Environmentally-Friendly Weed Control
Lawns unify our landscapes, create a backdrop for our gardens, provide play areas and keep our feet from getting muddy when it rains. But opportunistic plants find a weak spot in the lawn, infiltrate and begin the take over the grass. Many “weeds” support our pollinators so some gardeners decide to leave a few for the bees, butterflies, and others to enjoy. Others are looking for ways to manage the weeds using natural or organic options. Whatever your motivation, proper care is the key to a greener, healthier lawn that is better able to outcompete weeds.
A healthy dense stand of grass is your best defense against weeds and is more resistant to insects and diseases. The grass and thatch layer also acts as a natural filter, helping to keep pollutants out of our groundwater and dust out of our atmosphere. They reduce erosion, decrease noise and help keep our homes and landscapes 7 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in summer.
Start growing a healthier lawn and managing weeds by identifying the unwanted plants in the lawn. Use them as a guide to improve your lawn’s health and beauty. Weeds appear and spread when the growing conditions are better for them than the grass. Correct the problem and provide proper care to manage weeds and improve the health of your lawn. Killing the weeds without fixing the underlying cause is only a temporary solution. Unless the cause is eliminated the weed problem will return.
Managing Weeds in Your Lawn
Removing weeds by hand is time-consuming but the most environmentally friendly way to manage weeds. Dig weeds as they appear for ease of pulling and preventing them from setting seed and producing more weeds for you to remove next season. Annual weeds that are not flowering or producing seeds can be added to the compost pile. Only add annual weeds gone to seed or perennials to active compost piles that heat up to temperatures high enough to kill these.
Otherwise spread weeds on concrete and allow them to dry thoroughly before adding to the compost pile. Solarize weeds like quackgrass, bindweed, and ground ivy by placing them in a sealed clear plastic bag to kill them before composting. Check with your local municipality for other disposal options.
Use the natural corn gluten pre-emergent in fall and spring to reduce the number of weed seeds sprouting in the grass. This along with proper care can greatly reduce the weed population in your lawn.
Various organic weed killers use vinegars, plant acids, and soaps to burn off the tops of plants. Repeated applications are needed for perennials and they can damage the surrounding grass as well.
Look for organic weed killers containing the active ingredient Fehedta or Hedta for managing broadleaf weeds like dandelions and plantain. They kill the weeds but only turn the surrounding grass it touches greener.
Always read and follow label directions whether using organic, natural, or synthetic weed killers. Save money and minimize the negative impact of weed killers by spot-treating problem areas instead of treating the whole lawn.
Creeping Charlie, Dandelion, and Plantain Weeds
Common Lawn Weeds and How to Control Them
High populations and a variety of weeds mean you need to adjust your overall lawn care practices. Review and adjust your mowing, fertilization, and watering practices as needed.
Creeping Charlie, also known as ground ivy, violets, and plantains usually get their foothold in the shade and then spread throughout the rest of the lawn. Take back those shady spots by growing a more shade-tolerant grass like the cool season fescue or warm-season St. Augustine grass. Mow high and fertilize less, only 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per growing season, than the sunny areas of your lawn. Or replace the lawn with shade-tolerant groundcovers. Adjust your overall care to reclaim and maintain the rest of the lawn.
Knotweed and plantains are often found growing next to walks and drives, other high traffic areas, or in lawns growing on heavy poorly prepared soils. These weeds thrive in compacted soil where lawn grasses fail. Reduce soil compaction and improve your lawn’s health with core aeration in spring or fall when the grass is actively growing. Or replace grass in high traffic areas with permeable pavers or stepping stones.
Nut sedge is a common weed in wet or poorly drained soils. Improve soil drainage to manage this weed. You may need to core aerate the lawn and topdress with compost, regrade or install a rain garden to capture, filter, and drain excess water back into the ground.
Clover and black medic indicate it’s time to get the soil tested and adjust your lawn fertilization. Both of these weeds thrive when the lawn needs a nutrient boost. Clover was once included in lawn mixes because of its ability to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil. Many gardeners are adding clover to their lawns for increased drought tolerance and pollinator appeal. Manage these weeds, if desired, by boosting the lawn’s health and vigor by applying Milorganite according to schedule. It feeds the grass slowly throughout the season, promoting slow steady growth that is more drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, and better able to out-compete the weeds.
Black Medic Weed
Crabgrass and Goosegrass are annual weeds that usually appear after a hot dry summer. Mow high to shade the soil and prevent many of these annual grass weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent weed killer that can help reduce these and other weeds from sprouting. Apply in spring and fall to greatly reduce weeds over the next three years.
Moss thrives in shade and compacted poorly drained soils where lawn grasses fail. Core aerate and incorporate organic matter into the soil to improve drainage. If shade is the issue, work with a certified arborist to properly prune trees to increase the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. Or save time and frustration by mulching the areas under trees or add a few steppers and call it a moss garden.
Proper Lawn Care to Help Reduce Weeds
Set your mower high to encourage deep drought-tolerant roots. Taller grass also shades the soil reducing weed seeds from sprouting. Grow cool-season grasses like bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches tall. Warm-season grasses like bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, and zoysia should be grown at 1 to 2 inches tall while St Augustine should a bit higher, 2 to 3 inches, for best results.
Mow often enough so you will be removing no more than a third of the total height at a time. The short clippings break down quickly adding water, nutrients, and organic matter to the soil. Cut long clippings down to size with a second pass of the mower. A season’s worth of clippings is equal to one fertilizer application.
And, when mowing, consider an electric or push mower and sharpen your mower blades to manage your lawn in an even more Eco-friendly manner.
Fertilize to keep your lawn healthy and reduce weed problems. Research found that even one fertilization a year can greatly reduce the weed population in a lawn. Applying fertilizer in the fall will provide the greatest benefits.
For higher quality and lawns with greater use consider following the holiday schedule for the type of grass you’re growing. Those in colder regions grow cool weather bluegrass, fescue, and perennial ryegrass. Fertilize these with Milorganite at least once in the fall and preferably Memorial Day, Labor Day (early September), and sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving but before the ground freezes.
Those in warmer climates growing warm-season grasses like centipede, Bermuda, and zoysia can fertilize with Milorganite around Easter after the grass starts growing, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Make sure the last fall application is at least 4 to 6 weeks prior to the average first killing frost.
Always sweep clippings and fertilizer off of the driveway, walks, and other hard surfaces and back into the lawn where they belong. This reduces the risk of them being washed into the storm sewer and polluting our waterways.
Most lawns benefit from an inch of water a week either from rain, irrigation, or a combination of the two. Let the grass, not the calendar be your guide for watering the lawn. The grass blades will turn a bluish-green, often wilt or curl when in need of watering. Watch to see if your footprints remain when walking across the lawn late in the day. Confirm your suspicions with the screwdriver test. You’ll find it difficult to push into the ground when the soil is dry and it's time to irrigate the lawn.
Water thoroughly, moistening the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Apply water early in the morning, whenever possible, to reduce water lost to evaporation. Use a sprinkler that allows you to direct the spray and minimizes water wasted on walks and drives.
Conserve water by allowing your lawn to go dormant during dry periods until favorable weather returns. Apply ¼” of water every three weeks during extended dry periods to keep the crown alive but the grass dormant. Taking lawns in and out of dormancy is more damaging than allowing them to remain dormant until the rains return.
Lawn grass will survive dry periods but the weed population will increase. Minimize foot and equipment traffic and do not apply weed killers to dormant lawns. You may kill the existing weeds but new weeds, not lawn grass, will grow in the bare spots left behind.
Milorganite: Frequently Asked Questions
Check out our most frequently asked questions about Milorganite fertilizer. If you can't find your answer below, please contact us.
Is there a Milorganite® shortage?
Milorganite is in short supply again this year —even with greater efficiencies to produce more. We’re not happy about it either. Customer demand is outpacing production and Milorganite can’t be produced using a supply-and-demand model. Our “natural resources” are limited. Learn more about our efforts.
We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your support of Milorganite. Please visit our store locator for additional stores in your area.
Why did Milorganite® change its bag size from 36 lb. to 32 lb.?
As a means of increasing awareness to over fertilization and the climbing nutrient values of our product, we’ve taken the responsible step of reducing our package size. The 32 lb bag of Milorganite now provides the exact same coverage as the former 36-pound bag—2,500 square feet of lawn. Spreader settings, coverage and effectiveness have not changed.
While Milorganite is one of the most environmentally friendly fertilizer products available, there is a fair amount of scrutiny in use of all fertilizers. We believe this change will help consumers and the environment. Learn more..
What is Milorganite®
Milorganite is composed of heat-dried microbes that have digested the organic material in wastewater. It’s manufactured by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which captures waste water from the metropolitan Milwaukee area and uses naturally occurring microbes to digest the nutrients. After the organic matter has been consumed, the cleaned water is returned to Lake Michigan and the resulting material is dried and marketed as Milorganite.
Is it poop in a bag?
No. It’s been a common misconception that Milorganite is “poop in a bag.” Milorganite is composed of microbes that have eaten well, died, and been dried. Microbes eat the organic material found in wastewater, die when they have nothing else to eat, and are heat-dried in dryers that operate at 900–1200°F which heats the Milorganite to an internal temperature of 176°F. Milorganite complies with all applicable federal and state requirements. It’s safe to use throughout your yard and garden when used as directed.
What does 6-4-0 mean?
Every bag of fertilizer has an N-P-K nutrient analysis, which indicates the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) it contains by weight. Milorganite’s analysis is 6-4-0, which guarantees it contains at least 6% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and less than 1% potassium.
Does Milorganite® expire?
Milorganite has no expiration date. It will work indefinitely if stored properly in a cool and dry area out of the reach of children and animals. If you shed or garage is dry, seasonal fluctuating temperatures will not affect the product quality or effectiveness.
Does Milorganite® have an odor?
Milorganite has an earthy aroma when first applied, the odor should dissipate within a few days. Rain or watering after application can help reduce the smell.
How to store Milorganite®?
Milorganite like all fertilizers should be stored in a cool, dry area out of the reach of children and animals. If your shed or garage is dry, seasonal fluctuating temperatures will not affect the product quality or effectiveness.
What is organic lawn care?
Organic lawn care works with nature rather than against it and can help build healthy soil, which can solve many lawn problems. An organic lawn care strategy reduces a number of things: pollution in the atmosphere; nutrient run-off into waterways; waste in landfills; and, inorganic chemicals in the soils that can disturb the natural order of life.
What’s the difference between fertilizers derived from organic versus synthetic sources?
Fertilizer derived from organic sources are composed of nutrients from living things or their byproducts, such as microbes, animal waste, plants, and other similar natural materials. It’s “slow food” for plants. Organically derived fertilizers feed plants slowly over a longer period of time and help build soil structure. Organically derived fertilizers contain no chemical salts,which can burn plants. Synthetic fertilizers are plants’“fast food,” as they are fast-acting once watered in. They’re manufactured using inorganic materials, chemicals, and the air, and have a high potential for burning plants, as well as leaching and runoff.
Does Milorganite® kill weeds?
No. Milorganite is strictly a fertilizer. No herbicides are added to kill weeds or pesticides to kill bugs. It promotes a thick, healthy lawn, which helps choke out existing weeds and prevent weed seeds from germinating.
Does Milorganite® contain grass seed?
No, Milorganite doesn’t contain grass seed. It can, however, make spreading grass seed easier and more accurate, especially for smaller seeds, such as bermuda grass. Mix four-parts Milorganite with one-part grass seed by weight. Decrease the amount of Milorganite applied during your normal fertilization schedule to avoid over-fertilization.
Does Milorganite help keep deer away?
Milorganite fertilizer makes no claims regarding its use as a deer repellent. For more information on research and testimonials.
Why does the nutrient analysis of Milorganite fluctuate?
Since production started more than 95 years ago, there have been fluctuations in the nutrient analysis—the percent of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K)—in Milorganite. The nutrients in Milorganite are the result of treating wastewater, which we can’t control. Therefore, there are naturally periodic fluctuations. The N–P–K analysis is a guarantee that there is a minimum of that nutrient in the product.
Is Milorganite® approved for use on commercially grown USDA organic certified crops?
No, Milorganite isn’t approved to be used on commercially grown USDA certified organic crops which are sold as “certified organic” produce.
What is a biosolid?
Biosolids are residual microbes that have digested nutrients out of sewage waste streams. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates biosolids using two tiers: tier one allows non-food use and tier two, the Exceptional Quality designation, allows use on vegetables and fruits and is given to biosolids with minuscule amounts of heavy metals and pathogens. Milorganite has consistently received an Exceptional Quality designation from the EPA since the guidelines were created in 1993.
When can I apply Milorganite®?
We recommend applying Milorganite to your lawn four times annually for best results, although it can be applied any time during the growing season. Please see our lawn application page for rates and a schedule for your region of the country. We also have recommended application rates and schedule for flowers, vegetables, fruits, shrubs & trees.
Have the spreader settings changed for the 32 lb bag of Milorganite®?
It now takes less Milorganite to achieve the recommended nutrient application rates. The 32 lb bag of Milorganite will cover 2500 sq ft, just like the 36 lb bag did. Rather than require customers to re-calibrate their spreaders, we felt it was more convenient to reduce the bag size to achieve the same results. We always recommend calibrating your spreader to reduce the risk of over application and possible nutrient runoff.
What is the setting for my spreader?
Spreader settings for the most widely used spreaders on the market are printed on the Milorganite bag and available on our website. Unfortunately, it’s not feasible to test every spreader. We’ve provided spreader calibration instructions to help you determine the proper setting if you’re spreader isn’t listed.
What are the spreader settings for Milorganite® Professional 50 lb for a homeowner?
The same nutrients you get from the original Milorganite (32 lb bag) is also available in a 50 lb Professional bag. The Milorganite Professional 50 lb bag is our Greens Grade product which is smaller granules. For the proper application, you will need to adjust your spreader settings.
How far from a waterway should I fertilize?
Never dispose of fertilizer in waterways and keep all fertilizer away from waterways. Comply with any state laws for the minimum distance (typically 10-25 feet) between fertilizer applications and waterways to help prevent phosphorus runoff. Follow the recommended fertilizer application rates to help keep fertilizer from entering any bodies of water and not fertilizing before a heavy rainfall. After fertilizing, sweep excess fertilizer from solid surfaces, such as driveways, decks, patios, streets, and sidewalks, back into the lawn.
What if I apply too much Milorganite®?
Milorganite’s salt-free formula won’t burn your lawn, however, your lawn can only take up so many nutrients. Milorganite’s application rates and schedule are based on university research, which studied the amount and frequency of nutrients needed for a healthy lawn. We caution that over fertilization can result in nutrient runoff into waterways resulting in serious environmental issues. For a healthy lawn, we recommend following good lawn care practices such as the recommend fertilization schedule and rates, proper mowing, aerating, and overseeding.
Does Milorganite® need to be watered immediately after application?
No, it’s not necessary to water in Milorganite after application, which is one of its great features. It stays on the soil until water and temperature conditions are just right for soil microbes to break down the nutrients in Milorganite for plants to use. Although not necessary, watering in Milorganite will ensure the fertilizer is in contact with the soil and speeds up the fertilization process.
Can I apply an iron supplement with Milorganite®?
We do not recommend applying an iron supplement after applying Milorganite. Your Milorganite application contains a minimum of 2.5% iron which helps green your lawn along with nitrogen. Your lawn can only take up so many nutrients. Excess nutrients can result in nutrient runoff into our waterways, wasted money, product, and time. Over-fertilization can also stress out the turf plant and cause disease issues. Check out this blog article to learn more about what nutrients help make your grass green and what color green to expect from your grass type.
Can I apply Milorganite® after applying another fertilizer?
When you use Milorganite with other fertilizers we caution to not over-apply nitrogen fertilizer. Check the label of the product you applied for timing instructions. Typically, after 4-6 weeks you can put down an application for Milorganite. Milorganite doesn’t contain salts so it will not burn your lawn, however, your lawn can only take up so many nutrients. Over-fertilization can result in nutrient runoff into our waterways, wasted money, product, and time. Over-fertilization can also stress out the turf plant and cause disease issues.
Can I use Milorganite® in combination with other fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides?
Yes, Milorganite can be used as part of your overall fertilization and lawn-care program in combination with other products, including fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Make sure to read the label of the other product to ensure there aren’t any restrictions and it’s safe for your lawn to use it in conjunction with Milorganite. Look for phrases such as, “not to be used in combination with…” When using Milorganite along with other fertilizers that contain nitrogen, make sure you don’t apply too much nitrogen.
Can Milorganite® be applied to my wet lawn?
Yes, Milorganite doesn’t contain salts, so it can be applied to a wet lawn. It won’t burn your lawn.
Can Milorganite® be applied in the summer or during drought?
Yes, Milorganite can be applied at any time. It contains no salts, which makes it safe to apply during the summer and in drought conditions when used as directed. Fertilizer salts are responsible for burning lawns and plants. The nutrients in Milorganite will be released when there’s enough water and the temperature is right. This makes it an ideal fertilizer for water-restricted areas.
Can I apply a grub control at the same time as Milorganite?
Grub control can be applied at the same as Milorganite, but if you do, we don’t recommend using a grub control product that contains fertilizer, as you may over fertilize your lawn. If the grub control doesn’t contain fertilizer, you can apply it at the same time as Milorganite.
Can I apply Milorganite® and lime at the same time?
Yes, Milorganite can be applied at the same time as lime as there is no interaction between the two. Lime should only be applied if a soil test indicates that it’s needed to change the pH of the soil to be either more acidic or alkaline. An optimum pH of 6.0 or 7.0 helps bring soil into balance and allows for optimum nutrient uptake by plants.
Can I use Milorganite® in my vegetable garden?
Yes, Milorganite is an excellent, and safe fertilizer for all outdoor plants, including vegetables when used as directed. It’s slow-release nitrogen feeds plants evenly and gradually without excess nitrogen interfering with flowering and fruit development. This nurtures the roots, which in turn develop more robust yields. Other fertilizers may force rapid growth, which can result in skinny plants and reduced yields.
Can I apply Milorganite on top of mulch?
Yes, Milorganite can be applied on top of mulch, but it’s going to take a while for it to work its way into the soil. An alternative is to remove the mulch from the bed or rake back the mulch a few inches from the base of plants, apply Milorganite, work it lightly into the soil, then return the mulch. This will immediately put Milorganite indirect contact with the soil.
Is Milorganite® effective in clay soil?
Milorganite works well in clay soils, because it contains 85% organic matter by weight. The organic matter improves soil drainage and aeration, moderates soil temperature, and provides pore space in the dense clay, all essential for optimum plant growth.
Is Milorganite® effective in sandy soil?
There are several benefits that make Milorganite an ideal fertilizer to use in sandy soil, which generally doesn’t contain much organic matter or nutrients. Milorganite, which is 85% organic matter by weight, helps add organic matter to the soil. This helps to more effectively retain nutrients.The water-soluble nutrients are released slowly, reducing the chance of leaching. Adding organic matter also promotes beneficial microbial activity for healthy soil.
Why does the Milorganite® bag have a different application rate for FL, MD and MI?
Florida, Maryland, and Michigan have restrictions as to how much phosphorus can be applied during the growing season each year. To comply with state regulations, FL, MD and MI residents are advised to only apply Milorganite two times per year at the rate of 36 lbs. per 6,000 sq. ft. Check with your local county ordinances for fertilizer blackout dates. Your local cooperative extension agency can assist with specific information on local turf best management practices.
Where can I buy Milorganite®?
Milorganite is available at most lawn and garden stores across the country. Our store locator can help you find a store near you. Retailers, landscape, and golf professionals can get Milorganite from our extensive distributor network, which is often the same supplier for other lawn and garden products they purchase.
Can I buy Milorganite® direct?
We do not sell direct, but work with a distribution network nationwide that supplies your local retailers. Our best advice to find Milorganite in your area, is to call or check your local retailer’s websites for available bags before making the trip to the store. Please visit our store locator for additional stores in your area.
Can I buy Milorganite® in bulk?
Milorganite distributes a limited supply of bulk product only to our professional customers (golf courses). Please work with your local retailer to assist with ordering Milorganite.
Is Milorganite® safe?
Milorganite complies with federal and state standards for the protection of public health and the environment. Milorganite can be used with confidence for all of your fertilizing needs, including lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables when used as directed. For more information visit our safety page.
Milorganite®’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS)
Milorganite meets all federal and state requirements and is registered for sale in all 50 states. For additional information, please see Milorganite’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
Does the phosphorus in Milorganite® contribute to runoff or leaching?
The phosphorus in Milorganite is slow-moving and stays in the soil ready for plants to use. University testing has demonstrated that the phosphorus in Milorganite is less likely to leach or move into groundwater.
Does Milorganite® contain metals?
All fertilizers, organic and synthetic, contain some metals, including Milorganite. Metals such as lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc naturally occur in the environment. Several metals are actually needed by plants in small amounts—micronutrients—to grow and reproduce properly. We test Milorganite daily and confirm the average level of metals meets (or is less than) the EPA limits. Milorganite complies with federal and state standards for the protection of public health and the environment.
Does Milorganite® contain pharmaceuticals?
Milorganite is monitored regularly for a host of compounds to help ensure consumer safety. Milorganite, like manures and organic fertilizers, contains trace concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds, as well as household and personal care products. However, the very low concentration of these compounds makes potential risks negligible. Chemical and biological processes in the soil degrade these compounds, additionally reducing an already negligible risk. We encourage everyone to dispose of pharmaceuticals safely, not in sinks or down toilets, which can negatively impact waterways.
Does Milorganite® contain PFSA chemicals?
The PFAS/PFOS issue in biosolids fertilizer is a relatively new issue, and there is no clear indication that our product has created a PFAS build-up that need’s remediation. Experience has shown PFAS concentrations in biosolids vary significantly depending upon local conditions, such as the type of water supply, the presence of fire suppression training sites, and industries that manufacture or use PFAS.
For Milorganite® fertilizer, local conditions that contribute to the production of our product favor low concentrations. In fact, in the most recent PFAS sampling Maine, concentrations for two of the three analyzed compounds were below the level of detection and the third was slightly above the level of detection, confirming minimal PFAS risk.
To understand and find solutions to the PFAS problem, Milorganite® fertilizer supports (1) research into the fate of and risk from the PFAS that already exist in commerce and the environment and (2) restrictions on the continuing production and use of these chemicals. The entire water reclamation community is engaged with these issues. No individual producer of biosolids can address these issues alone. Please consider contacting your legislators to support action on these issues.