The first person I ever saw using soap on her lawn was my Denver neighbor Mrs. Bassey back in the 80s. She was from England and had the nicest yard on the block. Mrs. Bassey would be out in her yard every few weeks with a lawn sprayer attached to her hose and filled with Ivory dish liquid. She said it broke up the clay and thatch on the ground and her lawn sure looked—and smelled—great.
Around that time I came across a book by Jerry Baker, The Impatient Gardener, which contained a recipe for lawn tonic. I tried that a few times, but eventually gave way to convenience and went back to using store-bought fertilizers. It wasn’t until the past few years that I became more concerned with what exactly was IN those bags of grainy chemicals and what they might to do our pets, the wild animals visiting our yard and the environment in general.
I searched the internet for more information about DIY fertilizers, pulled out my old Impatient Gardener and compared notes. It seems the recipe hasn’t changed, but I was curious why those particular ingredients were being used. Just what do they do? I was able to find all of the ingredients at a dollar store, except for the beer. You’ll get several batches from all the ingredients except for the beer and soda, so this tonic is also inexpensive. Once I’ve applied this to my grass, I water with plain water for a while to help it soak in. Here’s the recipe:
1 cup Epsom Salts
1 cup Listerine-type mouthwash
1 cup liquid dish soap (not antibacterial, as plain and simple as possible)
1 cup ammonia
1 bottle of cheap beer
1 can of sugary soda
Put all ingredients into a one quart hose-end sprayer. I was able to get one from Ace Hardware (“Use 7 ways” says the label) that I could attach to a hose on the input side, another (short) hose on the output side and then add an oscillating sprinkler. If you don’t have an extra hose or sprinkler you’ll just have to stand around for a while and spray your lawn by hand. The book says it will cover up to 2500 square feet and should be used in May and again in late June, but I don’t suppose it would hurt to use it more often if it’s very dry in your area. And of course don’t water during the heat of the day, it’s wasteful and you could scorch your grass.
So does it work? I think so, my lawn looks great! I’ll keep applying this tonic throughout the summer and update this post if anything changes.
This is what the ingredients do:
Epsom salts: Magnesium sulfate (sulfur), a critical mineral for seed germination. Vital to the production of chlorophyll, which plants use to transform sunlight into food. An aid in the absorption of phosphorus and nitrogen, two of the most important fertilizer components. Sulfur, the other major component, is also an important plant nutrient. Contributes to chlorophyll production. Makes the primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) found in most fertilizers more effective.
Mouthwash: Helps kills grubs and other grass-root-dining insects. Optional in my book.
Dish Soap: Liquid dish detergent has surfactants in it that help the nutrients in the fertilizer stick to and be absorbed by the grass while leaving the grass unharmed. Adding liquid dish detergent to your mix of ingredients can help the ingredients work better. DO NOT use anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid as it will kill off important microbes in the lawn and soil that help “digest” thatch. It’s also a wetting agent and will help break up clay soils and improve water absorption.
Ammonia: Rich in nitrogen, a nutrient that grass needs to be healthy.
Beer: Rich in carbohydrates, beer provides an immediate source of energy for microbes in the soil, which then release energy for the grass to use.
Soda: Carbohydrates in the sugar or high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten them can make your lawn greener and more lush by feeding the bacteria that live in the soil. The bacteria produce nutrients that grass can readily utilize for energy. Only sugary, non-diet soft drinks should be used.
Here’s a healthy lawn ~ Cheers!