Lush, green lawns don’t just happen. They take work. Among other things, your lawn needs to be fertilized carefully and on a proper schedule if you want your grass to grow strong and healthy. Too little fertilizer, and your grass won’t have the nutrients it needs. Too much, and it’ll grow too quickly, form too much thatch, and become weaker overall. Fertilizer can also burn and kill grass if it’s spread too thickly.
Knowing how and when to fertilize your lawn is an art. You need to test your soil to figure out what it needs, time your fertilization schedule right, and fertilize carefully and with the right tools. Keep a record of what fertilizer you used, and when you applied it, so you don’t end up fertilizing too much or too little.
Test Your Soil
Before you start applying fertilizer to your lawn, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested, so you can figure out exactly what your grass needs. It’s an even better idea to do this if you’re having problems with your lawn. A soil test will tell you the pH balance of your soil, and it needs to be within an ideal range – usually 6.0 to 7.2 – if you want fertilizer to be effective. If your soil pH is off, your grass won’t be able to pick up the nutrients that fertilizer lays down. Fortunately, lime and other soil additives can help bring your soil pH to the right range so that grass can use your fertilizer effectively.
You can buy home soil test kits from your local lawn and garden or home improvement center, but the best, most accurate tests are administered by >your local Cooperative Extension Office. You can take a soil sample yourself and send it in – mix soil from different areas of your lawn into a single sample. If you care about your lawn, getting to know the folks at your local extension office is a good idea; they can help you diagnose and solve lawn diseases and insect infestations, advise you on the best lawn and garden products for the area, let you know when the soil has warmed up enough to start fertilizing and planting, and more.
Time It Right
You need to spread fertilizer at the right times of year in order for it to be effective. Ideally, you should fertilize for the first time in early spring, after the soil has warmed up to 55°F, and then again every four to six weeks throughout the summer. The most important time to fertilize, however, is in the fall before grass goes dormant for the winter. Your grass will store the nutrients from this last dose of fertilizer, to feed on during the winter and when it wakes up in the spring.
Use the Right Tools
As with any job around the house, you need to use the right tools for the best results. A broadcast spreader is best for fertilizing large yards, since it spreads granulated fertilizer most effectively, and you can also use it to spread weed killer and grass seed. You can buy a walk-behind spreader for larger areas, or a hand-held one if you just have a small strip of grass. If you have a very large lawn or don’t have the time for a rigorous fertilization schedule, look for local lawn fertilization companies to handle the job for you.
Take care when spreading fertilizer on your lawn. Test your spreader on your driveway, or on the sidewalk or street, before using it on your lawn, so you can get an idea of how much fertilizer it will spread. Remember, spreading fertilizer too thick will burn and kill your grass, so it’s best to err on the side of too little fertilizer rather than too much. Sweep up any fertilizer from the pavement after testing your spreader, so it doesn’t go into the ground water. If you don’t have a paved area where you can test the spreader, do it on a tarp.
Remember to close the hopper before filling your spreader with fertilizer, or else it will spill right through onto the ground. Fill your spreader on a tarp to catch any spilled fertilizer and save your grass from burns. Apply fertilizer at about half the rate recommended on the bag, moving at a slow and steady pace. Start by going around the perimeter of your yard, and then fill in the middle in rows. Close the hopper for turns. Try to avoid applying fertilizer right before it rains, as it can wash away.
When you fertilize your lawn, keep a record of the date of application, what kind of fertilizer you applied, and how much you applied. You should also keep a record of any soil tests performed and soil treatments applied, as well as other lawn maintenance tasks, like aerating and dethatching. That way, you’ll be able to stick to a good fertilization schedule, and you’ll be able to monitor your lawn for signs that it’s getting too much or too little fertilizer.
Just like any other living thing, your lawn needs the right nutrients to grow and thrive. Fertilizing regularly is the key to keeping your lawn strong, thick, and healthy, so you can enjoy more time outdoors and less time pulling weeds, killing bugs, and treating lawn diseases.