Shopping for Organic Lawn Care

If you have explored our Lawn Care site , especially our Tips and Best Practices Guide , you'll notice that we recommend several amendments, nutrients and supplies for your lawn that you may not easily find at some stores.

Here are some tips on where to find these products, how much to buy, or how long they may last in your garden shed.


Places to shop

Farmers markets

Start here first. Check with your local farmers and their partners at farmers markets—you’d be amazed at what you could learn and the deals you could make with local farmers! Some of them might have excellent supplies of compost, worm castings, free moldy straw, and most of them will know where you might buy many of the organic products you need for your lawn.

Garden stores and nurseries

Check what’s on their shelves, but don’t assume that’s all they sell. Ask to talk with the growers and nursery managers at your local garden store about bulk supplies, or the organic products you are seeking, as they may do special orders. They also need to know that customers are looking for products, to get them on their shelves at a low cost.

Hardware stores

Many hardware stores will have products on their shelves, but their staff might not have as much experience as farmers or landscapers with what their products do. You may still be able to request products not on their shelves, or get bulk orders.

The internet

When all else fails, turn to the internet if you cannot get what you need from local farmers, nurseries, or stores. 
Ask a local organic farmer for information on where to get soil amendments.Ask a local farmer about where to shop for organic supplies. Photo by wavebreakmediamicro, 123RF



Buying Compost

What to look for: Compost should be well-aged and finished. This means the compost should look like rich, fluffy soil, have  no un-composted pieces in it, and smell earthy. If it smells like ammonia or has bits of plant parts or garbage in it, or is dry and chunky, do not purchase it.

Never purchase compost made from biosolids (sewage sludge), as it can contain toxic contaminants like pharmaceuticals. Take caution with animal manures, as they can contain hormones or pharmaceuticals. If using animal manures, always go organic.

How to buy: Compost in bulk is environmentally better than in bags, and much less expensive. Bulk compost can be delivered directly to your property. (If you do purchase compost in bags, find ways to re-use the bags, such as saving them to fill later at a bulk compost or mulch pile, fill them with household trash, use as weed barriers, or turned inside out to pull poison ivy, etc.)

Where to buy: Check if your municipality has high-quality free or low-cost compost from leaf and yard waste collection programs first. Next, check with local farmers if they have compost from their operations. Most garden and nursery supply stores, as well as hardware stores, can get you bulk or bagged compost.

How long it lasts: Compost may become less biologically active without constant additions of food for the microbes to multiply, but excess compost can be kept stored in bags or under tarps for several months.
Compost. Compost. Photo by Elenathewise, 123RF


Buying or Brewing Compost tea

What to look for: Compost tea is usually something you or your landscaper should be making fresh, although it can be purchased at some alternative food or landscape supply stores where they make it fresh. Compost tea should have a sweet, earthy smell, and be used within about 24 hours of the end of the brewing cycle.



Buying Worm castings

What to look for: Worm castings should look and smell like rich, earthy soil. Worm castings are supercharged compost, because they contain humic acids, and have huge numbers of microorganisms for your soil. If the worm castings are dry, or chunky, or have a bad smell, do not purchase it.

If you can see any plant parts or other bits that do not look like loose soil, then what you have is not worm castings. 

How to buy: Worm castings can be purchase and delivered in bulk from specialty suppliers. Ask your local garden or nursery store if they know of a local source, or if they can order worm castings for you. If not, you’ll find suppliers through the internet that will ship to you.
*Note: If you cannot get large supplies of worm castings, the benefits can be capitalized on by making compost tea from worm castings. See the recipe under Compost Tea above.


Buying Endomycorrhizal Fungi

How to buy: While mycorrhizal fungi will be present in small amounts in compost and worm castings, they grow best where host plants provide the roots they tend to grow symbiotically with, and this is done in a controlled environment. 

Some local garden stores may sell mycorrhizal fungi, or can order it for you. If not, you can order high quality endomycorrhizal fungi online. They can be purchased in liquid, granular, or powdered forms.

A handful of healthy soil from an adjacent forest or organic lawn will also be a good source of fungi, which you can add to your compost or multiply through brewing a compost tea. (See the recipe under Compost Tea above.)

How long it lasts: Products purchased in liquid or granular form have often been stabilized for some shelf life, but the ideal situation is to only purchase what you need for one growing season, or to work with neighbors to share any excess supply. 


Buying Humic Acids / Humates / Fulvic acids

How to buy: Humic acids are present in worm castings, which are a great source of other nutrients and microbes for your lawn. We encourage using worm castings before purchasing humic acids, which have typically been mined from ancient peats or mineral deposits.

Humic acids can be purchased online, or requested at your local garden store. Humic and fulvic acids are also present in black strap molasses.

How long it lasts: Products purchased in liquid or granular form will have a long shelf life.


Buying Seaweed Extracts and Kelp Powder

How to buy: Check with your local garden store or ask local farmers about supplies, or order online.

If you visit the ocean, you can also check local ordinances about picking up seaweed washed on the beach or work with a fisherman to collect seaweed that comes up tangled in their nets, and add that directly to your compost, or dry and grind into your own powder.

How long it lasts: Products purchased in liquid or granular form will have a long shelf life.
Dried kelp. Photo by yingtustock123, 123RF Stock Photo

Dried kelp. Photo by yingtustock123, 123RF Stock Photo


Other Organic Lawn Care Supplies

Moldy Straw: Hopefully, you won’t pay a penny if you request to pick up moldy straw from a  local farmer, horse farmer, or even after a store is done with their fall displays. You can also purchase fresh straw bales and set them aside to let them get a little moldy. Moldy hay can also be used, but there’s a risk that weed seeds will be in the hay, and you may introduce weeds to bare areas of your lawn.  Moldy straw should be spread and mulched into the lawn within a few weeks, and while temperatures allow for grass roots to be actively growing.

Wood ash: Wood ashes from your own fireplace, or a friend’s fireplace will be free, but ensure that only untreated wood has been burned. You can also check with restaurants that have wood-fired ovens, and ask for their ash, which should be free.

Molasses: Only purchase unsulphured black strap molasses. Other forms of molasses have been processed in a way that removes all the nutrients needed for soil nutrition. 

Azospyrillum: More than likely, you would purchase azospyrillum online, but you may be able to   request it from a garden store that has a lot of awareness of organic lawn care. Check the label or with your supplier, but there is likely to be a short shelf life of azospyrillum products, so purchase a supply that can be used immediately.

Oyster shell powder: Check with your local garden store or ask local farmers about supplies, or order online. Oyster shell powder has an extremely long shelf life.

Beneficial nematodes: More than likely, you would purchase beneficial nematodes online, but you may be able to request them from a garden store. Because they are live organisms, they need to be applied immediately under optimal conditions.