The master gardeners over at the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension Service couldn’t stop chuckling when they heard the ingredients in a miraculous elixir said to keep lawns lush and green.
Beer? Mouthwash? Dishwashing soap?
"Sounds like a waste of beer to me," one laughed.
But for the last couple of years, ever since a former groundskeeper got on the evening news with a crazy-sounding concoction for "Lawn Tonic," the recipe has spread like a weed across newspaper columns, TV shows and Internet chat rooms.
The craze started when Tim Heffron went on TV to explain why he had the best-looking lawn in drought-stricken Colorado. When the story spread, reps for Jerry Baker, known as "America’s Master Gardener," got wind and claimed the secret recipe wasn’t really a secret.
"It’s been around for 40 or 50 years," said Kim Gasior, an executive for the Jerry Baker Corporation.
Lawn Tonic has been in Jerry Baker’s books and there’s a recipe on his website. For those who haven’t heard of Baker, he’s the green thumb who started the craze of talking to your plants in the 1960s.
But Heffron never claimed he invented the recipe. He says he just heard about it on TV one day and decided to try it. In fact, tonic recipes--with varying ingredients--can be found everywhere from old copies of "Mother Earth News" magazine to gardening chat rooms.
All of the recipes call for beer, soda, mouthwash, dishwashing soap and ammonia. A few add "Miracle Grow" or some other plant food to the mix.
But does it work?
Gasior says there’s a science behind each ingredient. The beer and soda pop act as enzyme activators while the ammonia is a cheap source of nitrogen. That’s the stuff that keeps grass green. The mouthwash helps keep weeds and bugs in check by killing bacteria and the soap "cleans everything up," he said.
"I’ve used it for many years and it really does work," Gasior said.
The gardeners at the cooperative extension service aren’t so sure. They said the ammonia would provide nitrogen, but beyond that the miracle mixture is probably just a lot of hogwash.
"It’s probably about as effective as a rain dance," one said.
The only way to find out is to try it yourself. Here are two recipes:
Jerry Baker's All-Season Green-Up Tonic
1 can of beer
1 cup of ammonia
1/2 cup of Plant Shampoo
1/2 cup of liquid lawn food
1/2 cup molasses or corn syrup
1 cup of shampoo,
1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash
1 cup of chewing tobacco tea*
Mix all of the ingredients in a bucket, and pour into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer. Apply to everything in your yard to the point of run-off every 3 weeks. Do this in the mornings through the growing season.
* To make tobacco tea, place half a handful of chewing tobacco in an old nylon stocking and soak it in a gallon of hot water until the mixture is dark brown.
Tim Heffron's lawn tonic recipe
1 can of beer--any kind except light.
1 can of soda pop—any kind except diet
1/2 cup of ammonia
1/2 cup of mouthwash
1/2 cup of liquid dish detergent, but don't use anti-bacterial
Apply every three weeks in the evening, after mowing. Use a hose-end sprayer. Any size will do. It takes about two batches to cover a 5,000-square-foot lawn.
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Written By Kari Pugh
Online Regional Reporter