New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

This is the place to discuss Organic lawncare.
Pdrizzle
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New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 19th, 2017, 6:09 pm

Hi all first time in this forum.

Quick background then to the question:
Located in Northern Utah along the Wasatch Front. Small yard, KBG, fescue, rye grass combination lawn ( I think...I didn't plant it but it looks like that mixture that is very common in Utah).

I recently made the switch to organic lawn care. I've been doing the following:
1. Mowing with the deck set high (3.5 inches)
2. Watering deeply and infrequently
3. Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn (three years now)
4. Mowing leaves and other organic matter into the lawn (once last fall)
5. Soil sample sent to Utah State Labs...waiting for results

I'm concerned about fertilizing going forward. In the past I've followed a regiment pushed by IFA (Four step system) and have had great results in getting a deep green lawn. I want to keep the deep green thick lawn without the synthetic fertilizers if I can. Will regular applications of something like Milorgnite do it for me? Including a picture of the lawn.
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andy10917
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby andy10917 » June 19th, 2017, 6:21 pm

There is no reason that organics can't help you to achieve the color and quality you like, but it's important that you realize that lb-for-lb, organic sources don't offer the same amount of fertilization. A product like Milorganite is 5% Nitrogen (less on other nutrients) and some synthetics can be 30%+. I love organic sources, but know what you're doing before you commit to the switch.
Green
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Green » June 19th, 2017, 8:18 pm

To take what Andy said a step further, a typical organic fertilizer might require 2-6 times as much (in weight) applied each time compared to a typical synthetic fertilizer (depending on the specific numbers). Once you crunch the numbers for specific products, you can get a better idea of this.

I would start by substituting one of the typical 4 steps with Milorganite, for the first year, and work from there. Not being familiar with your weather, I'm not sure which application I'd substitute first in your area, though. (It's probably not going to be the 4th app, since that's best done with synthetic in most cases.)

Organic is definitely worthwhile.
bpgreen
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby bpgreen » June 20th, 2017, 1:06 am

One nice thing about Milorganite is that out has a fair amount of iron and the iron is chelated, so it'll be available to your grass. Utah soil has plenty of iron, but since it's alkaline, the iron isn't available to plants (that's why you see so many trees with yellow leaves).

I'm glad to see you're watering deeply and infrequently. Ironically, some of the most common lawn problems in Utah are due to too much water because many people are convinced they need to water daily (or several times per day).

On a side note, if you want your soil test interpreted by the gurus here, it needs to be from Logan Labs.
Pdrizzle
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 20th, 2017, 1:45 pm

Green wrote:
June 19th, 2017, 8:18 pm
I would start by substituting one of the typical 4 steps with Milorganite, for the first year, and work from there. Not being familiar with your weather, I'm not sure which application I'd substitute first in your area, though. (It's probably not going to be the 4th app, since that's best done with synthetic in most cases.)

Organic is definitely worthwhile.
Thanks for the tip. I think I will use Milorganite for my summer application and switch to synthetic for the fall application. Then next year apply Milorganite throughout the year. Hopefully, that will keep me happy with the results.

Really appreciate the help!

Pdrizzle
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Joined: June 19th, 2017, 1:06 pm
Location: Northern Utah
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 20th, 2017, 1:47 pm

andy10917 wrote:
June 19th, 2017, 6:21 pm
There is no reason that organics can't help you to achieve the color and quality you like, but it's important that you realize that lb-for-lb, organic sources don't offer the same amount of fertilization. A product like Milorganite is 5% Nitrogen (less on other nutrients) and some synthetics can be 30%+. I love organic sources, but know what you're doing before you commit to the switch.
So can I read between the lines that making the switch is potentially more time consuming and expensive than using synthetics due to the lower amount of available Nitrogen and other nutrients in the organic product? If that is the case I'm happy to make the leap. If it doesn't work out I can always switch back. Thanks for the input, I really appreciate it.
Pdrizzle
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Grass Type: Kentucky, Rye, Fescue mix

Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 20th, 2017, 1:51 pm

bpgreen wrote:
June 20th, 2017, 1:06 am
One nice thing about Milorganite is that out has a fair amount of iron and the iron is chelated, so it'll be available to your grass. Utah soil has plenty of iron, but since it's alkaline, the iron isn't available to plants (that's why you see so many trees with yellow leaves).

I'm glad to see you're watering deeply and infrequently. Ironically, some of the most common lawn problems in Utah are due to too much water because many people are convinced they need to water daily (or several times per day).

On a side note, if you want your soil test interpreted by the gurus here, it needs to be from Logan Labs.
Good to know about the chelated iron. I have some plants that look more yellow than they should. Thanks for the tip on labs...I will have to do my best to interpret the soil test results on my own.
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Dchall_San_Antonio
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Dchall_San_Antonio » June 20th, 2017, 4:53 pm

Pdrizzle wrote:
June 20th, 2017, 1:47 pm
So can I read between the lines that making the switch is potentially more time consuming and expensive than using synthetics due to the lower amount of available Nitrogen and other nutrients in the organic product? If that is the case I'm happy to make the leap. If it doesn't work out I can always switch back. Thanks for the input, I really appreciate it.
Don't read too deeply between the lines. If you read the label on an organic fertilizer, not Milorganite which is a special case, but something like Ringers or Espoma, you'll see the ingredients include alfalfa meal, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, flax seed meal, corn meal, corn gluten meal, feather meal, animal byproducts (poultry litter), and possibly some other less popular ingredients. Visit your local feed store and you can buy the ingredients in 50-pound bags for under $20. In my area corn meal is under $10 this year. Any of these makes a good organic fertilizer all by itself. When you apply at 15-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet, the cost per 1,000 square feet is on the order of $5. When you compare to normal chemical fertilizers like Scott's, their cost per 1,000 is on the order of $3-$4. So while the cost for organics might be more, it's not that much more for small yards. Application can take longer simply because the chemical fertilizers go through a spreader more easily. Where I live with high humidity, the organics absorb humidity and clog the spreader. In your area you don't have humidity, so it should flow much better for you. Here is a picture posted on another forum by mrmumbles.

Image

He applied alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) to his zoysia lawn in mid May. In mid June he took that picture. You can clearly see the improved color, density, and growth. So organic fertilizer is every bit as effective as chemical fertilizer.

Something else you should understand. The NPK designations were created for chemical fertilizers. A better way to judge organic fertilizers would be by protein and carbohydrate content. On a feed bag the farmers only care about protein, so that's what is listed on the bag. It doesn't go all the way, but it gives you a guide. Protein is converted into a nitrogen type plant food by the soil's microbes. That process takes 3 weeks to start to show the improvement. That is why organic fertilizer is considered to be "slow release."
Pdrizzle
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 21st, 2017, 12:59 pm

Thank you so much for the great response. It is much appreciated.

In order for the protein and carbs in the organic fertilizer to be made available to the plants does the soil need to be very healthy? I'm not sure how productive my soil is, will the pellets just sit there on my lawn for some time binding up the nitrogen and starving the grass? Should I apply Milorganite at the same time to ensure there are nutrients available now?

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.
bpgreen
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby bpgreen » June 21st, 2017, 9:31 pm

There's nitrogen in the alfalfa, or whatever else you use. It'll get broken down by microbes in the soil. Even if there aren't many now, there are some. If there aren't many, it'll take longer, but over time, your soil will become healthier and things will break down faster.
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Dchall_San_Antonio
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Dchall_San_Antonio » June 22nd, 2017, 4:24 pm

Organic fertilizers do not tie up nitrogen. They release nitrogen. Your soil will become healthier as the organic fertilizer goes to work. There are between 35,000 and 100,000 species of microbes in your soil. Only a few can decompose the raw food at the surface. Then others decompose the dead carcasses of the first feeders. Then others decompose the dead carcasses of the second feeders. And so on. This is why it takes 3 weeks to see the benefit of organics.

Apply alfalfa pellets and then moisten them with a hand held sprayer. They only need one pass to moisten them. The next morning they will have swollen and expanded into greenish worms. Drag your hose over the lawn and the worms disintegrate into flakes which fall to the surface where the microbes can get to them.
Pdrizzle
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 26th, 2017, 12:20 pm

Dchall_San_Antonio wrote:
June 22nd, 2017, 4:24 pm
Organic fertilizers do not tie up nitrogen. They release nitrogen. Your soil will become healthier as the organic fertilizer goes to work. There are between 35,000 and 100,000 species of microbes in your soil. Only a few can decompose the raw food at the surface. Then others decompose the dead carcasses of the first feeders. Then others decompose the dead carcasses of the second feeders. And so on. This is why it takes 3 weeks to see the benefit of organics.

Apply alfalfa pellets and then moisten them with a hand held sprayer. They only need one pass to moisten them. The next morning they will have swollen and expanded into greenish worms. Drag your hose over the lawn and the worms disintegrate into flakes which fall to the surface where the microbes can get to them.
Thank you for the additional explanation. I really appreciate the patience and wisdom. I'm excited to see how this goes.
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Dchall_San_Antonio
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Dchall_San_Antonio » June 26th, 2017, 1:02 pm

The concept of tying up nitrogen comes from the decomposition of wood. Wood has no protein, so that's not a help in itself. Furthermore it is mostly cellulose and lignin which normally decompose very slowly. Wood is decomposed by a fungus (wood rot) which works best above the ground. The wood rot fungi need a plentiful source of nitrogen to thrive. If they do not have free access to the nitrogen in the air, then they become very demanding about getting it from other sources. They will essentially rob other nitrogen as they can find it. So if you cut off the air by burying wood or sawdust under the ground, the wood rot fungi will rob it from sources in the soil. Once they have finished decomposing the wood those fungi will release the nitrogen back to the soil, but that might take decades. I once buried a wood stump under my compost pile thinking the compost would decompose it. Instead the compost cut off the air and essentially halted the decomposition of the stump for 15 years. After I unburied the stump I got aggressive and kept the stump moist continually for several weeks until I detected the wood rot fungus. Once that got started it was 18 months and the stump was as soft as mush.

When you walk through a forested area you can often see mushrooms growing on old wood.
Pdrizzle
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » June 30th, 2017, 6:40 pm

Dchall

Thank you for the further clarification. I added milorganite to the lawn last week (because it was easy to pick up from the nursery on the way home). I will use a synthetic fertilizer for this fall. In spring next year I will switch over to alfalfa pellets (or something similar) and milorganite only. Hopefully this will work. I will post some follow up pictures in a couple of weeks.
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Dchall_San_Antonio
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Dchall_San_Antonio » July 3rd, 2017, 7:03 pm

Personally I think the more you use organics the better things get. For people who are skeptical, I still suggest they use an organic fertilizer at least once a year to keep their chemical apps over the years from depleting the microbes.
Pdrizzle
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Pdrizzle » July 28th, 2017, 3:09 pm

Update...

The image attached to this post is one month after applying Milorganite. It has been a very hot and dry summer for us in Northern Utah (with the exception of one impressive thunderstorm). Comparing the picture attached in the first post in this thread the lawn is greener and a bit thicker despite the difficult growing conditions. I will be laying down some alfalfa pellets next week and again in the early fall. I will do some urea in the late fall.

Very pleased with the switch to organics. My back yard isn't as good but I think it just needs more fertilizer. And some more attention to the weeds.

Thank you all for your wisdom and kindness!
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Dchall_San_Antonio
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Re: New to Organics - Fertilizer Question

Postby Dchall_San_Antonio » August 17th, 2017, 1:34 pm

You would not believe the vitriol and hatred we endured back in the early 2000s just trying to get people to try organics. It is finally refreshing to see people trying it and liking the results. When I was a kid, well first of all there was no mention of lawns in organic gardening, but the only discussion of organics came from Rodale and his publications. All they knew then was compost. Compost is great if you have it, but the material is so depleted of food value you have to use 700 pounds of it to equal 15 pounds of Milorganite or the grains we talk about.

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