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What Is Lawn Fertilization?

Posted on November 7th, 2022

Lawn Fertilization, every homeowner knows that a beautiful lawn doesn’t get that way by chance. Achieving a healthy lawn requires careful nurturing and maintenance, not just of the grass on the surface but, more importantly, the soil below. 

Grass requires certain nutrients in specific amounts from the soil to grow. Unfortunately, this type of perfectly balanced soil does not naturally occur. For lawns to remain green, healthy, and lush, with no bald spots, weeds, grubs, or brown patches, you need to fertilize them. 

What Is Lawn Fertilization: An Overview  

The nutrients the soil around your home has depends on many factors, including the size of the soil particles, its water and humus content, pH, and temperature. What’s more, lawn soil can vary greatly in terms of nutrient needs, even in the same area or climate. You can have healthy, nutrient-rich soil in one lawn and poor-quality, rocky soil in a lawn just two miles away. 

Lawn fertilization is the process of improving the nutrient content of the soil to make it more conducive to healthy grass growth. It uses materials or mixtures containing the three major plant nutrients, potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, as well as micronutrients like zinc, chlorine, iron, and manganese.

Regular fertilization of your lawn, along with maintenance, will keep it beautiful and free of issues caused by poor soil quality. 

What Is Lawn Fertilization and Its Benefits?

The previous section discussed lawn fertilization and how it helps improve the nutrient content of the soil. In turn, balanced, healthy soil provides the following benefits to your lawn: 

Fewer Weeds

Weeds are unsightly, difficult to get rid of, and worse, steal nutrients from the grass. Some types of weeds grow best in certain soil conditions. For instance, dandelion, ragweed, and crabgrass flourish in poor soil with low nitrogen content. Lawn fertilizers that increase the nitrogen content in soil may help keep them under control. 

Additionally, many fertilizers on the market contain weed preventers or weed killers. However, it’s considered best practice to kill weeds first with a quality herbicide product before applying fertilizer. Many weeds, such as thistle, foxtail, horehound, and chicory, flourish on fertilized soil. 

Helps Keep Grass Healthy

Lawn fertilizer has one or more of these nutrients, and each one helps promote the health of your turfgrass: 

  • Nitrogen – This is a component of chlorophyll, which the grass needs to use sunlight to obtain sugar from water and carbon dioxide in the process called photosynthesis. Grass that is getting enough nitrogen has healthy blades in a vibrant green hue. 
  • Phosphorus – This nutrient supports root growth, making it especially important when the grass is just starting to grow. A steady supply of potassium keeps lawns lush because stronger, healthier roots are better able to absorb other nutrients from the soil. 
  • Potassium: This supports the overall health and resilience of plants. Potassium strengthens the stems of grass, as well as improves its quality and resistance to diseases and pests. 

Lawn Fertilization: Too Little vs. Too Much 

When using fertilizers, it’s important to use the correct amount. Using below the required amount may cause your turfgrass to grow more slowly and unevenly. It will also be more vulnerable to pests and disease. Moreover, under-fertilizing can cause moss to grow in shady and moist areas and for crabgrass and other weeds to overtake your lawn.

Meanwhile, overfertilizing lawns can result in grass with browning at the tips, limp roots, and, in severe cases, scored blades of grass. Unfortunately, if the grass on your lawn dies, it will create bare patches that need to be reseeded. 

Additionally, using too much fertilizer can harm the environment. For instance, many places across the U.S. have banned or restricted the use or sale of fertilizers containing phosphorus. This is because when they’re applied before it rains or if too much of it is applied, the excess can wash off and pollute waterways. 

Phosphorus runoff can cause fish kills and the growth of harmful algae in rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. For this reason, it’s best to check the weather forecast to figure out when to fertilize your lawn.

To prevent under or over-fertilizing your lawn, get a soil test. This way, you’ll know more about the amount and type of nutrients the soil and the grass species on your lawn require. 

You’ll need to get a sample of the soil in your lawn and send it to a soil test laboratory, along with information about the type of grass you have. The laboratory will do a detailed analysis and send back the results along with recommendations. 

Experts recommend getting a soil test every three to five years. In between tests, you can use DIY soil test kits to monitor the fertilizer level of your lawn. 

However, it might be difficult for the average homeowner to calculate how much fertilizer is needed for their lawn. It can also be challenging to keep up with regular soil testing. For this reason, many homeowners opt to have their lawns fertilized and maintained by professionals instead. 

Fertilizer Schedules: The Best Times to Feed Your Lawn

Different types of grass benefit from different fertilization schedules. Generally, however, it’s best to do so when your lawn is well-established. Special starter fertilizers formulated for new grass are widely available. These are ideal for when you’re just growing your turfgrass from seed. 

When to Fertilize Warm-Season Grasses

Warm-season grasses grow best during spring and summer. In the fall and winter, they grow dormant until spring. Some examples of warm-season grasses are Bahia, zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, and centipede. 

For best results, fertilize warm-season grasses during the end of spring or the start of summer, as this is when they grow best. Warm-season grasses thrive at temperatures ranging from 75°F to 90°F. 

Avoid fertilizing your lawn when the summer heat is at its highest, as doing so can cause salt to accumulate around and damage the roots of the grass, preventing water and nutrients from reaching the stems and blades. The salt can also cause the grass to wilt or worse, burn.

When to Fertilize Cool-Season Grasses 

Cool-season grasses, or “northern grasses,” flourish during the milder weather of spring and fall. Examples include fine and tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue, and perennial ryegrass. Most of the grasses found in New England lawns are of the cool variety. 

The best time to fertilize cool-season grasses is during early spring and fall before the winter chill enters the air. Exactly how often you should fertilize during these two seasons depends on the results of your soil test, but generally, it should be two to four times a year.

You might have seen “winterize fertilizer” for sale at home supply stores and online. This type of fertilizer is typically just regular fertilizer with an extra amount of nitrogen, which plants need especially more during the colder months. As long as you know, from your soil test or advice from an expert, how much and what kind of fertilizer you need, you and your lawn are all set for the winter. 

When to Fertilize Lawn with Controlled, Slow and Quick Release Formulations

Lawn fertilizers can be categorized into three main types: controlled release, slow-release, and quick release. As their names suggest, controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs) and slow-release fertilizers (SRFs) supply nutrients to the soil gradually. However, CRFs utilize technology to ensure a more controlled release than SRFs. Both are typically made in the form of pellets that you spread over your lawn, but liquid versions are also available.

Meanwhile, quick-release fertilizers (QRFs) deliver nutrients to the soil the moment they are applied. They are water-soluble and come as either a concentrate that needs to be diluted or a liquid that you can transfer directly to your sprayer for immediate use. 

  • When to Fertilize Lawn With SRFs and GRFs

SRFs and GRFs are ideal for fertilizing well-established lawns. Once applied, they deliver nutrients for up to 12 weeks. 

  • When to Fertilize Lawn With QRFs 

QRFs are best for newly planted lawns, as this is the stage when it’s critical for turfgrass to get sufficient nutrients in a short span of time. This type of fertilizer supplies nutrients immediately and for up to four weeks after application. It’s also ideal when your lawn needs a boost after recovering from a plant disease or when you need to improve its appearance quickly for a special occasion. 

Some fertilizers on the market are a combination of SRFs and QRFs. These provide instant nourishment to the soil while ensuring a steady supply of nutrients for up to three months. 

Natural or Organic?

Apart from choosing from CRFs, SRFs, and GRFs, you’ll also need to decide between natural or “organic” and conventional fertilizers. 

When used correctly, both organic and conventional fertilizers will safely improve the appearance and health of your lawn. However, organic fertilizers often come with too little nitrogen, leading DIYers to apply more to meet their lawn’s needs. Unfortunately, this can result in the lawn getting more than enough phosphorus, which bleeds into the soil and causes runoff that contributes to water pollution, as discussed in a previous section. 

If you prefer to use organic, hiring a trusted lawn care company that offers an organic fertilization program is best. Experts will know how much fertilizer to use to prevent damage to your lawn and the environment. 

Ways to Apply Fertilizer to Your Lawn 

Once you’ve determined your soil’s nutrient requirements and the type of fertilizer you need, and you’ve dealt with any pests on your lawn, you can proceed to apply fertilizer or hire a professional. 

If you go the DIY route, use caution, as touching fertilizers with your bare hands or getting it on your skin can result in severe burns. Additionally, they can be poisonous to children and pets if swallowed, so be sure to store fertilizers in a safe space before and after use. 

The following are some ways fertilizers can be applied to lawns: 

Handheld Spreader

The cheapest option, a handheld spreader is a device with a small hopper in which you put the fertilizer. You release the fertilizer and spread it all over your lawn by cranking it, for manual spreaders, or by pushing a button, for battery-operated spreaders. This type can only cover a small area at a time, so it’s best for small lawns. 

Broadcast Spreader

Resembling a wheelbarrow, a broadcast spreader “broadcasts” or flings fertilizer forward and to the sides as you push it from behind. This allows for faster, more even coverage of a larger space compared to a handheld spreader. 

A broadcast spreader distributes fertilizer based on your walking pace: the faster you walk, the faster it broadcasts fertilizer. The downside is that it is pricier than handheld spreaders, and using it still requires manual work, which can be tiring and time-consuming if you have a large lawn. 

Walk-Behind Drop Spreader

This device allows you to spread dry fertilizer pellets in a more controlled way than a broadcast spreader. You can roll it across a specific area to drop fertilizer, making it ideal for treating areas that need more nutrients than others. 

Walk-behind drop spreaders allow you to adjust how much fertilizer you release and how quickly. Unlike broadcast spreaders, they release fertilizer at the same rate regardless of the speed at which you walk.

Fertilizing Your Lawn: Do It Yourself, or Hire a Professional? 

At this point, you might be asking yourself if it’s best to fertilize your lawn yourself or have a professional do it for you. The advantage of DIY is, of course, not having to pay for the services of a lawn specialist. 

Meanwhile, the benefit of hiring someone is they do all the work to get your lawn healthy and keep it that way. While opting for DIY might seem like a more practical choice, you also have to factor in the costs of soil tests and spreader equipment, as well as the time you spend learning about grass types, soil types, fertilizer nutrients, and feeding schedules. 

If you have the time to spare and truly enjoy the work of keeping your lawn in optimal health, then doing it yourself is a good option. However, if, like most, you want to enjoy your lawn without spending hours fertilizing it and checking soil fertility, then hiring a company for lawn fertilization and care may be best.

Entrust Your Lawn to the Experts

Turf Unlimited is a full-service lawn care company serving Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since our founding in 1997, we’ve provided superior service at competitive rates to more than 3,000 clients. To learn more, reach out to us today.

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