After mowers, fertiliser is the most frequently sold lawn care product – it comes in various shapes, sizes and colours, packaged with alluring names and claiming all kinds of unique benefits. However, lesson one in using fertilisers is that without good basic lawn care, no fertiliser will work properly. So, while hundreds of thousands of tons of lawn fertilisers are applied every year across the UK in pursuit of green excellence, many gardeners are left disappointed.
However, there is another big issue – organic versus inorganic. And here at the Lawn Association we are definitely fans of organic fertilisers. But why?
The answer is simple but in two parts: 1) organics are better for the soil as well as the grass, and 2) organics are kinder to the environment. The problem is that the type most favoured by lawn care companies is the inorganic – it’s cheaper, vigorously marketed and has a history within sports turf care which continues to exert the wrong influence on domestic lawn care.
What’s wrong with inorganics?
They usually contain a mix of nutrients (such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate) in a higher form than an organic fertiliser. Sounds good, yes? Well, they’re also manufactured from chemicals, often using concentrated urea. And they can have high salt levels, which can cause adverse effects on the skin and surrounding areas of application and even burn the grass they are supposed to help.
And there’s more.
Many of these chemical, inorganic fertilisers are manufactured to be ‘slow release’. Again – sounds good, but this actually means they may have a coating of microplastic to facilitate the slower release of nutrients and prevent the burning of the grass. And yes, this plastic will remain within the soil profile for many years (sometimes indefinitely) after application, precisely the kind of practice that is broadly no longer accepted in any aspect of life. Surely all gardeners and lawn professional alike should look for more sustainable alternatives?
Let’s not forget the 3-in1 products that you can buy in the retail sector. Some inorganic fertilisers available in garden centres contain a mix of herbicide, moss control, and macro-nutrients. These appear tempting but they are not good for general use; you have very little control over the quantities of each constituent and they can never work as effectively as when used as a single product.
So why does anyone still use inorganic fertiliser?
More recently, organics have become mainstream in all other aspects of gardening, but lawn care continues to follow sports turf care – to its peril. Hopefully this is beginning to change, however, as we witness a progressive movement towards the use of organic fertilisers. Major football and rugby clubs, as well as golf courses such as St Andrew’s, are beginning to reap the benefits and rewards of switching to a more organic and sustainable approach, using fertilisers from companies such as Terralift. They have been spearheading a much more Earth-conscious and sustainable approach by using recycled food waste and turning it into useable and practical high-grade fertilisers.
Manufacturers and their profit margins also lead the trends. Organic fertilisers, made from more natural sources, enable lower overall use of fossil fuels to create them – but because they are slower to produce, they often cost more than their synthetic counterparts. However, the right marketing message for today should be that organics pose no risk to humans, animals or the surrounding area of application, and their hugely overlooked benefit is how they interact with the soil to which they are applied. Organic fertilisers not only feed your lawn, but they also condition your soil, helping to promote positive levels of beneficial bacteria, and improving soil texture and composition well after the grass plants have taken in their nutrients.
So, next time you look to buy or use lawn fertiliser, ask yourself, do you want to use a chemical-filled, fossil-fuel manufactured option that may even be putting plastic into your lawn? Or would you prefer a natural, sustainable option that works with and improves your soils? After all, look after your soils and you avoid many of the more annoying lawn care problems!
We know which ones we prefer.