Many homemade lawn fertilizer recipes contain ingredients that feel safe and familiar, like dish soap, Epsom salt, and household ammonia. Store-bought fertilizers can green up your lawn in a snap, but you feel weary about the harmful impact those products have on the environment.
Before you open your kitchen cabinets for a homemade solution, we’re going to let you in on a secret: ‘homemade’ doesn’t always mean effective. And it doesn’t always mean safe, either.
So which homemade fertilizer ingredients should you avoid? And which homemade solutions will benefit your lawn?
- What is fertilizer?
- Why should you fertilize your lawn?
- Homemade fertilizer vs. store-bought fertilizer
- What are some homemade fertilizers?
- Treat your lawn with the right home remedy
What is fertilizer?
Fertilizer is any substance of natural or synthetic origin that you apply to soil to provide plant nutrients and enhance the soil’s fertility.
The three essential nutrients your grass needs to grow are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen is the most important nutrient grass requires. Most store-bought fertilizers display the ratio of these three nutrients in the order of N-P-K.
For example, a package displaying 20-0-3 means the fertilizer contains 20% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus, and 3% potassium (also known as potash in the context of fertilizer).
Why should you fertilize your lawn?
If you want your lawn to make a splash in the neighborhood, keeping it green and healthy is critical. And the best way to achieve a healthy, dense lawn is with fertilizer.
Here are the benefits of fertilizing your lawn:
- It improves your lawn’s growth
- It enhances soil health
- It helps your lawn recover from foot traffic, heat, frigid winters, and drought stress
- It helps your turf ward off weeds, pests, and disease
Homemade fertilizer vs. store-bought fertilizer
So what advantages does homemade fertilizer have over store-bought fertilizer? You might be surprised to learn that some homemade ingredients have the potential to harm your lawn and local ecosystems. But with the proper research and patience, you can find homemade solutions that are both eco-friendly and good for your yard.
✓ Some homemade fertilizers have organic ingredients that exist naturally in the environment.
✓ Some homemade fertilizer recipes call for ingredients you can easily find in your home.
✓ Homemade remedies often don’t cost much money to make, especially if you already have the ingredients.
✓ Making a homemade solution can save a trip to the store.
✗ Some homemade recipes include ingredients that contain synthetic chemicals that can pollute the environment.
✗ Most homemade recipes do not contain product labels with explicit health risks, environmental harm, and application safety. Store-bought fertilizers are required to have product labels that include these factors.
✗ With most homemade remedies, the content of available nutrients is unknown.
✗ Many homemade remedies don’t provide the three essential nutrients for grass: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
✗ Creating the proper fertilizer concentration from a homemade recipe can sometimes prove difficult. A concentration that’s too strong can burn your grass.
✗ Some homemade recipes can take a long time to make.
✓ Most store-bought fertilizers contain the three essential nutrients your turf needs to grow.
✓ The content of available nutritional content is known.
✓ According to the Utah State Cooperative Extension, both inorganic and organic fertilizers are safe for plants and the environment when properly used.
✓ Typically provide more effective results than homemade remedies.
✓ Store-bought fertilizers contain product labels detailing proper application and the risks of misusing the product.
✓ Some organic store-bought fertilizers are safer for the environment than homemade recipes that contain synthetic chemicals.
✗ Heavy rains and overwatering your lawn can cause excess fertilizers to contaminate rivers, lakes, and streams. Although nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) occur naturally in streams and lakes, excess nutrients in the water can lead to harmful algae blooms.
✗ Store-bought fertilizers can be more expensive than home remedies.
What are some homemade fertilizers?
A quick google search will show you several DIY home remedies for fertilizers. But not all of them are a magic potion for your turf. Some homemade recipes have the potential to burn your grass, while others can provide beneficial nutrients without risking your lawn’s health.
You might find your lawn responds well to a homemade remedy and decide to stick with it. In some cases, a recipe might not offer the results you want. If your lawn is still underperforming, it may need the help of store-bought fertilizers, which can provide the essential plant food for your turf.
So which recipes can help green up the lawn? Which ones do not help your lawn? We will walk you through some options.
Compost tea isn’t a warm drink to savor by the crackling fire. But your lawn (and your garden plants) would love to glug some down. According to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, applying compost tea to the lawn helps spread beneficial microbes onto soil and plants.
Compost tea also helps protect your turf from disease. The organisms in compost tea will consume available food sources and help outcompete disease organisms.
The homemade fertilizer increases soil water retention, too. Studies in Australia suggest a correlation between decreased irrigation water use and the application of compost tea.
What are the risks of compost tea? If you decide to make your tea from your own compost, you have plenty of control over what goes into your compost and how well you prepare your compost. But when you buy commercial compost tea from the store, you have less knowledge about the compost’s quality.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension writes that the commercial production of compost tea lacks regulation.
Why that can be a concern: Composting done the right way is adequate at eliminating most pathogens. But any deviation from the proper process (such as lowering the temperature) could result in pathogens from animal feces surviving, including Listeria, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli.
But here’s the good news: The cooperative extension stresses that while there is the potential for foodborne pathogen presence in compost tea, peer-reviewed medical literature has not established a link between foodborne illness and compost tea.
The best way to prevent pathogen exposure is only to use compost tea on non-edible plants. So unless you eat grass alongside your dog, applying commercial compost tea to your lawn is safe.
Compost tea recipe
If you’re applying your own homemade compost tea, you must prepare high-quality compost to minimize the risk of pathogens, especially if you add manure to your compost.
Ready to make your own liquid fertilizer? One gallon of compost tea covers approximately 1,000 square feet. Here’s a compost tea recipe by Piedmont Master Gardeners:
- Fill a clean 5-gallon bucket with 4 gallons of chlorine-free water, such as rainwater or well water.
- Aerate the water with an aquarium pump. Connect the pump with plastic tubing to two aquarium bubblers (also known as air stones) set in the water.
- Fill a fine-mesh bag or pantyhose with one cup of compost per gallon of water. Tie the bag, place it into the bucket, and squeeze it a couple of times to help infiltrate the water.
- Brew the tea for 24 to 36 hours. The University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension recommends stirring the water and rearranging the bubblers a couple of times each day.
How to apply: Within four hours of completing the brew, apply the fertilizer with a pump sprayer or Ortho-Dial-N-Spray applicator. Re-apply the tea every two to four weeks in the early morning during the growing season.
Making your first compost pile? Banana peels, veggie scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds are all excellent materials to compost.
Caution: Does your compost have grass clippings that you treated with pesticides? If so, avoid using it in the vegetable garden as a fertilizer or mulch.
We rub dish soap on the plates and forks we eat from, so that must mean it’s safe for our lawn, too, right?
Well, not really. Dish soap feels safe and familiar because we use it in homes daily, which creates the misconception that it’s safe for the environment.
Dish soap, also known as dishwashing detergent, is included as an ingredient for many homemade fertilizer recipes as a means to:
- Help the soil absorb the fertilizer down to the plant roots
- Kill pests in the lawn
- Remedy your dog’s urine stains
But here’s the thing: Dish soap can burn your grass. And many detergents contain synthetic chemicals that won’t break down in the environment.
Dish soap can help kill pests, but the potential to burn your grass might not be worth the risk. Instead of using liquid detergent, opt for a store-bought insecticidal soap that’s gentle on plants.
Another reason homeowners add dish soap to fertilizer is to neutralize dog urine stains. But the Colorado State University Extension warns that the only “product” that can minimize the urine’s negative effect on grass is water.
Liquid detergent might help you make an inexpensive home fertilizer, but it could prove detrimental to your grass.
Dish soap recipe
Dish soap is typically an optional additive in various homemade solutions. A recipe with household ammonia or Epsom salt as the main ingredient will often include a few squirts of dish soap.
Ammonia is often applied to lawns as ammonium nitrate for its high nitrogen content. About 90% of the ammonia produced worldwide is used in fertilizer.
Instead of taking a trip to the store, many homeowners turn to their household ammonia (commonly used as a cleaning product) to create a fertilizer tonic. Household ammonia is also called ammonium hydroxide because it’s ammonia gas mixed in water.
Many online recipes recommend mixing the cleaning product with water to create a diluted solution. While ammonia can provide a nitrogen source for your grass, there is a risk of killing your grass.
Here’s why: The chemical concentrations of household ammonia vary depending on the brand. The brand of household ammonia you have at home might not have the same chemical concentration as the household ammonia brand the recipe’s author used. And in many cases, the brand is not listed in the recipe.
The ambiguity between the chemical concentration in your household ammonia brand versus the unlisted brand in the recipe makes over-applications more likely, which can harm your turf. To be on the safe side, apply the diluted solution to small parts of the yard and pay close attention to your turf’s health.
Other risks of household ammonia: Remember, rainwater often washes excess fertilizer into local water ecosystems. Ammonia can reach toxic levels in the water and kill fish. Most homemade fertilizers don’t come with a product label that outlines how to apply the solution while minimizing excess fertilizer. Ammonium hydroxide is also toxic to humans.
Household ammonia recipe
Garden Guides recommends diluting one tablespoon of household ammonia in one gallon of water and applying the liquid solution to the lawn with a garden sprayer.
Epsom salt –– you use it in your relaxing footbaths, and many online recipes claim it’s like a spa treatment for a healthy, green lawn.
Pouring an Epsom salt solution might have its benefits on your lawn, but only if your turf is magnesium deficient. Keep in mind that Epsom salt alone isn’t always enough to achieve a dense, carpeted lawn. Your turf needs nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow, and Epsom salt does not supply any of those nutrients.
Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of sulfur and magnesium. Magnesium is an essential plant nutrient, and small amounts are needed to form chlorophyll.
Elemental sulfur can help acidify soils when it reacts with soil water, but the sulfate ion in Epsom salt does not affect soil pH.
Many online recipes praise Epsom salt for having many benefits in the yard, such as helping seeds germinate and increasing chlorophyll production. But according to the Washington State University (WSU) Extension, there is no scientific evidence supporting these benefits.
Epsom salt recipe
Unless your turf is magnesium deficient, the WSU Extension does not recommend applying Epsom salt. It’s also best to avoid Epsom salt if your soil’s salinity levels are high. If your soil is low in sulfur, the extension recommends applying ammonium sulfate instead.
Gardening Know How’s simple Epsom salt recipe involves dissolving two tablespoons of Epsom salt per gallon of water and spraying it on the lawn in spring.
Just like you, your lawn enjoys its morning cup of joe. So what can coffee grounds do for your lawn? Here’s what the University of Minnesota Extension has to say about the fertilizer:
- Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, carbon, and other compounds that feed organisms in the soil.
- Coffee grounds can contain compounds that help suppress some plant disease-causing microbes.
- Coffee grounds make a great addition to the compost pile. Brew your compost into a tea or use it as a healthy soil amendment for your vegetable plants.
Worried that coffee grounds might be too acidic for your soil? The extension says coffee beans have not been shown to consistently lower soil pH.
Coffee grounds recipe
This simple recipe by Backyard Boss involves mixing half a pound of coffee grounds with 5 gallons of water to spray on your lawn. You also can sprinkle the coffee grounds on the lawn by hand and then rake them into the soil.
Treat your lawn with the right home remedy
Many homemade fertilizer recipes claim to green up your lawn, but some can cause more harm than good.
Making a lawn fertilizer with familiar ingredients like dish soap might feel safer than using store-bought fertilizers. But many natural store-bought fertilizers are safer for the environment than synthetic chemicals found in homemade recipes.
Remember to investigate the various ingredients you plan to pour on your lawn. Dish soap and household ammonia have the potential to kill your grass, while compost tea and coffee grounds are typically gentler on the turf.
Leaning more toward store-bought organic fertilizers? Worried about over-applying the product? Hire a lawn care professional to get the job done right. Your local lawn care pro can help minimize excess fertilizer and spread the fertilizer uniformly. You’ll have a greener lawn, more time on your hands, and a shorter to-do list.
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