by C.J. Brown
A description of where Milorganite comes from, and what it can do for your lawn.
|Q: A friend recommended that I use Milorganite to fertilize my lawn. What is this, and is it as good as regular fertilizer?
A: Milorganite is simply a type of fertilizer, but it has a few characteristics that set it apart. In fact, if you have any relatives in Milwaukee, you may well be utilizing their leftovers. When I use the term “leftovers”, I ain’t talking about the uneaten food.
The name “Milorganite” is actually a composite of MILwaukee ORGAnic NITrogen. In a nod to the peculiar rules of English spelling, an E was added on the end to make the word sound better.
This product was first made as a by-product of Milwaukee’s sewage treatment plant in 1926. Some scientists analyzed the nutrient content and found that it had the grade of 6-2-0 (more common, synthetic fertilizers are more like 20-5-10). You may recall from a previous column that this means it has 6% Nitrogen, 2% Phosphorus, and 0% Potassium. In truth, there is a little potassium, just not enough to make the label. Since the nutrient concentration is three to four times lower than typical fertilizers, you would need to apply three to four times as much for the same effect.
When you open a bag of Milorganite, you’ll immediately notice that it smells like a warm apple pie that has been carefully and lovingly dropped into fifteen thousand gallons of raw sewage. Actually in all fairness, they do a heck of a job in reducing the odor. Still, you’ll find it less preferable to the fertilizers you are probably used to. Keep in mind though that in 1926, this stuff was practically Chanel #5 compared to the actual sewage sludge that was previously used.
The only drawback to using all organic fertilizers like Milorganite is that they are temperature dependent. Organics require soil microorganisms to break them down before the nutrients become available. The microorganisms in question happen to be quite lazy when the soil temperatures are cool. If you were to fertilize your lawn with Milorganite in Early April, you may not see any significant results for up to a month and a half. This can get frustrating.
One of the added benefits to using an organic source like Milorganite is that you are literally feeding the microorganisms in the soil. Without getting too technical, that’s a good thing. In fact, the nutrients your lawn gets are actually by-products of the microorganisms feeding. If you think about it, your lawn is actually getting nutrition from a by-product of a processed by-product of last year’s Thanksgiving dinner. If that isn’t the perfect circle of life, I don’t know what is.
I do have one added suggestion though. Since the Potassium concentration is so low, you should consider picking up some inexpensive potassium fertilizer in the form of sulfate of potash. The grade on this will be 0-0-7. As I struggle with the urge to make a James Bond joke, I’ll point out that one application per year of the potassium will be completely sufficient. The other thing I’ll point out is that sulfate of potash is basically crushed up rocks. You can feel comfortable that this is also a natural product.
Though Milorganite shouldn’t be looked at as some sort of panacea, in certainly can be used as a positive addition to your overall lawn care strategy.
Want to see more? Visit me on the web at www.TheLawnCoach.com. I hope to hear from you there!