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Organic fertilizers do more for your lawn

Even the least-avid gardener recognizes that lawns need to be fed in the spring. Grass plants coming out of the winter doldrums are often anemic and quite yellowed.

Grocery stores, hardware emporiums and chain stores all display pallets piled high with various and sundry fertilizers, all vying for the gardeners hard-earned dollars that will be spent on greening the lawn.

Prices vary on these products from the ridiculous to the sublime. Is there really a significant difference in fertilizers when they all have such pretty pictures of acres of rolling, deep green, velvety carpets of grass, promising that we, too, will have the same if we only purchase their particular product?

Lawn fertilizers vary as greatly in quality as they do in cost. Typically, the better ones cost more — and feed longer, requiring fewer applications. You want to see something on the bag that says it is a "slow release" fertilizer. Look for 35—50 percent of the nitrogen to be a slow release form such as sulfur-coated urea, methylene urea, or use natural organics.

If you use a corn-gluten-based lawn fertilizer, you get the added benefit of preventing as much as 90 percent of broad-leaf weeds in your lawn! Without the use of harmful herbicides.

At any rate, try to avoid the use of ammonium sulfate that will provide a quick green-up but can easily burn the grass, can run off with watering to pollute our streams, and does not provide sustained feeding to your lawn. It also promotes the growth of harmful thatch. Its lure is that it is cheap. But it is costly in the not-so-long run. Have you ever de-thatched your lawn? Not fun.

The pH of the soil of your lawn is important. Knowing the pH will tell you if the soil is acid or alkaline. Grass plants prefer a soil that is slightly acid to neutral. If you haven't tested your soil recently, get down to your favorite garden center and pick up a testing kit. Follow the directions implicitly and you will have an accurate measurement of pH.

If you've been feeding your lawn synthetic fertilizers for any length of time, I'll bet your soil will be acid. If it is too acid, the nutrients that you apply may not be available to the grass. If you feed your lawn a lot and it doesn't green up very much, it is either improper pH or poor drainage. Applications of lime will correct the pH. Poor drainage is way more complex.

To combat this problem of acidification by fertilizing, why don't you try feeding the lawn an organic-based food? They are already slow-release by nature, will usually add many trace elements to the soil along with beneficial organisms that may have been killed off by excessive use of herbicides and pesticides. Primarily, we want to start feeding our soil, which will in turn provide nutrition for our lawn.

By using organic products at least every other time we feed it, we can prevent improper pH, provide sustained nutrient release, and will feed our lawns less than we ever have in the past to maintain density and rich, vibrant color. Doesn't that sound good? You just have to do it to reap the benefits.

Proper mowing in the spring means to start early as the grass begins to grow, with a freshly sharpened blade set to the proper mowing height. If you don't know how to sharpen the blade, take it to a professional. And get that mower a tune-up while you're there.

Did you know that per hour of operation, a lawn mower emits 10-12 times as much hydrocarbon as an automobile? A weed trimmer emits 21 times as much and a leaf blower can be as high as 34 times! Get tune-ups!

If you have eliminated much of the lawn from your landscape, you may be a candidate to own one of the new push reel mowers. They are not your father's push mower. They can be set high to meet the new mowing standards and will mow less than perfect lawns. The higher you mow, the deeper the roots will go.

Now that you know what to do, it's simply a matter of doing it in a timely manner. And that's food for another column!

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-11 a.m. Sunday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at stanmapolski@yahoo.com.