How to Fertilize Your Lawn Correctly? The Unlimited Guide

The only way to have healthy and vigorous grass in front of your home is to fertilize your lawn correctly. There is a lot of literature about the subject, but all these articles will be useless for you if you don’t know the details about the type of your soil and grass you grow. The most crucial ingredient your lawn needs is definitely nitrogen, but there are other important nutrients such as potassium or phosphate you will probably need to add to enrich the soil.

Actually, the type of fertilizer you should apply directly depends on the kind of grass and soil. Keep in mind that fertilizer you choose will affect both lawn appearance and necessary maintenance. One more thing! You don’t need to be upset about fertilizing. It is not a big deal. You need about 15 to 20 minutes of your time, an excellent fertilizer, and a spreader and results you get will be fantastic!

Why Fertilize?

Fertilize Lawn benefits

Along with water, your lawn will need nutrients to survive. Good soil will generally supply your grass with most necessary nutrition, but there are a lot of poor soils that can’t provide all your lawn needs during the growing season.

Therefore, you should help grass become green, lush, thick, and healthy by feeding it up to four times a year. In the same time, lush lawn will help you to prevent sprouting the weed seeds.

Types of nutrients your lawn needs

1). Primary nutrients are not easily available in the soil. They should be added to it by using fertilizers.

  • Nitrogen– This mineral is essential for plant growth and the development of vivid, green leaves
  • Phosphorous– It is in charge of root growth as well as the creation of flowers, fruit, and seeds
  • Potassium– Without it, there will be problems with root development and grass couldn’t develop resistance to various diseases and drought

2). Secondary nutrients (oxygen, magnesium, calcium, carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen are often widespread in soil or air, and it is usually not necessary to add them.

3). Micronutrients (chlorine, iron, copper, boron, cobalt, zinc, nickel, molybdenum, and manganese) are nutrients your grass will need in just a small amount.

Fertilizer will help:

  • The root and leaf to grow appropriate
  • Recovering the lawn from pests
  • Reducing weeds
  • Replacing nutrients after volatilization and leaching

Undoubtedly, spring is the best season to fertilize your lawn. In April, the soil temperature is approximately 55 F (13 C), which is an ideal period for the grass to start growing. November 15th is the proper time for the last lawn fertilizer application.

Preparing Your Lawn for Fertilizing

There are some essential steps you should comply with before you begin to fertilize your lawn.

1. Test the soil

Soil Testing

To test the soil of your lawn, you need some samples. Just dig approximately ten individual holes deep about 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) and randomly collect soil samples. Avoid picking up the soil with root mass and other vegetation. Mix all taken samples and put one cup of it in a plastic bag.

Now, send the sample to the competent institution (local university, county extension office, or even garden center) for testing. The most important information you will get are:

  • How many main nutrients(potassium, sulfur, gypsum, phosphorus, and lime) your soil contains.
  • The pH of your soil (6.5 to 7.0 is the best option for the grass). If the result is lower than 6.0, you will need to ‘sweeten’ the soil by adding lime. If the result is above 7.5, you need to add sulfur to fertilizer.

Depending on the obtained result, you will know to determine the best fertilizer for your lawn and the appropriate time of applying.

In a case that test results show that you need to correct pH or a level of nutrients, you should consider testing the soil of your lawn annually until solving the problem. In the opposite, if the results are good, there is no need to repeat the test more than once in three years.

Useful tips:

  • Try to do testing in early spring, before grass start growing
  • Keep in mind that it is useless collecting samples after fertilizing your lawn
  • Avoid do-it-yourself kits. They are cheap, but not accurate enough

2. Soil aeration

Soil aeration

In a case that you need to aerate your lawn, do it along with fertilizing. It is a useful procedure that will create little holes in the soil that will allow the fertilizer, water, and air direct access to roots of the grass.

Lawn aeration stage illustration
Lawn aeration stage illustration

One of the best ways of aeration is using a core aerator. This machine will pull plugs of soil from your lawn. Maybe you should check your riding mower. Some of them have attachments for a core aerator. If it is not your case, rent one. If your lawn is small, you can use a digging fork. Plunging it about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) into the soil will bring enough air to the roots of your grass.

3. Determine your lawn size

Determine lawn size

You will find the user guide on every package of fertilizer you buy. Read carefully about the amount of fertilizer you need to cover your lawn depending on its size and soil type.

You just need to multiply the length and width of your lawn and to calculate the square footage of your yard. Since you don’t need to fertilize the surface area of your house and driveway, don’t forget to take away those values.

4. Determine grass type on your lawn

grass type

It is essential to define the suitable type of grass that grows on your lawn. That is the most accurate way to calculate the right amount of nitrogen you need to apply. Since the average grass such as centipedes and blue grama grasses need two pounds of this nutrition per year for every 1,000 square feet (93m2) of lawn, you can quickly estimate the amount of fertilizer you need during this period.

The same is with other types of grass. A calculation is simple if you know that:

  • Fine fescue, ryegrass, St. Augustine, zoysia, or Bahia grasses need 2 to 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn per year
  • Tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass, or Bermuda grasses require 3 to 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn per year

It will be helpful if you know that bags you can buy usually cover from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet (465 to 1400 m2). Basically, the variety of grass is not crucial, but the type of it is. The grass in your lawn can be:

  • Warm-season type (grow in southern states)
  • Cool-season type (grow in northern states)

Don’t forget that a third of states in the US have a transitional climate. That means both types of grasses can grow in those regions. To be sure, you can check the regional grass map of the US.

Cool-season grasses

Kentucky bluegrass

If you live in a cold or transitional area with temperatures between 60 to 75 F (15.5 to 24 C) and grow cool-season grasses on your lawn, you have already known that they remain green almost throughout the year.

This grass-type requires moderately warm summers and cold winters. The most common cool-season grasses in the US are:

  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Bentgrass
  • Ryegrass (both annual and perennial)
  • Blue grama
  • Fine and tall fescue

Warm-season grasses

Zoysia

If you live in regions with temperatures 80 to 95 F (27 to 35 C), you should grow warm-season grasses. The most of them require dry and hot summers and turn brown during three to five winter months when temperatures are below 60 F (15.5 C). The most common are:

  • Zoysia
  • Bahia
  • Bermuda
  • Augustine
  • Centipede
  • Buffalo

5. Proper materials for lawn maintenance

  • An excellent lawn fertilizer
  • A spreader
  • A sprinkler
  • Enough water

When to fertilize lawn?

Fertilize lawn time

To get a healthy and green lawn, you need to use high-quality fertilizer and to do it on time. Which option is best for you to choose will directly depend on the climate in your region and the grass type on your lawn.

  • Cool-season grasses

The best time to fertilize the lawn with this type of grass is in early fall. Many experts in this field believe that you need only one fertilizer application a year if you use so-called ‘winterizer fertilizer’ for your lawn. The best period is in the fall (October or November). If you want to apply fertilizer one more time during a year, do it in early spring before the summer heat.

  • Warm-season grasses

An ideal period for fertilizing this type of lawn depends on a variety of grasses you have. You need to fertilize your lawn before grass reaches its maximum growing phase. In southern areas, try to do it in late spring or early summer.

The second application should be in late summer, but not after the first of September. You have two options – to use quick-release or slow-release fertilizer because both of them are acceptable for this grass type.

Types of fertilizers

In the very beginning, selecting the right fertilizer product for your lawn will probably be an overwhelming task. Over time, you will discover which fertilizer suits your lawn best, and everything will become much more comfortable.

1. Granular

Granular fertilizer

Fertilizers for lawns are usually in granular form because it is easier to control how much of it you use and to see which direction of dispersing is. You can choose:

Quick-release fertilizers (water-soluble nitrogen) – They provide nitrogen to grass right away and last for about a month.

Slow-release fertilizers (water-insoluble nitrogen) – There two types of them:

    • A sulfur-coated variety (their effects last for about two months)
    • A polymer-coated variety (their effects last for about three months)

2. Liquid

Liquid fertilizer

Liquid fertilizers act faster because their absorption through the leaves or roots is almost immediate. Therefore, you should apply them twice a month.

3. Plant food spikes

Plant food spikes

It is a substantial form of fertilizers. They provide a simple plant’s feeding by dispensing nutrients through the soil over time.

4. Grass-cycling

Grass-cycling

Grass-cycling is a way to maintain the lawn by letting grass clippings on the lawn after cutting. The positive sides of this technique are:

  • You don’t need to bag grass after mowing
  • Your lawn will stay greener during a year
  • It will make fertilizing easier
  • After decaying, clipped grass will provide 25% beneficial nutrients for your lawn’s needs
  • 100 pounds (45 kg) of grass clippings yield about 3 to 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.8 kg) of required nitrogen
  • It is a pocket-friendly solution

5. Compost as fertilizer

Despite some shortcomings, compost is almost an ideal solution if you prefer organic lawn care practice and have a possibility to find it. It contains all necessary organic matter, micronutrients, and good microorganisms to feed both grass and the soil.

The best of all is that compost will provide enough nitrogen that will slowly become available to grassroots. That way, there will be no heavy nitrogen leaching over time.

Apply it before grass over-seeding. When your lawn is established, spread compost over lawns in a thin layer to encourage strong grass growth in early spring.

6. Clovers

Clovers

If you are a ‘green type of person’, it would be a good idea to think about adding clover to your lawn. This plant is a natural nitrogen source and can enrich the soil by converting nitrogen from the air into an available source of this mineral for grassroots. It is resistant to most lawn pests and diseases and drought tolerant. Plus, clovers don’t require frequent mowing because this plant grows slowly.

Tips for fertilizing your lawn

As I have already said, every lawn has specific fertilizer requirements. The best you can do, especially if you are a novice, is to read the instructions on the bag carefully. You don’t want to calculate the formula wrong.

There are three formulations you can use:

a). Weed and feed – It is a lawn fertilizer with weed killer. Check the label before using and determining if it is a good match for your lawn, which directly depends on the weeds you spotted. They can be:

    • Pre-emergents– Apply them in early spring before weeds start germinating
    • Post-emergents– Apply them after weeds start growing actively

b). Winterizers – These potassium-rich fertilizers will help cool-season lawns to cope with stress during winter easier.

c). Starter fertilizers – These phosphorous-rich fertilizers will help your new lawn develop healthy, strong roots.

Summary

In the end, don’t forget to water your lawn thoroughly a few days before you decide to feed it. That way, you will help the soil to accept fertilizer readily. However, the critical watering is the one after grass drying and applying fertilizer. Lightly watering will wash fertilizer off the grass into the soil.

Keep in mind that excessive watering will rinse the ground and help the grass to grow lusher. Consequently, you will need to fertilize your lawn more often.

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