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Get Good Results With Organic Fertilizers

April 10, 1999|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Natural fertilizers--made of bone meal, blood meal, feathers, seaweed, fish byproducts, bat droppings, ash from sunflower seed hulls, and a variety of other substances--are becoming increasingly popular. Most of these packaged fertilizers also include nitrogen-converting microbes.

The primary difference between inorganic fertilizers and organic fertilizers is that inorganics exist in a ready nitrate state. The moment you add water, the nutrients can be absorbed by plant roots.

Organic fertilizer, in contrast, must first be converted by microbes in the soil from an organic to an inorganic state. The microbes actually produce the nitrates. As this process takes place deeper in the soil, the nitrates are not as exposed to surface runoff. This is not to say that nitrates from organic material cannot be eroded from the soil or leached downward through sandy soil, but that the problem is a lesser one. Because nutrients are released slowly, organics can be applied any time throughout the year.

The one disadvantage is that organics are generally more expensive. You may be able to beat the system, however, by buying the ingredients in bulk and mixing your own. Look to blood meal for nitrogen, bone meal for phosphorus and sunflower seed ash for potassium.

Don't automatically assume that a thin, pale turf needs fertilizer. It well may, but often the soil structure or soil pH is the problem.

Grasses grow best in at least 6 inches of topsoil. By digging down a foot or so, you'll be able to see how much topsoil you have, as indicated by its darker color. Composted manure, which is odorless, also can be added a little at a time to the surface, as can peat moss and gypsum pellets.

Another option is to treat your lawn with an enzyme-activated soil conditioner. Research indicates that increasing certain beneficial enzymes in the soil alters water tension factors, making the soil more water permeable and absorbent. Waterborne nutrients then are more easily accessed by plant roots, and soil compaction is reduced.

The only way to check for proper pH is with a soil test. You can call a professional or take a soil sample into your local lab, extension office or university. Home testing kits also are available through catalogs and garden centers.

An alkaline soil will need an application of sulfur or gypsum, while acidic soils will benefit from a sprinkling of lime. Turf grasses do best within a pH range of 5.6 to 7, and your extension agent or dealer will know which treatment plan is best for your lawn.

As for watering, it's always best to water more deeply and less often. To hold down fungi-related leaf blight, water in the morning so that the grass dries quickly. Avoid evening waterings.

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