Best organic lawn fertilizer on the cheap?

studly(4 (MN))April 10, 2009

I'd like to try using organic fertilizer this year, but it seems quite expensive. For instance, feed stores around here are charging $10 per 50# bag for soybean meal, which I like because of its high nitrogen content. If my lawn is 7,000 square feet, wouldn't I need about two bags?

What are the best deals out there right now for buying organic fertilizer in large quantities from the feed stores? How much are corn meal, alfalfa, and the others selling for right now? Which organic fertilizer gives you the most bang for the buck at today's prices?

I tried going the free route by getting used coffee grounds at Starbucks, but they would only give us small quantities of UCG, so it doesn't work so well for our larger lawn.

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$10 per 50# is a pretty good deal for soybean meal!

I have a 15,000 sq ft lawn and usually apply around 200lbs per application.

You will be amazed how the soybean meal will green up your lawn. It generally takes 2-3wks before you see results

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 9:01PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

The best deal is whatever you can find locally. Soy is $40 for 50 pounds if I can find it in San Antonio. In the Texas Panhandle the price is $12 for 50 pounds.

All Starbucks and all other coffee shop are different. Ask if you can get it in bigger bags. I had a guy hand me a 70-pound bag that I could barely budge.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 10:32PM
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studly(4 (MN))

Thanks for the advice, everyone. The reason SBM seems expensive to me, although I've never bought it before, is because in the Organic Lawn Care FAQ, they say you should be able to get alfalfa and corn meal fertilizer at the feed stores for $3-$7 per 50 pound bag. Is that info outdated, or do alfalfa pellets and corn meal still sell for that price? I was hoping SBM would be closer to those prices.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 6:14PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

It's outdated. I wrote that when ethanol was only used in dragsters. Now everyone wants to use it. Last year the price of a bag of corn meal was up to $15 in some of the formerly cheapo locations. This year I paid $8.75.

Grains are commodities so the price varies from month to month. Chemical fertilizers are made from natural gas so that price varies, too. With the price of natural gas down to the lowest levels in recent memory, chemical fertilizers will become VERY inexpensive pretty soon.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 6:21PM
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studly(4 (MN))

That's good to know, so I'm not comparing against old prices.

Do most of you do two lawn fertilizer apps per year, one in spring and one in fall?

Also, dhcall, I saw in your very helpful FAQ that you said if you follow an organic program, you shouldn't have to aerate. Here in Minnesota, our soil is mostly clay and usually needs aeration every fall. Do most of you with similar type soil not aerate once you are on an organic program?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 3:35PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

There is really no need to aerate. Mine went from concrete rocky white dirt to crumbly black soil with millions of earthworms after 3 years of organic program and I've never used aerator machine. Earthworms are the best for aerating soil extensively.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 4:04PM
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studly(4 (MN))

Lou, that's good to hear. Did you add earthworms too, or did they just multiply naturally? How many times per year did you put down fertilizer on your lawn?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 5:34PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I added earthworms. There's no way I'd wait for earthworms to come to my lawn. My next door uses weed and feed. I live on a corner lot and do I expect them to crawl across street to my lawn? Nope. I did plenty of researches on earthworms and decided that I would be greatly benefited if I buy some earthworms to get it started. The soil was absolutely destroyed from the construction of new house. I just don't see how it's possible for earthworms to come "naturally" which I personally think is BS.

I fertilize 3-5 times a year plus dried or liquid molasses that may speed up the process of improving soil during first 2 years. After that, it probably doesn't make much difference.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 9:50PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Here in Minnesota, our soil is mostly clay and usually needs aeration every fall.

In Iowa they burn their lawns every year.

In Phoenix people water every day for 10 minutes.

Just because everyone does it does not make it right. Once you get going with proper watering (deep and infrequent) and proper mowing (mulch mow at the highest setting), and you stop using all chemical materials, your soil should not need to be aerated.

What really softens your soil is fungi. When your population of fungi is adequate, the soil is pretty soft when wet but will be fairly hard (firm) when dry. Search this forum for the terms "soaker hose" and sponge to find out more.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 11:56PM
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Hi Lou what did your organic plan consist of?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 4:45AM
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billhill(z5 MI - KBG)

To studly and takadi: There is little you could do better for your lawn than switching to organic fertilizers. There are many to choose from. For me, the workhorse of organic fertilizer is soybean meal. It is rich in nitrogen, cost effective and usually available at farm animal feed stores. Many like to diversify their fertilizers by switching between soybean meal and corn meal or cracked corn, Alfalfa pellets (rabbit food) is also used. Commercial organic fertilizers are available from Scotts, Milorganite and others. Both are generally available at Lowes, Home Depot, or Mennards. Used Coffee grounds are very good and available free for the asking from Starbucks and other coffee stores. The price of grains vary significantly by location. Farm animal feed stores are the cheapest places to buy grains. Apply 4 or 5 times per season. Cultural practices are very important. Mow high and water deeply but infrequently. Congratulations on your decision to switch to organic lawn care.
Bill Hill

Here is a link that might be useful: Organic lawncare FAQ

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 10:51AM
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Where did you purchase the earthworms from. I'm in a new housing development as well and my soil is 99% clay with some soil from the sod they put down. I know I need some worms to loosen everything up but I want to make sure I get the right worms that will live in the soil and not just die.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 1:24PM
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studly(4 (MN))

You could buy worms from a bait store, but at least here in Minnesota, the DNR doesn't recommend you let these critters lose because they are said to damage hardword forests. See the link below for details. It's interesting ... they say earthworms are not native to this part of the country. I wonder if there are other types of worms that are native and help keep the soil healthy and uncompacted?

Here is a link that might be useful: Invasive earthworm info

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 3:21PM
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Those researchers looked at one specific environmental system, a forest, and others are drawing erroneous conclusions based on that research. Do not take earthworms in the forest and drop them, but they will do good in your yard and garden unless you do dwell in the forest.
Simply substituting one type of fertilizer for another, ie. organic for synthetic, without knowing more about the soil is not a good idea. What might work really well in the midwest, fairly high average annual rainfall, may not work in the southwest, much less annual rainfall, unless significantly more water is applied to the soil.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:33AM
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I bought soybean meal for $18.50 for a 50# $10 is a great deal.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2009 at 11:53AM
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I also pay $18.50 for Soy and Alfalfa. Corn Gluten Meal is $24. I go to a feed store in Novi, Michigan.
I'm in my first year of going organic, and the lawn looks great (fingers crossed). I do see some more weeds in the lawn, but so far that hasn't been a big deal for me (no dandy's however).
I'm convinced anyone who switches to organic lawn care (starting with a well established lawn) will enjoy it tremendously.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 12:29PM
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Substituting "organic" fertilizers for synthetic fertilizers does not make for an organic lawn care program. An organic lawn care program means getting to know the soil your lawn is growing in and making that soil into a good healhty soil that will grow strong and healthy grass plants. Start by having a good reliable soil test done so you know what the soils pH is, and what to do to correct it if necessary, and what nutrients are readily avialable. You also need to know how much humus is in the soil, how well the soil drains, what kind of life is in that soil, what that soil smells like, and what the tilth of that soil is.
Then you can work on a program to make things better.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 6:58AM
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In my opinion SEA-90 sea solids are the best fertilizer for all vegetation, including lawns. A little goes a long way and it is cheap, especially if you buy it in bulk.

Though it's technically not a fertilizer, I'd recommend buying some mycorrhizal fungi too. They will help to reduce water and fertilizer needs. Mycorrhizal Applications, Inc., has some good products. That's my two cents.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 12:22PM
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Why do people prefer throwing down soybean meal, etc, instead of growing nitrogen-fixing cover crops?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 9:39AM
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I love Milorganite, it works great, but is says not to fertilize in the hottest months, or I should say most people say not to fertilize in the hottest months, is this true? Also, most of the country is in a pretty cataclysmic drought, and in Buffalo it is no better, and watering seems to do very little, even with an infrequent program running like I am. I am wondering whether sometimes we should just let nature take its course. I am watering about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, once a week, and my grass is doing nothing but stay grayish brown and dry. At this point, due to severe drought (and a low precipitation winter) I am thinking of forgoing my watering program for the lawn--though I am still actively watering my beds, trees and borders. Is this okay? Also, anyone else in favor of "more grow, less mow", meaning, that grass should not dominate the landscape, but rather be a part of a varied, multi-species program?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 9:19PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Why do people prefer throwing down soybean meal, etc, instead of growing nitrogen-fixing cover crops?

Because the N-fixing cover crops are considered to be weeds in a lawn. I have seen a golf course in Canada mix Dutch white clover with creeping bentgrass very successfully. They eliminated all fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides with that grass mix and a change in mowing.

MFIX, most people use chemical fertilizers, and those should not be used in the summer heat. They add stress in the form of soil salinity and by forcing the grass plants to grow at a time when they would normally be trying to become dormant. On the other hand, organic fertilizers may be used any day of the year. Alfalfa has a growth hormone in it so some people who routinely use alfalfa like to switch out and use soybean meal as an alternative to alfalfa in the summer.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 12:25AM
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When any plant, including grasses, is under stress due to heat, lack of water, or any other reason adding to that stress by feeding any kind of nutrients is not a good idea. If the reason the plant is under stress is lack of water throwing some kind of "fertilizer" at that plant will do no good anyway since the plant needs water, which is not there, to uptake the nutrients in that "fertilizer".
If your soil moisture levels are low enough to cause plants stress the Soil Food Web will not be actgive and will not then convert organic fertilizers into what the plants can use until there is enough soil moisture for them to get to work.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 7:10AM
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I am one who uses clover and grass successfully. I have nutrient poor sandy soil and when I moved in, the lawn area had nothing but weeds and no grass, but mostly just eroded sand, not much different then you'd find in a beach. Initially I tried compost and such but found that it just leached and dried out.

I finally read about permaculture, and tried planting white clover and grass together. It worked perfectly, to the point I have a lush lawn that requires no fertilization, stays green in summer, and I don't even water due to a limited well. Yes, the grass will go dormant during heat and drought, but the clover stays green, and the lawn grass is actually quite responsive once the rains come again. This combination also competes very effectively against weeds, and is a very low maintenance lawn. In fact, the clover seems to provide enough nitrogen, that I am able to collect my grass to use for composting leaves for my vegetable gardens, with no need to leave clippings on. Also, the more healthy the lawn gets, the grass tends to take over from the clover and finds a healthy balance, where it's mostly grass.

After living with a traditional clover/grass lawn for several years, I'm not sure why anyone would want to get rid of it. A clover/grass lawn is attractive, and is nice to walk on. We really need to get over our skewed thoughts of what an ideal lawn should look like.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:54AM
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anubis_pa(z5 PA)

@Capoman would you mind uploading a photo of your lawn? I'm curious to see what the natural balance turned out to be, how it looks. Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 2:22AM
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