That was one of my secrets too. While everyone else kept mowing, I saw the weather getting hot and, I stopped mowing. Grass, all by itself, will slow it's growth when the weather gets hot for long periods of time. Mowing, tears the ends off the leaf and allows moisture to escape and that causes the blades of grass to dry out, one reason why it's a bad idea to mow your lawn in the heat of the day, a common practice by most lawn maintenance companies.
It has been 12 1/2 years since I put in that lawn and, it's still one of the nicest looking lawns on the road. I know the guy who owns the place doesn't take care of it because he's the one who trashed the area in the first place! I attribute the success of that lawn to the root and soil building characteristics of the Greensand and Rock Phosphate I used as fertilizer and smart mowing practice. Picking up the trash and old lumber didn't hurt either I'm sure!
(Since the writing of this article the cost of black rock phosphate has gone up astronomically. Once we sell what we have left we will be selling bone char exclusively. Black rock Phospahte or phosphate rock is still used in blended fertilizers but has added to the overall cost of them. The trend now is to use Bone Char as listed above in the price table. It's cheaper and actually has more phosphate avalable in the long and short term and doesn't cause the type of pollution you get from phosphate mining. Bone Char has been around for a long time as a product used for refining sugar.)
Poorer soils need some added nitrogen and the other components found in organic fertilizer, but, if you have an already decent lawn with fair soil, you can reduce your nitrogen input significantly. That why you'll notice the lower nitrogen figures for organic fertilizer when reading the NPK ratio on the label.
Soils are alive and need to provide plants with a variety of natural elements and nutrients to sustain healthy growth over the long term. Standard chemical fertilizers, aside from being manufactured from primarily petroleum products (they put oil into your soil basically, look what it did for the deserts of Kuwait), are, almost exclusively focused on concentrations of nitrogen. Water soluble nitrogen at that, meaning, most of it passes through the soil very quickly, into the water table, causing pollution and bypassing the soil and plants altogether. It's toxic and a waste of money to boot! This is why, many people notice a quick flush of green after applying chemical fertilizers and a slow decline towards a yellow color very soon afterwards. Of course, the companies who make such fertilizer are happy to get you hooked on a five step program so you're constantly force feeding nitrogen into your plants, killing the life in the soil, contaminating the water table and wasting your hard earned money. That type of application also weekens your lawn and landscape plants and makes them more vulnerable to drought, excess moisture, fungus, insect and pest damage. Once again though, the chemical industry will be right there to sell you some more toxic chemicals to take care of those problems too!
So, when considering buying a fertilizer products for your lawn or landscape, consider the total cost of what you are doing. Organic fertilizers, are cheaper in the long run than synthetic fertilizers because your lawn and landscape will be healthier once you get started down this road, and will require less maintenance, no chemical inputs to control the problems caused by the commercial fertilizers and you won't be contributing to pollution and the cost of cleaning that sort of thing up from our rivers and waterways. That costs us all money. Buying organic fertilizers also keeps your money out of the hands of corrupt dictators around the globe by reducing our dependency on their oil and consequently, produces a safer, more sustainable world for all of us.
That's nice John but, what about nitrogen and how do I decide what fertilizer to use?
There a some very complex ways to decide this and some simple ones. One way is, to call your local extension service and have them send you a soil sampler kit, if they do that where you live, and have them provide you with test results. The only problem with that approach is, that, they generally concentrate only on the N-P-K ratio, or, the three numbers most commonly advertised on bags of fertilizer. They are important but, one of the main differences between conventional agricultural practices and organic practice is that, when you plant and maintain your landscape organically, you first consider that "the soil is alive", and it is.
It's not some dead medium we use to transport nitrogen and other chemicals to the plants. There are many living things in the soil, like fungi, nematodes, bacteria, bugs, worms and more stuff than there is paper to write it on.
All these components work together to create what I would best describe as a living organism. Conventional fertilizers can and often do, ignore this fact and in so doing, damage the soil, making you become ever more dependent on ever more chemical fertilizers to sustain healthy plant life, because, the normal mechanisms of the soil, which would ordinarily protect the plants from harm and provide them with what they need, have been damaged or killed off by the constant influx of chemical made from petroleum and synthetic products. Many commercial fertilizers also contain, little, if any micronutrients, another key factor in sustainable healthy plant growth.
For right now, lets think about the nitrogen content in fertilizer. When you read a fertilizer label, you'll see that the first letter in the series "N-P-K" stands for nitrogen "N". You'll notice that that figure is broken down into two parts. Water soluble nitrogen and water insoluble nitrogen.
Water soluble nitrogen, is exactly that, Nitrogen that dissolves in water. This is what's available immediately to the plant after application and watering into the soil. Most commercial fertilizers concentrate on that figure almost exclusively. This is why they can make those inane commercials on TV bragging about lush, thick growth. A lot of soluble nitrogen will give you a lot of instant gratification, but, you will have to follow up with their five step program. This is for at least a couple reasons. First, that form of nitrogen gets used up by the plants very quickly. Second, most of it is so soluble, it never makes it into the plants. It just washes right through the soil, and often times finds it's way into the water table, causing pollution and contamination of the drinking water and rivers and streams. Water insoluble nitrogen, on the other hand, attaches to the soil itself and, the plant has to do a little work to get it freed up and ready to use. Mother nature has some work to do to. The various living organisms in the soil and chemical reactions that take place there, slowly make this form of nitrogen available to the plants. It's like a reserve of nitrogen in the soil, in a nontoxic form, that the plants can tap into as they need it. This form of nitrogen storage and transmission, if I'm allowed to call it that, also causes the plants to develop stronger root systems and consequently, that produces healthier top growth as well. It's kind of like the difference between some one who eats a lot of junk food and some one who eats a well balanced diet. Most of the time, a well balanced diet will produce a healthier individual, more capable of withstanding the onslaught of disease, thirst and strenuous exercise than the ones who eat junk all the time. Sometimes you can't tell by looking at the person, or the lawn, but, just put them both to the test and then the weaknesses show up.
There are times when a soil is depleated and a little more water soluble nitrogen is needed than water insoluble so, there are different types of fertilizers made to accommodate this need. So, read the label and, while you're doing that, think about the type of soil you're going to apply it to. If your plants be they lawn or shrubs etc., have been ignored for a long time and seem kinda yellow and, or weak, then, consider applying a fertilizer with a little more soluble nitrogen, to get them started and then, back off a little as they get stronger.
Remember, nitrogen is only one chemical in a host of other chemicals and reactions that determine the health of a soil and consequently, the health of the plants.
If you would like to read more and in depth about this subject, you can purchase one of a few books we sell. Go to our books page and get one now, if you want. It will help you take care of your lawn, farm and landscape, and help make the world a better place if we all know and understand as much as possible about what's going on underneath our feet!
Rule of thumb for organic agriculture is " It's better to fertilizer more often with less, than less often with more."
SPRING MAY BE IN THE AIR, BUT PESTICIDES NEEDN’T BE