Lawn care experts explain synthetic, organic fertilizer

Lawn care experts explain synthetic, organic fertilizer

We asked three highly rated lawn fertilization companies on Angie's List about the benefits of organic lawn care.

Lawn fertilization experts

Matt Cellura, Columbus branch manager, Good Nature Organic Lawn Care, Dublin, Ohio,

Robert DeBonis, owner,Chesapeake Lawn Science, Silver Spring, Md.,

Ladd Smith, co-owner, In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes, Bothell, Wash.,

Smith: The organic lawn care approach is built on the food web and working with nature. Organic fertilizers feed the soil organisms, which then feed the plants. Chemical processes start to do harm to those beneficial organisms and disrupt the natural process. You're doing long-term harm by using chemicals instead of organic fertilization. Once the plant system is set up and healthy, you can use fewer products and won't have to keep up as much of a regimen.

DeBonis: Organics increase microbial activity in the soil, which helps eat up and decompose thatch faster and makes it less susceptible to summer fungus.

Are "environmentally friendly" and "organic" lawn fertilization and care the same thing? What are some of the differences?

Cellura: There is really no definition for "environmentally friendly." I think you need to ask what is in the product and/or how was it made. As far as I know, there aren't any standards for labeling lawn care products, so it's important to read labels and ingredients.

Smith: Many companies are trying to be green, but it's becoming a way to market themselves. Customers need to do their research and figure out how the company operates — whether they're being true to the green standards or just using it to get new customers.

What are the pros and cons of synthetic versus organic fertilizers?

DeBonis: The advantage to synthetic fertilizer is that it releases into the soil over a two- or three-month period of time. You can go longer between applications. True organics also don't cover anywhere near as much an area. I generally offer my customers a 50/50 blend — half organic and half synthetic. I'll apply all organic if they want, although it will take more applications. It's worth it. In the long run, you'll have healthier, thicker lawns.

Cellura: Organic fertilizers take longer to work and may initially cost more than chemicals. Chemical fertilizers are water-soluble and run off, causing pollution in our waterways.

What are some things homeowners can do to care for their lawns in a more environmentally friendly fashion?

Smith: Mow the lawn high. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn after you mow it. The pure nitrogen in the clippings helps feed the soil and reduces the amount of fertilization you need to do.

DeBonis: You want to regularly thicken the turf, such as with overseeding and aeration, to increase competition for root space. It's harder for weeds to grow around thick roots as compared to open areas.

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Mike Hunt


Some of this info is inaccurate. Debonnis is quoted "DeBonis: The advantage to synthetic fertilizer is that it releases into the soil over a two- or three-month period of time. You can go longer between applications. True organics also don't cover anywhere near as much an area. I generally offer my customers a 50/50 blend — half organic and half synthetic."
Organics are slow release because they have to be consumed by the life in the soil in order to work. The chemical fertilizers are salt based, and ultimately harm the life in the soil.



Yep, these guys are bogus. Grandpa Jack is pretty much right on the money. Proper application of slow release fertilizer causes little runoff, "natural" also causes some.

Grandpa Jack


This is not a helpful article since it only promotes the spreading of half-truths based on failure or unwillingness to learn the facts. Nitrogen is nitrogen - something with a different chemical composition is called something other than nitrogen. Which products we apply to our lawns do make a difference in terms of some of the content but careless, uninformed or reckless use of any lawn product has the potential to do damage. Chemical vs Organic is not intrinsically "good" vs "bad". Misuse is the source of the problem. Application of either type of treatment on hillsides or in natural drainage areas prior to storms or heavy watering, especially on heavy or frozen soils can lead to runoff that pollutes. Keep all lawn care products off hard surfaces. Do organics pollute? - check your City/County/Watershed or Extension information about the effects of leaves and grass clipping allowed to build up in gutters and storm drains.

Overseeding? Good idea on lawns with thin areas. If thick turf shades out weed seeds, why would you expect it to act differently on grass seed? Do it every year? Probably not. Aeration? Good solution for soil compaction, heavy soil or excessive thatch buildup. May not be needed every year. Be certain you truly have "thatch" and not just a heavy layer of lawn clippings - they ain't the same thing. Do it spring or fall - not in hot summer time.

Soil organisms do not feed the plants. The nutrition (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and other trace elements provide the raw material for the plant to be fed. The soil organisms make a difference in how the texture is affected. The nutritional elements must go through the process of photosynthesis to be converted to a form of nutrition the plant can use for growth.

Understand what fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides do - use them only when needed and as directed on the product label. I don't know it all but I learned that a "myth" is just the girl friend of a guy who lisps.

Lean on your local Extension Office - they don't sell a product and have access to research-based horticultural information. Some of the research may even have been done at your local university.



I agree w Dave. contact your county extension office for research based information.



i agree with mike hunt [ha ha]. these landscapes guys are full of cr**. shame on you angie for asking those dufus's for an explanation.



Thanks Grandpa Jack, after reading the article I was wondering if I was doing things right, but you answered all of my questions. I was wondering if I should just throw everything I know about lawn care out the window. Your post helped a lot.

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