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Identifying the benefits of taking a natural approach to lawn care

November 20, 2022 -  By
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Rob Elder, owner of Omaha (Neb.) Organics sells corn gluten, made of pressed corn, as a natural preemergent herbicide. (Photo: Omaha Organics)

Rob Elder, owner of Omaha (Neb.) Organics sells corn gluten, made of pressed corn, as a natural preemergent herbicide. (Photo: Omaha Organics)

After having kids, Rob Elder, owner of Omaha Organics in Omaha, Neb., says he wanted a way to have a safe, sustainable and beautiful lawn that his family and pets could enjoy — leading him to organic products. Elder is not alone. Many lawn care operators (LCOs) turn to biologicals and organics to improve the soil structure and become more environmentally conscious.

Omaha Organics provides organic lawn care, maintenance and fall/spring cleanup for clients that are 75 percent residential, 20 percent commercial and 5 percent municipalities. The business also manufactures and sells its own organic fertilizer products.

Rob Elder

Rob Elder

Elder says a standard recommended annual organic service program consists of a soil test, four applications of organic fertilizer and a fall aeration with seeding. Depending on the needs of the lawn, technicians may use additional soil amendments like gypsum, phosphorus, lime or top dressing.

The raw materials in the fertilizer applications contain one or more organic ingredients, including corn gluten, alfalfa, soy meal, kelp, molasses and sulfate of potash. Omaha Organics also offers other types of soil amendments and pest control products containing natural applications like gypsum, lime, humic acid, fish emulsion and neem oil.

The biggest challenge is customers who have concerns about the cost. Organic products typically are more expensive, he says.

“Organic fertilizers also are applied at a much higher rate per square foot than synthetic fertilizers, so one bag of organic fertilizer does not go nearly as far as a synthetic bag, which adds to the overall cost,” Elder says.

Another concern Elder says he encounters is the time needed for the program to establish and show results.

“An organic lawn is not a quick fix. We spend a lot of time educating our clients and resetting their expectations if they are accustomed to the fast-acting results of a synthetic fertilizer program,” he says.

Locally sourced

Chris Burisek

Chris Burisek

Chris Burisek, owner of Pure Prairie Organics in Joliet, Ill., uses kelp, Milorganite or other biomatter products and products made from grains leftover from the food and beverage industry.

“With us, it’s about using products that are already available and not ones that are necessarily made in a factory, which causes pollution,” Burisek says.

His company provides organic lawn care, organic-based blended lawn care (about 85 percent organic), tree/shrub care and pest/insect control services. Pure Prairie Organics’ customers are 95 percent residential and 5 percent commercial.

The main pushback Burisek receives about using organic products comes from prospective homeowner associations (HOA), who mainly compare
companies’ prices. He says HOAs aren’t his target audience.

“Most homeowners find us because that is what they are into and how they live their lives,” Burisek says. “They eat organic and natural food, use natural and organic products in their home and want it outside their home too.”

Build healthier lawns

Don Zerby

Don Zerby

With more than four decades of experience, Don Zerby — owner of Ecolawn in Eastlake, Ohio — uses a variety of organic matter and materials depending on local availability. That includes orange peel, corn gluten and yucca extract. Ecolawn’s hybrid program also includes applications of control products as needed.

His company services mainly residential customers and provides lawn care, tree/shrub care and pest control. He says when technicians apply organic matter to the soil, more nutrients are available for the root system to grow deeper.

“That’s important because soil moisture is retained lower in the soil profile,” he says. “In extreme circumstances like heat, drought or high-traffic areas, the lawn is going to be healthier because of the availability of those nutrients.”

Zerby says educating customers about Ecolawn’s use of organics and its benefits is an important part.

“Organics were designed to be included as a part of my program to build healthier lawns,” Zerby says. “Healthier lawns require a lot less use of control products to stay healthy.”

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