January 7, 2009

Lawn fertilization and topdressing

Here’s the straight poop.

Now that I have your attention, I’m referring to manure, fertilizer, biosolids, or whatever you choose to call human and animal waste. It may not be the most savory topic, but it’s timely. Green lawn fans in this area are preparing for their annual September ritual—topdressing lawns.
Thirty years ago, many US cities dumped their raw sewage directly into our rivers and bays. Today’s wastewater treatment plants can leave us with treated biosolids that meet the most stringent federal and state standards and can be safely used to topdress lawns. But don’t smother your grass to amend the soil. Our heavy clay soils really benefit from just ¼ to ½ inch annual topdressing.

Which products are best? It’s difficult to flush out (pun intended) the facts, but here is some information.

Nutri-Green — Comes from Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) wastewater treatment plant. HRSD sends treated biosolids to a company that adds recycled paper products and woodchips. This mixture is turned frequently and proper aerobic conditions are monitored.
After about 60 days, the product (regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality) is fully stabilized, free of weeds and pathogens, and tested for nutrient and trace metal content. It has a guaranteed analysis of 2% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 0% potassium, and won’t burn your lawn. It’s sold at Ace Hardware and Anderson’s Greenery.

Milorganite — Is similar to Nutri-Green, but comes from Milwaukee’s wastewater treatment plant. Some folks even swear that it’s an effective deer repellant too. It’s available at almost all lawn and garden stores. Milorganite is 6% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 4% iron, and it will not stain concrete, as Ironite can.

Speaking of Ironite, made from steel mill waste, I used to recommend it as a quick “greener upper” for lawns, but the EPA website now reports, “The presence of heavy metals in Ironite has resulted in its banning in Canada and lawsuits in the United States due to the potential release of heavy metals, most notably arsenic and lead.”

TerraCycle Plant Food — Is the latest eco-friendly potted plant fertilizer from an innovative company, founded in 2001 by two Princeton students who were concerned about the huge amount of solid waste generated by the university’s dining halls. TerraCycle now diverts thousands of tons of organic waste (food waste, paper waste, and garden clippings) from landfills and feeds it to millions of worms! The final product, from the aft end of the worms, is 5% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, and 4% potassium. The company even goes the extra green mile and packages this “vermicompost.” in used plastic milk jugs and soda bottles. Rutgers and the American Horticultural Society endorse this eco-capitalism success story. Locate retailers or buy online at http://www.terracycle.net/

REMEMBER . . . Cool-season grasses such as fescues do NOT need fertilizing in the spring, in spite of those ads from our favoite two big box garden centers. Check out Virginia Tech's Turf Info for the latest expert advice.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation also offers Healthy Lawns; Healthy Waters.

Another catchy ad program that promotes NO spring fertilization of lawns in our area is from the Chesapeake Club. They like to say "Help save the crabs. Then eat 'em."