Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscape Management
The Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscape Management list identifies the range of natural fertility product suppliers that support soil fertility and soil health, which is essential to healthy plants and landscapes. The microbial activity in the soil that makes up the soil food web (including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, nematodes and micro-arthropods, earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants) is foundational to the natural cycling of nutrients that sustains plant life. Organic practices feed the biological life in the soil, not the plant directly. As communities recognize the hazards of and restrict pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) used to manage their parks, school grounds, playing fields, golf courses, and public spaces (See Lawn and Landscape Factsheet), land managers are rethinking how turf systems are managed.
Since chemical-intensive practices are built on the presumption that parks and playing fields require toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to be managed to community expectations, thinking about the soil system is often new to land managers. While managers often test and manage soil chemistry and plant nutrients, they typically have not evaluated and nurtured the soil food web. When restrictions on pesticides are put in place to protect public health, pets, wildlife, and the environment, land managers often ask, “What products can replace those that have been taken away or restricted?” However, when transitioning to organic management, the better question is, “What practices and products should be adopted to build healthy turf or landscapes?” The answer: A combination of soil fertility practices that nurture the soil biology, cultural practices that facilitate the natural cycling of nutrients, and products that are compatible with microbial life in the soil and organic systems. Toxic pesticide and synthetic fertility use is harmful to the soil biology, creating a dependency on toxic chemicals to solve what become unending and escalating pest problems –often referred to as a toxic treadmill.
Beyond Pesticides has compiled the Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscapes list to assist in establishing the foundation of a healthy lawn, turf system, landscape, and garden. This list complements the List of Products Compatible with Organic Landscape Management, which identifies organic compatible insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
Why focus on soil fertility and soil health?
The focus on soil health is a basic principle in organic agriculture that has direct applicability to all land management, including organic lawn and landscape management. The healthier the plant, the more resilient it is to the stress of playing field or park use. Organic soil systems improve water retention, reducing water consumption and making the system less vulnerable to periods of drought or low water. They also more readily sequester carbon as a food source, and slow global climate change. In organic, as defined by the Organic Foods Production Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, the only inputs allowed in certified operations are those that do not adversely affect the “biological and chemical interactions in the agroecosystem, including the physiological effects of the substance on soil organisms. . .” [7 U.S.C. 6518(m)(5)]. Because of this, synthetic fertilizers are prohibited in certified organic systems. While chemical-intensive land management relies on synthetic fertilizers that are soluble chemicals taken up by the plant and prone to run-off into waterways, organic systems rely on feeding the soil microbes, which in turn produce solubilized nutrients that are absorbed by the plant. Understanding of the living soil and the launching of organic principles in agroecology go back to the field studies (1939) and publication of The Living Soil (1943) by agriculturist Lady Evelyn Balfour, the work of Sir Albert Howard (An Agricultural Testament and The Soil and Health), and J.I. Rodale (Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts), among others.
Organic Matter and Composted Materials
In an organic system, organic matter (such as a material derived from compost or natural sources) is added to the turf or landscape and then broken down into nutrients. Author and professor David Montgomery, Ph.D. has said of transitioning his own lawn and garden,
“The microbial life—the bacteria and fungi—were the things primarily responsible for that transformation, and they turned out to be very nutrient rich—rich in nitrogen, rich in phosphorus, and rich in the micronutrients that all life forms need. Why? Well, because they are breaking down organic matter that used to have those nutrients—used to be living matter. When nematodes and microarthropods can graze on and consume these smaller creatures, it comes out later in a transformed state that can be fairly good fertilizer. I like to think of them as tiny livestock that are manuring the soil from the inside out. We are adding all that organic matter to the yard, basically feeding our grazing animals, which are then in turn being grazed. That is essentially building up the nutrient levels in the soil through a two-step soil-food web.” (2017)
Dr. Montgomery explains the importance of the rhizosphere, which is the area around a plant’s root system that is rich with microbial life, and describes it as “one of the most life-dense zones on the planet.” Dr. Montgomery continues, “I learned to see the rhizosphere, this life-dense zone around the roots of plants, as what we call a biological bazaar, where microbes and plants trade nutrients, metabolites, and exudates.” And, “The plants are helping to feed the microbes, the microbes are helping to nurture the growth, and, it turns out, the health of the plants. Mycorrhizal fungi, reaching out into the soil, are going out and excavating things like phosphorus, manganese, or iron from the soil, bringing it back, and trading it to the plant in exchange for a cut of the photosynthetic harvest,” Dr. Montgomery said. (See Dr. Montgomery’s Sustaining Life: From Soil Microbiota to Gut Microbiome.)
Building a List of Soil Fertility Products
The Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscape Management identifies categories of products and companies that are currently marketing organic fertility products to general consumers and smaller purchasers. The list also indicates whether products are available for purchase through the manufacturer’s website or must be purchased through a retailer or dealer. The list will grow over time, and readers are encouraged to send product names and companies that should be listed as the on-line list expands. At this time, the list does not include specific fertilizer products, but instead breaks down companies based on their specialty. While companies like Dr. Earth provide a range of consumer-friendly fertilizers for lawns and landscapes, Worm Power, for instance, specializes solely in liquid vermicompost teas (a source of microbial life). To further assist consumers in supporting companies that go organic, the list indicates whether a company’s entire product line is compatible with certified organic operations, or whether only a select number of products achieve that status. Products are often labeled as “OMRI” listed, which means that manufacturers have paid the Organic Materials Review Institute to assess the product’s compliance with the Organic Foods Production Act. However, there are numerous products that may be determined by a materials review organization to be compatible, but are not OMRI-listed.
But Isn’t a fertilizer just a fertilizer?
There are important distinctions between synthetic (including ammonium nitrate and urea nitrate) and organic fertilizers used on lawns and landscapes. Synthetic, salt, and ammonia-based fertilizers are not good at feeding soil, and many are actually toxic to soil organisms. Employed by lawn care companies like Tru-Green, these products give a lawn a quick boost and green-up, but the results are short-lived. Excessive synthetic nitrogen causes soil microorganisms to multiply rapidly, consuming available carbon and organic matter. Grass and plants become dependent on heavy influxes of nitrogen to maintain a green appearance, as well as toxic pesticides to keep weed, insect, and fungal pressures down, while soil quality continues to decline.
Organic fertilizers provide a gentle, slow release of a range of macro and micronutrients that nourish the lawn and landscape by feeding soil microorganisms. As biological life in the soil grows, this microorganism “microherd” can become so productive that it begins to cycle up to two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each month of the growing season. Thus, the focus is not on using fertilizer products to sustain cosmetic appearances, but using fertilizers that enable soil life to naturally sustain grass and landscape plants. And not only is biological life feeding plants, it is also acting to prevent pest problems by building plant resiliency. Well-maintained organic lawns grow thicker grass, which crowds out weeds, and has fewer problems with insects like grubs because predators in the soil consume eggs and larvae before they have a chance to damage turf. Over time, this approach saves money by not requiring the frequent use of expensive, petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer or toxic pesticide applications.
What nutrients do grass need?
The primary nutrients that grass needs to grow are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are considered secondary nutrients. A soil test will identify the levels that are required for optimal growth, but will vary for different species, cultivars, and time of year. In an organic system, the soil organisms, if properly nurtured with natural fertility, will provide the required nutrients for the healthy turf systems. Key to fertility is the facilitation of both vertical and horizontal root growth to promote a thick and resilient stand. Fertility in the fall or cooler season helps support root depth. (For other cultural practices that contribute to a healthy lawn, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes webpage.
From Theory to Practice: Start with a Soil Test
The theory behind the organic approach sounds good, but how do you actually put it into practice? Start with two types of soil tests – one for soil chemistry and another for the soil food web.
Soil chemistry. Soil chemistry tests can be performed for a small fee by state agricultural extension offices or national labs such as WayPoint Analytical. Organic fertility recommendations should be requested. The soil test will identify the nutrients and minerals that are deficient in the soil. pH and lime or gypsum recommendations are important because soils that are too acidic or too basic lock up important nutrients that only pH corrections can address. Most grass species like the pH around 6.5 or 7.0.
Soil biology. The soil foodweb analysis will identify the microorganisms and the organic matter content in the soil. Generally for lawns, one application of compost sometime during the growing season is the best action you can take to jump-start soil life. Apply it at a rate of roughly ½ cubic yard per 1,000 feet – you should cover the lawn with about a quarter inch of compost. Alternatively, you can employ compost tea (vermicompost tea will also work) in place of a solid compost application. For higher-quality or heavily-used grounds and fields, you’ll need a bit more work to develop and maintain soil life. In that case, applications of humate products (follow label directions for applications) like Humamend by Organic Approach, biological soil stimulants like Vitazyme by Vital Earth Resources, or Neptune’s Harvest Turf Formula can further enhance your microherd’s ability to supply nutrients to turf.
While the list of Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscape Management should prove to be a good resource for sourcing high quality organic fertilizers, products alone will not achieve the desired results. Fertilizers are only one part of a system that requires attention to cultural practices, such as mowing high, aeration, proper watering, overseeding, and dethatching. Fall is the best time to apply compost or compost tea topdressing, as well as aerating and overseeding. For more information on the cultural practices that support an organically fertilized lawn, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn and Landscapes program webpage.
|Company||Website||Specialty||All Fertilizer Products
Puchase on Website?
|Advanced Marine Technologies||www.countrygemorganics.com||Sea-based Fertilizer||Yes||Yes|
|Anasazi Gold Organics||www.anasazigoldorganics.com||Humates||No||Yes|
|Aquasap||www.aquasapseaweed.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Beneficial Biologics||www.beneficialbiologics.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|BioAgricultural Services||www.bioag.com||Humates||Yes||No (retailer list).|
|BioChar Now||www.biocharnow.com||BioChar||Yes||Call or webform.|
|BioFert Manufacturing||http://www.biofert.ca||Misc Fertilizers||No||Distributer list
|BioFlora Systems||https://www.bioflora.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes (Amazon link)
and retailer list.
|BlackEarth||Humates||No||Call or Webform.|
|Blessing Blends||www.blessingsblends.com||Compost||Yes||Call or Webform.|
|Botanicare||www.botanicare.com||Liquid Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Calcium Products||www.calciumproducts.com||Lime/Gypsum||No||Call or webform.|
|California Organic Fertilizers||www.organicag.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Coast of Maine||www.coastofmaine.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Cold Creek Compsot||www.coldcreekcompost.com||Compost||No||Call or webform.|
|Converted Organics||www.convertedorganic.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or
|rop Services International||www.cropservicesintl.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Avenger Organics||www.avengerorganics.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|Cutting Edge Solutions||www.cuttingedgesolutions.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Down to Earth Distributors||www.downtoearthfertilizer.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Dr. Earth||www.drearth.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Dramm||www.dramm.com||Fish Fertilizer||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Earth Green||http://www.earthgreen.com||Humates||No||Call or webform.|
|Earthworm Organics||www.vermigrowproducts.com||Vermicompost Tea||Yes||Call or webform.|
|EB Stone Organics||www.ebstone.org||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Eco Friendly Products||www.ecofriendlyonline.com||Turf Care||No||Yes|
|Eco Nutrients||www.econutrients.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Ecoscraps||www.ecoscraps.com||Compost||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Enterra Food Corporation||www.enterrafeed.com||Insect-based Fertilizer||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Envirem Organics||www.envirem.com||Compost||No||Call or webform.|
|EnviroKure||www.envirokure.com||Liquid Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Environmental Care and Share||www.ecands.bio||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|-Z Gro||www.ez-gro.com/||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Fertilizers USA||www.fertilizersusa.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Must go through distributor.|
|Ferti-Organic||www.ferti-organic.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Fox Farm||www.foxfarmfertilizer.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Healthy Grow||www.healthygrow.com||Poultry-based fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Healthy Soil||www.healthysoil.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Humic Growth Solutions||www.humicgrowth.com||Humates||No||Call or webform.|
|JH Biotech||www.jhbiotech.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Jobes||www.jobescompany.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|John and Bob's Fertilizer Company||www.johnandbobs.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|Jongs Organic||www.jongs.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes. (Link to
|Juniper Farms||www.juniperfarms.com||Mulch/Growing Media||No||Call or webform.|
|Kellogg Garden products||www.kellogggarden.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|LiveEarth||www.livearth.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Maxicrop||www.maxicrop.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||No||No (Call)|
|McGeary Organics||www.mcgearyorganics.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Yes|
|Mighty Grow Organics||www.mightygrow.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Monty's Plant Food Company||www.montysplantfood.com||Humates||No||Call or webform.|
|Nature Safe||www.naturesafe.com||Turf Care||No||Call or webform.|
|Neptune's Harvest||www.neptunesharvest.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|North Country Organics||www.norganics.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|NutriAg||www.nutriaghomeandgarden.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|OceanGrown||www.oceangrown.com||Sea-based fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Organic Ag Products||www.organicagproducts.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Organic Approach||www.organicapproach.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|Pacific Gro||www.pacificgro.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|PJC Organic||www.pjcorganic.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|remier Tech||www.pthomeandgarden.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Progressive Farms||www.microbemakers.com||Compost Teas||No||Yes|
|Purple Cow Organics||www.purplecoworganics.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Red Worm Power||www.redwormpower.com||Vermicompost Tea||Yes||Yes (Webform and invoice)|
|Reforestation Technologies International||www.reforest.com||Tree Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Safer Brand||www.saferbrand.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|Southern Organics and Supply||southernorganicsandsupply.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Sun Gro||www.sungro.com||Mulch/Growing Media||No||Call or webform.|
|SurVerda||www.surverda.com/||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Sustane Natural Fertilizers||www.sustane.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|TechnaFlora Plant Products||www.technaflora.com||Liquid Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|Terra Fresh||www.terrafreshhome.com||Plant Extracts||Yes||Yes|
|The Ahimsa Alternative||www.neemresource.com||Neem Products||Yes||Yes|
|The Worm Farm||www.thewormfarm.net||Vermicompost||No||Yes|
|Therm-O-Rock||www.thermorock.com||Pearlite/Vermiculate||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Thorvin||www.thorvin.com||Sea-based Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|True Organic Products||www.true.ag||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Vermicrop Organics||www.vermicrop.com||Vermicompost||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Vermitechnology||www.vermitechnology.com||Vermicompost||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Vital Earth Resources||www.vitalearth.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Call or webform.|
|Western Nutrients||www.westernnutrientscorp.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Yes|
|Westland||www.westlandltd.com||Misc Fertilizers||No||Call or webform.|
|WisEarth Organics||hwww.wisearth.com||Misc Fertilizers||Yes||Yes|
|Worm Power||www.wormpower.net||Vermicompost Tea||Yes||