Feed Your Lawn Correctly – A Quick Study of Lawn Fertilizers

By: Ken Wilson

What is a lawn really? It is basically thousands, maybe millions, of small plants grouped so closely together that they look like one unit. Grass isn’t just one big plant, it is a bunch of little ones. All life needs food to grow and thrive; plants are no different. Plant food is called fertilizer and while many people remember to fertilize their gardens and house plants, many people forget the lawn needs it too.

Fertilizer is any material supplying one or more essential plant nutrients. Most common turf grass fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, but they may also include other essential mineral elements for turf grass growth.

Fertilizers will give you that lush green lawn you desire by helping the grass to grow stronger and healthier. It also helps new seed to germinate faster, and establish a healthy root system.

So, now that you know you need to fertilize the obvious questions are “how much, how often, and when”.

Start in early Spring, about 30 days before growing season starts, and then every 60 days after that until the fall. The Spring application will get the grass off to a fast start and give you that rich green color you are after.

As in most things in life, fertilizing is a balance act. Too little fertilizer will not achieve the results you want and too much can damage, and even kill, your lawn. The fertilizer bag will give you the information you need to know.

The next common question homeowners have is “what kind of fertilizer should I use”. And, as always, that depends on your specific needs. There are two basic fertilizer types: complete and balanced.

Complete fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the same product. The bag will tell you the content of these nutrients in that order. A fertilizer that doesn’t have all three elements it is referred to as “incomplete”. While there are uses for “incomplete” fertilizers, in general, the continued use of, for example, a 46-0-0 incomplete fertilizer may result in lower turf quality if the other essential elements are not being supplied by the soil.

Balanced fertilizers use specific, predetermined, ratios of the critical elements that best meet a particular plant’s needs. Turf grasses require nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the approximate ratio of 3-1-2, 4-1-2, or 8-1-3.

The correct balanced fertilizer will be different depending on the type of grass you are using. Your soil will also dictate, to a degree, which kind of fertilizer you need depending on how much of the various critical elements are present naturally.

You may want to use a fertilizer that releases its nutrients over time instead of all at once. These types of fertilizers are available at most retailers and effectively stretch out the feedings. The grass root systems will get stronger and fill in any bare patches. An added benefit of this is that it can also serve as a method to control weeds. If the grass is taking up all the resources and space, weeds have nowhere to germinate or resources to grow!

Make sure you read the instructions on the fertilizer bag before you buy it. You can also ask someone at the store (who seems to know what they are talking about) for help. Make sure you follow the directions on the bag exactly. Like we said earlier too much or too little fertilizer can harm your lawn. The bag will also tell you the best conditions under which to apply the product.

You need a spreader to apply your fertilizer correctly, in the amounts needed. Remember, do not fill your spreader on the lawn! You will inevitably spill some of the fertilizer and if it gets on the lawn in high concentrations you will have burn spots. Fill your spreader in the driveway or garage to prevent this.

We discussed the need for a spreader in last week’s lesson about planting seed. Spreaders come in a variety of kinds and styles. You can get handheld ones, rotary spreaders and drop spreaders. I prefer the type that you push, as opposed to the handheld type. The handheld kind can make a mess and get fertilizer all over your clothes if you don’t use it correctly. The walk behind type are easier to use in my opinion. Just make sure you get the kind that has an adjustable spread setting so you can adjust the rate of spread depending on the application you are using.

Many people are going green with their growing using chemical free fertilizers and weed control. However, they

There is a strong movement right now for “green” type, chemical free fertilizers and weed control. If this is your thing, I’m all for it, but your lawn results probably will not be affected much.

Plants absorb the nutrients they are given regardless of the source of those nutrients (organic or otherwise). Organic fertilizers don’t offer any more, or less, nutrients to the lawn. However, there may be other environmental concerns (runoff, and how the conventional fertilizer is made) that you may be concerned about. Those factors are personal, though, and have very little effect on how your lawn will look.

Many lawn fertilizers are designed to control weeds at the same time. You don’t want weeds to eat up the nutrients you are providing for your grass (everyone hates freeloaders) so it makes sense that you would want to control weeds while you are feeding your lawn.

About the author 

Ken Wilson

Long time career in the home services industry from remodeling to patio construction. Currently residing to in SWFL and active contributor to multiple home & garden publications.