Lawns that are cared for properly not only raise property values but can also be an environmental asset. They can help protect water quality as well as filter pollutants from the air.
There are 2 different types of lawn fertilizer that come 2 different forms: synthetic and organic are the types, and they are available in granular (slow and fast-release) and liquid form. Any box or bag of fertilizer will have 3 numbers on it to indicate the percent by weight of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) inside. Refer to the “What Do the Numbers Mean?” article on this site for further details.
Synthetic – This type of fertilizer is called synthetic simply because it is manufactured chemically. Engineered fertilizers make lawns green with their immediate release of nutrients by penetrating the soil quicker. The downside is that the results don’t last very long, so applications of synthetic fertilizer need to be redone more often. Another drawback is that synthetics can burn your lawn if not applied properly.
Organic – This type of fertilizer is made up of once living organisms and their bi-products. Organic fertilizers are typically applied with lawn fertilizer spreaders, rakes or by hand. This all-natural fertilizer option tends to break down slowly when releasing nitrogen. It can improve the texture and density of your lawn, especially when amended with soil or sand. One drawback to organic fertilizers might be a strong foul smell with manures.
Granular – Ease of use and longevity make this the most popular form of lawn fertilizer. Make sure to read the bag, as this type comes in slow and fast-release forms. Slow release of the nutrients allows for fertilization over two to six months. Time will vary depending on heat and watering. Time-release is an efficient option for homeowners, spanning months between applications.
Granular also comes in fast-release, and is applied the same way as time-release but the nutrients are released faster and work better in cold weather. Fast-release fertilizers typically cost less. Watch out for grass burn, however, and watering will be a key factor to good results.
Liquid – Liquid fertilizer usually comes in a concentrated form. Application is done by attaching a hose and nozzle to a spray bottle. The concentrated fertilizer mixes with the water as it’s applied. If you can use a hose, you can apply liquid fertilizer by this easy method. Liquid fertilizers are not long term, but the nutrients are available immediately to the roots and leaves. Results will be quicker but applications need to be repeated more often than with granular. Liquid is more expensive than granular to start with and can also be more costly in the long run.
Lime raises the pH of the soil so that nutrition becomes more available to the plants. Spring and Fall are the preferred times although timing is not as important as quantity. A recommended rule is to apply 40-50 lbs. of lime per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn once per year. Testing should be carried out every three years or so. Ph test kits are available year-round.
Mow dry grass when the blade height reaches 3 inches, cutting only 1/3 of the blade at a time. Mowing more frequently can actually save time and make clean up and raking unnecessary since smaller clippings break down faster. The mower blade should be sharpened at least once per year. Sharp blades give a clean cut with less blade damage to tops. Dense lawns resist weeds and disease more effectively. Long blades of grass keep the roots cooler during the heat and drought stress of the summer months.
Lawns require at least one to two inches of water per week during a hot summer. More water infrequently is much better than a little bit of water more frequently. Watering during the early morning hours is best, but the mid-afternoon is also acceptable. It is best to avoid watering during the evening hours as it will increase the lawn’s chance of contracting disease.
Seasonal Fertilizer Applications and Weed Control
Early Spring – First application of fertilizer should contain a pre-emergent for crabgrass such as Organica Step 1 Lawn Booster. It contains a variety of nutrients to improve soil condition and quality and is made with corn gluten to help prevent weeds. Not for use when seeding your lawn. Scotts Step 1 prevents crabgrass and 8 other problem weeds. Patented formula builds thick, green lawns from the roots up.
Late May – Organica Step 2 Kelp Booster Plus is a fertilizer that contains calcium and kelp natural bio-stimulants ideal for promoting root development and plant growth. Scotts Step 2 Weed Control Plus Fertilizer is a fertilizer with a broadleaf weed control and should be applied to wet grass (dew or light sprinkling by hand) when there is no chance of rain within 24 hours. It contains a contact herbicide.
Summer – Organica Step 3 Microbial Soil conditioner contains a variety of nutrients most notably calcium, beneficial soil bacteria, actinomyces and fungi. Making soil healthier while continuously feeding for more robust turf. Scotts Step 3 Feeds and strengthens lawn against heat and drought while killing and protecting against bugs. Apply to a dry lawn. Water lawn after application. You can also apply additional types of weed controls if needed like Weed B-Gon a summer crabicide and lawn weed killer.
Fall – Organica Step 4 is the same as step one. Scotts Step 4 is a fertilizer aimed at building up root growth before the winter months for strong spring growth. Apply to a wet or dry lawn on a calm day. No need to water in. If not following a step program a winterizer fertilizer is good to apply to your lawn in the fall preparing it for spring growth.
Perennial Ryegrass – An ideal grass where rapid establishment is necessary. Uses include athletic fields, golf course fairways and in lawn mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass. Contains Endophytes *
Tall Fescues – Recommended for lawns, athletic fields and low-maintenance areas. The newer turf-type cultivars are much more attractive than their predecessors, although compared to Kentucky bluegrass, they still have a much coarser leaf texture and more rapid vertical growth rate.
Fine Fescues – These grasses perform well under low moisture and low maintenance (fertilization, mowing) and should be maintained as such. Most cultivars perform well in shade. Fine fescues are best used in mixtures with shade-tolerant bluegrasses.
Kentucky Bluegrasses – Recommended for home and general lawn areas, athletic fields and golf course roughs. These grasses perform well under a wide range of conditions. Most cultivars will do best in full sun. Use a blend of at least 3 varieties when using Kentucky bluegrass.
*Endophytes – Symbiotic fungi that live within the grass plants. Endophytic grasses have shown resistance to surface feeding insects.
Common Insect Problems
White grubs – Early in the summer season, if grubs appear, apply a DYLOX product such as Bayer 24 Hour Grub Control. Later in June, use a MERIT product such as Bayer Season Long or Scotts Grubex .
Sod web worm, army worms or cinch bugs – Use a DYLOX product or Scotts Step 3 Insect Control from June to September if any of these are a problem.
Common Disease Problems
Red Thread (Pink), Snow Mold, Mushrooms, Dollar Spot – These fungi thrive during wet or humid weather. Use Bayer Fungus or Scotts Fungus Control to solve the problem. Avoid watering at night.