lack of nutrient cycling.

Overall, the safest organic fertilizers to use are generally sourced naturally, which means they are not nutrients solubilized and already in a plant-available form like conventional chemical fertilizers, this is usually liquid but can come in a granular form as well. The easiest way to tell if this is the case is if there’s a list of natural ingredients or a list of microorganisms (understand different solid amendments have different ratios of nutrients they release so try to have something balanced in macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.)

If it is chemical based it should have a list of chemicals/nutrients with the percentage ratios of the nutrients, this is not recommended as it is not sustainable and can be damaging.

What is the Benefit of Non-Synthetic Fertilizers?

“Nitrogen-fixing endophytic bacteria have the edge over rhizosphere counterparts because, being sheltered inside plant tissues, they face less competition and can make available the fixed nitrogen directly to plants… [and] contribute up to 47% of nitrogen derived from air, which in turn enhance plant growth.” — Garima Gupta, Jitendra Panwar, Mohd Sayeed Akhtar, and Prabhat N. Jha. Endophytic Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria as Biofertilizer, 2012.

 

  • Optimal plant health facilitated without harsh chemicals.
  • Increased water retention
  • Pest, disease, and drought resistance as nature intended
  • Decrease in fertilizer inputs
  • Less work overtime
  • Heavy metal buffers and filters
  • Plant immunity boosted

Often organic non-synthetic fertilizers can be one of the best choices to use as not only are you cooperating with plants but tapping into the symptomatic cultivation of the local microbes which have evolved and cooperated with the indigenous plants to promote their growth and protection for seven hundred million years.

As lawn health increases gaining continuity, the soil microbe populations and humic compounds will only increase.

This is what Japanese farmer and author Masanobu Fukuoka described, as you learn from nature, a system is created that is self-supporting, self-maintaining, self-balancing, and self-nurturing.

How can I make my Grass Greener and Healthier without Chemicals?

EM (Effective Microbes):

EM is a massive profile of microbes that comes in a liquid form, having been around since the dawn of time they work symbiotically with plants to establish optimal health. The Endophytes contained in this formula promote plant growth and contain lactic acid bacteria (LAB), purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB), yeast, 

actinomycetes, as well as a plethora of others. This is a mix of what’s called facultative microbes, they are generally beneficial and can straddle large temperature changes, they also encourage health in the soil and water. It can decompose organic matter with fermentation to keep nutrients bioavailable while protecting it against pathogens. I could go on and on about how amazing EM is but I will leave it that for now, and clue you in on a way to activate and extend your EM for even more potency at the end of the article.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is compost that has been aerated in a bag with fine holes, this is placed in a reservoir or bucket for at least twenty-four hours to brew, usually with a fungal and microbe booster powder. You then broadcast the beneficial microorganisms in this liquid medium for powerful and easy inoculation onto the lawn.

This only has a shelf life of about 6 hours, so I don’t recommend ordering online or purchasing from a store so if you make it, don’t let it sit for too long.

Bokashi

Bran inoculated with EM mixed w/ molasses, this incredible combination of ingredients will keep your plants healthy and greener than ever. A lot of the same benefits of EM but more. You can even decompose kitchen scraps, bone, meat, and dairy in a small bucket in your kitchen to turn to a rich amendment within a month.

Humic Acids

These are organic substances that buildup in healthy soil and have enzymes that are great for plants

Kelp

An excellent fertilizer and generally great amendment. It has one of the largest mineral profiles of any plant in the world which is a huge advantage to fill in the blanks of any key macronutrients or micronutrients that are lacking.

Mycorrhizal Inoculant

Stimulates plant growth and connects roots underground which traffic nutrients efficiently.

Biochar

“Unamended sandy loam soil has a water holding capacity of 16%, while pure biochar can hold over 270% times its mass of water” — Ok-Youn Yu, Brian Raichle, and Sam Sink. Impact of biochar on the water holding capacity of loamy sand soil, 2013

These tiny pieces of charcoal are inoculated with biology and house incredible amounts of organisms, way more than you would usually find in the soil as well as retaining an extreme amount of water. Make sure to inoculate your biochar first if you are putting it on raw. You can bring it up to moisture with compost tea and/or EM, cover it, and let sit for a week, occasionally checking on it and bringing it back up to moisture with the same mix. Then it is ready to use. Applying non-inoculated charcoal that’s advertised as biochar can suck up the nutrients from your soil and lock them in so make sure you know what you’re getting.

Legume Cover Crops

These nitrogen-rich crops can be cut in place and left to fertilize the ground, in a compost pile, or to feed any animals that you would like to graze the lawn, which in turn will fertilize and re-mineralize the lawn through the manure. Just make sure to rake it out and water it if it looks too concentrated so you don’t burn your grass.

Worm Castings

The home of purple non-sulfured bacteria (PNSB), the main ingredient in EM, these little worms may be the best thing that happened to your lawn if you happen to have any locals present. They’ll do a lot of work for you not only processing and releasing nutrients but aerating the soil as they travel through the ground. 

Make sure not to introduce a different species of worms to your area as they can become invasive and displace the indigenous worms. This is an issue in North America with the introduction of the European worm into the native soils. Keep any non-indigenous worms in a separated raised bed to maintain balance.

Manures

Manure can make growth go wild or burn your grass with super high salts and nitrogen, depending on how much you use and what the animal is eating. This is a standard type of fertilizer, but I suggest cautiousness with the amount of manure you apply.

Bone Meal & Charred Bones

Excellent addition to a granular fertilizer mix, contains high amounts of calcium and phosphates.

Blood Meal

The home of purple non-sulfured bacteria (PNSB), the main ingredient in EM, these little worms may be the best thing that happened to your lawn if you happen to have any locals present. They’ll do a lot of work for you not only processing and releasing nutrients but aerating the soil as they travel through the ground. Make sure not to introduce a different species of worms to your area as they can become invasive and displace the indigenous worms. 

This is an issue in North America with the introduction of the European worm into the native soils. Keep any non-indigenous worms in a separated raised bed to maintain balance.

Compost

AgraLawn Crabgrass Herbicides

This will build Soil Organic Matter (SOM) and robust biology. Only applying compost as a fertilizer is a general nutrient enhancing approach, robust compost alone can enliven dead dirt rapidly and efficiently.

How and When to Use Organic Fertilizers?

The best time to apply your organic lawn fertilizer is at the beginning of spring if you live in a cold temperate climate, or any time after you plant if you live in other climates.

  1. Create a mix of any of the fertilizers above. If you’re using granular or solid fertilizer, you can sprinkle it, equally distributing it onto the lawn, then aerate it ideally with what’s called a broadfork. You can also use a pitchfork or anything else like that to imbed the fertilizer(s) and amendments deep into the soil. Just don’t till it or disturb it too much. This provides an element of oxygenation and pushes the amendments in.
  2. If using compost tea and/or biofertilizer, mix it into a reservoir and apply it directly with a hose or irrigation equipment with nozzles no less than 30mm in size and as few kinks and turns in the line as possible (many microbes can be destroyed as they turn with every kink in a line in higher pressure.) You can also add the mycorrhizal powder, and humic acids into this as well. Saturate thoroughly depending on moisture level but don’t apply too much as the microbes and nutrients can start leaching away.
  3. After this initial grand application, you can choose to apply EM, humic acids, and/or compost tea weekly, then decrease the amount until you aren’t using anything anymore other than watering it occasionally. This is the moment when you have finally dialed in the robust biology and the lawn begins taking care of itself.

EM Extension Recipe – To make an even larger amount of EM from a smaller amount

  1. Measure 1 part EM-1 to 1 part molasses — keep them separate for now
  2. Measure 20 parts water
  3. Fill the intended airtight container with half the water
  4. Mix in the 1 part EM to the water
  5. Mix the 1 part molasses to the EM/water solution
  6. Fill container almost to the top with the remaining water
  7. Add sea salt, seawater, or sea minerals to the concentration of 0.1% of the mixture
  8. Mix and top off the solution with water
  9. Seal without air in an airtight container
  10. Culture the mixture 7—10 days
  11. pH should drop to below pH 3.8 (ideally to pH 3.5)
  12. Smell your brew & look for yeast flakes floating on top — it should smell slightly sweet and like the original EM mother culture like EM-1 (if it smells no good, pour it on a longer-term compost pile)
  13. If smelling correct, use immediately or store in a comfortable room temperature environment 68ºF to 86ºF (20ºC-30ºC) for 45 —65 days

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WELCOME TO H&F
HI, I'M Alex M.
Permaculturist & Regenerative Agriculture Consultant
With a background in construction, landscaping, & irrigation, Alex originally attended college for audio & film production studies. After two decades in landscaping, construction, & music, he came across the regenerative farm systems design field known as Permaculture. Immediately hooked, he devoured everything on the field eventually getting Certified in Permaculture, graduating from Rak Tamachat in Thailand. Then went on to study Applied Soil Microbiology & Microscopy in Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web School, as well as working on an industrial scale soil farm for a year. Musician, writer, & life-long skateboarder, Alex applies insights from the fields of Soil Microbiology, Keyline Design, Mycology, Korean Natural Farming, Holistic Management, & other regenerative farm planning techniques, ancient & modern. He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area in the US, where he is working on creating a food forest on twenty acres of land in the mountains of California.
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