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Fertilizing Lawns

Lawns that are discolored, slow-growing, or have invading weeds or other pest problems may not be properly fertilized. Fertilizer is important for healthy, vigorous plant growth and development. Because many of the required nutrients for turfgrass are found naturally in the soil, fertilization practices focus on the supply of three primary nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen is the only nutrient that turfgrass needs on a regular basis. Lawns may occasionally be deficient in iron, and fertilizers containing iron may be supplemented. As nitrogen is applied, both root and shoot growth increases. If too much nitrogen is applied too frequently, shoots will continue to grow yet root growth will slow, leaving the turf vulnerable to problems.

 Fertilizer Analysis Demonstration

In general, lawns should be fertilized about 4 times a year with 1 lb. of nitrogen at each application

Both cool-season and warm-season grasses require 4 - 6 lbs. of actual nitrogen per year. This amount is usually divided into 4 applications of 0.5 to 1 lb. of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per application. Application rates will vary depending upon the formulation and type of fertilizer used and on the turf species.

It is best for the grass and the environment if you divide the amount of fertilizer required and apply smaller quantities more frequently during the active growing season, rather than applying larger amounts less often. To avoid burning your lawn, no more than 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. should be applied each time.


Soil type

A turf species growing on sandy soil will have the same nitrogen requirement as the same species growing on clay soil, but the nitrogen should be applied at lower rates and more frequently on the sandy soil than on the clay soil.

Type of fertilizer

Quick release fertilizers usually last about 4 - 6 weeks and can be applied at 4 - 6 week intervals during the period of active growth. Slow release fertilizers may last up to 8 weeks. Apply at 6 - 8 week intervals during the period of active growth.

When to fertilize

Turfgrass nutritional needs change from month to month because of temperature and moisture variations. Fertilize when turfgrasses are actively growing. Active growing periods vary by turf species and location. The last application should be 6 to 8 weeks before the likely date of the first frost.

How to apply fertilizer

Proper application of fertilizer depends upon the type of fertilizer you buy and the type of equipment you use. Dry fertilizers move into the soil and are taken up by the roots and are then translocated throughout the plant, reaching the leaves. Liquid fertilizers are absorbed primarily through the leaves.


Applying dry fertilizers

 Pour the material into your spreader over a driveway or other cement area where spilled material can be swept up (pouring over a lawn where spilling may occur can lead to burn); do not let excess fertilizer be washed into storm drains.
 A few days before you fertilize, deeply irrigate your lawn so that the soil is moist; the grass blades should be dry by the time you start your application.
 Fertilize the edges first.
 Make passes up and down the remainder of the lawn, spreading half the required fertilizer; be sure to turn off the spreader when you are turning around or have finished a pass.
 Go over the lawn a second time, spreading the remainder of the fertilizer at right angles to the first.
 With each pass, overlap wheel marks to avoid any striping.
 Irrigate after application to move the fertilizer from the leaves into the soil.
 Return any leftover material to its container and hose out the equipment and let it air-dry