Nitrogen is the universal nutrient required by lawns to support vigorous growth. Some homeowners are wary of using synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, as the use and misuse of these substances can be a major source of environmental contamination. Even agricultural and horticultural education programs now widely promote natural and organic approaches to lawn and garden care, including the use of almost any animal manure except dog and cat faeces, which are unsafe for garden use. You'll need to fully assess your own situation to make an informed decision about which manure is best for your lawn.
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People don't often think of bat guano as manure, but this animal waste product is much prized by gardeners and is the best kind of manure for lawns. Bat guano, collected from bat caves and commercially available in powdered form, is very high in nitrogen and can be broadcast directly or brewed into a tea and applied as a foliar spray. Its primary drawback is high relative cost. Like other manures, bat guano enriches soil and promotes healthy soil structure and complexity. The slow release of nitrogen and other nutrients encourages deep lawn roots, prevents thatch build-up and disease, and minimises nitrogen burning and nutrient pollution.
Chicken or Rabbit Litter
Chicken manure offers the most nitrogen at the time of application--especially when composted with coop litter--followed closely by rabbit manure, at 2.8 per cent and 2.0 per cent nitrogen, respectively, according to Colorado State University's Master Gardener Program. The main drawback for both is that they may be hard to come by, unless you raise chickens or rabbits, or know someone who does. Chicken, rabbit and other manures are particularly beneficial for lawns grown on little or no topsoil because they support healthy soil creation after the fact. Slow-release nitrogen sources are also good for sandy, quick-draining soils that are otherwise quickly depleted.
Cow or Horse Manure
For most people, cow manure is easiest to find and afford, as it is widely available at nurseries and home improvement stores. You'll have to use more of it, however, because it has much less nitrogen by weight -- just over 1 per cent for beef cattle manure, and half that for dairy cow manure. Horse manure is somewhere between the two. Cornell Waste Management Institute recommends applying 1/4 to 1/2 inch of composted manure as topdressing, so use the higher amount for cattle or horse manure, the lower amount for chicken or rabbit manure.
If the nitrogen made available to your lawn through annual manure applications isn't enough to support a thick, green lawn, supplement annual manure topdressing with other natural or organic fertilisers. One option is applying manure in the fall and another organic fertiliser in the spring. Options include ground fish meal and feather meal, both very high in nitrogen. Cottonseed meal is another high-nitrogen possibility, though it may also be high in pesticide residues. Alfalfa meal may be a better alternative, though it can contain seeds. Produce your own "green" lawn fertiliser by leaving grass clippings--an excellent source of nitrogen--on the lawn every time you mow. One season of grass clippings can meet half of your lawn's nitrogen needs.
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- Cornell Waste Management Institute; Using Manure-Based Composts in Turf Maintenance; Jean Bonhotal, et al.; 2007
- Iowa State University Extension; Nonchemical Alternatives for the Home Lawn; David D.Minner, et al.; August 1998
- MotherEarth News; Ecological Lawn Care; Michael Talbot; May/June 1990
- Colorado State University Master Gardener Program; Organic Fertilizers; AdrianCard, et al.; December 2009
- Colorado State University Master Gardener Program; Using Manure in the Home Garden; David Whiting, et al.; December 2009