Most people apply a dose of lawn fertilizer in the spring, followed by another application or two during the growing season. When fertilizing your lawn, do not do it too early in the season. The best time to do this first application is in late spring, just when the green grass is starting to grow eagerly. In early spring the grass brings energy to the root development. If you fertilize too early, the plant’s energy will be diverted to leaf development too early.
Debate over the use of fertilizer on the lawn
Whether or not you should use fertilizer on a lawn depends on where you stand on organic or chemical-free gardening. Organic gardeners complain about the use of chemicals as lawn fertilizers. The main problem is that the manure runoff can end up in the local water supply. There is good evidence that phosphorus and nitrogen from lawns and agricultural fertilizers contaminate streams, rivers and groundwater supplies, creating an urgent environmental problem.
There are several biological methods that can be used to safely feed a lawn. You can use a mulching mower that breaks grass into fine particles which are then shredded on the lawn. Horticultural experts say this technique provides a lawn with as much nitrogen as a full application of lawn fertilizer throughout the season.Instead of refined chemicals, you can use organic fertilizers made from natural materials. Organically labeled fertilizers will nourish your lawn, although they are usually less saturated with the essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) than the refined fertilizers.
Traditional chemical lawn fertilizer remains the most popular choice and is widely used in hardware stores, large hardware stores, and gardening stores. These fertilizers come in many varieties. Some fertilizers are seasonal, such as early season fertilizer, midsummer fertilizer, and late season “turf” mixes. Other fertilizers are better for flowers or vegetables. Another category includes herbicides that nourish the grass, kill weeds, and prevent weeds from growing.
Pre-emergence herbicides are a combination of fertilizers and herbicides used to control crab grass in early spring. This combination product does not have full fertilization. This small dose of fertilizer slightly encourages grass growth and keeps it alive, while the herbicide in the product limits the development of the crabgrass seedlings.
Be careful with fertilizer application rates
In general, most fertilizer manufacturers are overzealous about their recommended dose and feeding schedule. Start lightly with half the recommended amount and amount of fertilizer. You can reapply if you don’t like the results. After a season or two, you will get a clear sense of how much it takes to get a healthy lawn.
A healthy lawn is a relatively light shade of green. A deep green, almost black-green lawn was very heavily fertilized. The dark green color comes from a lot of nitrogen fertilizer used on the lawn. It is very likely that some of this fertilizer has found its way into roads, storm sewers, and local streams and rivers.
Determining the best times to fertilize
Homeowners who prefer organic fertilization methods can do a single “turf” application in early fall to build root systems. In the spring and summer, most forego all fertilizers and rely on the nitrogen from mulched grass clippings to feed their lawns.
Homeowners using traditional fertilizers may want to apply two or three light applications per year of growth – one in spring, one in midsummer in regions where it is required, and one “turf” application in early fall.
The actual timing will depend on your region and the type of lawn grasses you have. For information on the best recommendations for your area, contact an expert at a local garden center or contact the nearest cooperative advisory office.
Once you’ve figured out the best time, try planning your fertilization with a short period of rain. If not, you’ll need to provide your lawn with at least a quarter of an inch of water when you apply the fertilizer. However, do not fertilize before a massive storm. A rainstorm increases the risk of fertilizer nutrients flowing into storm drains and streams.
Maximize spring application
If you fertilized your lawn last fall, especially late in the season, the slow release fertilizer function of this fertilizer will help with grass growth in spring. Fertilizer manufacturers or lawn care companies may advise you to fertilize your lawn in early spring, but instead consider guidance from lawn specialists and agronomists (soil experts), who say you should hold back.
When cool season grasses “wake up” in spring, they enter a natural growth cycle when the root system begins to grow and build up carbohydrate (energy) reserves. Wait until late spring (late May or early June) before the summer heat starts and the grass thrives before fertilizing the lawn.
If you feed your lawn at this point, you’ll be preparing the grass for summer. During the hot summer months, the grass begins to slow down carbohydrate production and begins to use the reserves. A sufficient intake of 3/4 to 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen allows the grass to rebuild its energy reserves (carbohydrates) and ward off the stresses of summer such as drought, heat, traffic, disease, and insects. A polymer-coated slow release fertilizer can feed the grass for up to 12 weeks.
Feed the lawn in summer and autumn
Warm season grasses thrive in the heat of summer and can be fertilized throughout the growing season. However, cool season grasses are in a survival mode during the heat of summer. Avoid putting fertilizer on a lawn in midsummer or late summer if you live in a climate where cooler season grasses are included in your lawn seed mix. A lawn in the cool season shouldn’t need anything other than water and pest control until September.
Most lawn experts recommend a mild dose of a “lawn-builder” fertilizer formulation in early to mid fall while the lawn has several weeks of active growth before the dormant phase.This application will help build robust root systems for the winter and resume the growth cycle in the spring. You don’t want to put your lawn back in the green of summer. At the beginning of winter, you can expect a natural slowdown in the growth of your lawn and the loss of its green sheen.