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Organic Lawn and Garden Herbicides and Fertilizers

by Gabby Hyman, All About Lawns Columnist

Your great-grandmother or great uncle might tell you, vinegar can be a powerful herbicide. Long before the development of toxic herbicides, gardeners relied on organic substances to battle weeds in the garden. For centuries, the world seemed to grow enough food by using naturally occurring animal manure and fish bones as fertilizers. So, are organic herbicides and fertilizers as effective as their synthetic counterparts?

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The answer depends on which expert you ask. Organic herbicides typically require more frequent applications and persistence than chemical spot killers. Many organic farmers might confess that organic herbicides are less effective than chemical spot-killers, however most would rather use repeated applications of substances containing citric acid, garlic, clove oil, and acetic acid than hammer their lawns, flowers, or vegetables with glyphosate (the common ingredient in Roundup).

The distinction is easy. Manmade herbicides are systemic. They invade the organism and kill it at the roots, potentially leeching chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Spray off center, and you may create collateral damage. Organic herbicides typically burn down the weed without affecting adjacent grasses and plants. Some organic manufacturers report kill rates in 24 hours. (By the way, vinegar has not proven effective against perennial weeds once they're established.)

Looking at Organic Lawn and Garden Fertilizers
Lawn and garden fertilizers--organic or otherwise--are created for specific applications. Starter fertilizers have a special balance of mineral nutrients to jump-start plants. There are general-purpose fertilizer products for sustaining lawn or garden growth, some that foster blooming, some that promote root development, and others that are specifically compounded to repair damaged lawns.

Starter fertilizers with a balance of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus are worked into the soil before planting. A general purpose fertilizer may have the three elements in a ratio of 27-4-6 or 8-2-4, while a starter may deliver 10-24-6, delivering root-specific potassium at a higher level than the greening nitrogen elements.

Organic lawn fertilizer typically provides the same nutrients in natural, biodegradable, slow-release forms, from elements such as manure, blood and bonemeal, or animal feathers. The argument for organic fertilizer is that it interacts with the soil, naturally enriching it over the long haul.

Flower and vegetable garden fertilizers are also offered in organic and synthetic pellets, sprays, and powders. Higher potassium concentrations in flower fertilizers may help promote blooming, while vegetable fertilizers have balanced, high-concentration nutrients to produce food. Again, your choice depends upon whether your garden minerals should be assembled chemically for slow release, or distributed from organic substances that interact with microbes in the soil.


About the Author
Gabby Hyman has created online strategies and written content for Fortune 500 companies including eToys, GoTo.com, Siebel Systems, Microsoft Encarta, Avaya, and Nissan UK.

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