As part of Homestead's "Cherish the Chesapeake" Spring Open House, customers attended a talk about organic lawn care by a rep of the company that's been organic since the start - in 1929.  Often known as the Hollytone company, or simply the "Tone" company because so many of its fertilizers end in that syllable, it's actually Espoma, based in New Jersey. 

The big news for loyal customers AND Bay-loving gardeners is that Espoma is taking on the giants of the synthetic lawn fertilizer world with a competing line of products, and this awesome viral video. that pays homage to Apple's famous advertisement announcing the Mac.

Here's a quick overview of the Espoma organic lawn care message.

Conventional (Synthetic) Lawn Care:

  • Is potentially harmful to people and pets
  • Can leach into nearby groundwater (and end up polluting the Chesapeake Bay!)
  • Can kill earthworms and beneficial microbes
  • Provides short-lived nutrition
  • Has a high burn potential

Organic Lawn Care:

  • Is safe for people, pets and the environment
  • Won't burn lawn or leach out of the soil
  • Provides long-lasting nutrition
  • Creates healthy lawns and soils
  • Requires less frequent mowing

Espoma's lawn care system is a four-bag process in most of the U.S., and just a three-bag process here in Maryland:

  1. Spring Lawn Booster is 100 percent corn gluten.  At a heavy application rate, it suppresses weeds while fertilizing the lawn.  At lower rates for feeding only, it provides 1/2 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  And, like all these products, it's Phosphorus-free, so complies with Maryland law and protects the Chesapeake.  It also contains the fabulous micro-organism-encouraging product Bio-tone.
  2. All-Season Lawn Fertilizer can be applied from April to June.  It provides 1/2 pound manure-based Nitrogen and Bio-tone, but no phosphorus or potassium.
  3. Fall Winterizer's nutrient make-up is 8-0-5 (so, Nitrogen and potassium), but not the Bio-tone because that's not the time of year to activate microorganisms.  Provides 1/2 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  Fertilizer can be applied from September through mid-November.

Skipping the summer feeding used elsewhere but not recommended for Maryland, these three products together provide 1.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.  To give your lawn the 2 pounds per year recommended by the U. of MD. for healthy, robust lawns, just leave grass clippings on the lawn.  That provides almost a pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 sf and it's free.  Alternatively, do a second fall application of the Fall Winterizer product a few weeks after the first.

Cost Comparison Organic v. Synthetic

According to Espoma, their all-natural program costs about $35 more per year for a 5,000 square foot lawn, compared to the petroleum-based synthetic product.  Not a huge differential to get your lawn off its addiction to fast-acting, some would say addictive products and return it and the soil beneath it to a healthy state.  Not to mention protecting the Chesapeake Bay!

Weed Control

Espoma and organic gardening proponents everywhere encourage homeowners to use good gardening practices to reduce or eliminate weeds, rather than turning to more products that need to be purchased and applied.  So Shockey told his audience "Don't apply herbicides; they're not needed."  Alternatively, good gardening practices that reduce weeds are:

  • The best way to have a weed-free lawn is to give it the nutrients it needs to be thick and healthy, thereby crowding out the weeds.
  • It's also important  to overseed your lawn every year or every other year, as needed, to thicken up thin spots or even the whole lawn.  Many if not most homeowners neglect this step, and that may be because no advertiser is spending millions telling us to do it, the way they're telling us to apply chemicals of various sorts.  Fall is the best time to overseed.
  • Corn gluten applied when the forsythias are blooming acts as a pre-emergent weed deterrent (while applying its Nitrogen to the soil).  It prevents most dandelions in the first year, and more in subsequent years.
  • Another way to reduce dandelions in your lawn is to reduce the concentration fo clay in your soil - because dandelions LOVE clay.  If your soil is  clayey, add gypsum to it; it's a great clay-buster.  
  • Core-aeration, which is the removal of 3-4" plugs of soil, is the best remedy for compaction of your lawn's underying soil, and it is compaction that makes soil weed-prone and difficult to grow good lawns on. Shockey suggests renting or borrowing a core aerator in the spring and fall, as needed.
  • Weeds also like acid-y soil, so if your lawn is weedy, get the soil tested and if it determines that your soil needs to be more neutral, less acidy, just add pulverized limestone and test again the next year.
  • Mow high, to a height of 3 to 3.5 inches, and never remove more than 1/3 of the blade at a time.  Taller blades shade the soil, which reduces weeds and helps the soil retain rainwater.
  • Provide 1 inch of water per week if rainfall isn't sufficient.

Espoma makes no lawn pesticides of any kind - whether weedkillers, insect-killers or disease-fighting products.  Instead, they're spreading the word about pesticide-free routes to healthy lawns.

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