Love Your Lawn: How to Fertilize Your Yard
This is certainly not a topic of polite dinner conversation, but without fertilizer, our food would be much less plentiful and much more expensive.
Solving the Mystery—What do all the Numbers Mean?
What do those numbers mean on the fertilizer bag—10-10-10, for example? Each of those numbers tells you what percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) is in the bag. And thankfully we have a standard with those ingredients always being expressed in this order, N-P-K.
So with the contents understood, let’s spend some time exploring what each of these ingredients does in your soil. Nitrogen (N) is the main energy source for the plant; however, this nutrient is not retained and quickly leaches out of the soil. Phosphorus (P) is essential in the seed germination and rooting process. Phosphorus can be held by the soil and is therefore measurable by soil analysis. Potassium (K) helps the grass plant with increased disease and wear tolerance. It is also held by the soil and measurable by soil analysis.
What’s Best for Your Lawn and Your Budget?
10-10-10 is a useful general-purpose fertilizer for your garden but not always the best choice for your lawn. Your lawn will perform much better with a fertilizer formulated specifically for root and shoot growth.
Our best advice is to use the tool that’s best for the job and that is certainly the case with fertilizer. For your grass, look for a fertilizer that has its nitrogen released slooooowwwwly. When making your purchase look for a “slow release” fertilizer that will be designated by the percentage of XRT or WIN (Water Insoluble Nitrogen) printed on the tag.
Timing is Everything
When is the best time to fertilize a cool- season grass like Southern Lawn turf-type fescue? Fall is the best season to feed your lawn. However, there are several other times when a specific type of fertilizer should be applied with spring as the next key time to schedule a feeding. The application schedule we recommend is as follows:
During the month of March apply a combination weed/feed product like DIMENSION® which also contains a 14-0-2 fertilizer. This will “kick-start” your lawn as well as providing a pre-emergent herbicide crabgrass control. Let the forsythia bloom be your cue. As soon as you see those beautiful yellow flowers it’s time to put down a pre-emergent herbicide like DIMENSION®.
April – May
The next spring application should be done in late April to mid-May. It’s at this time that those pesky broad-leaf weeds (like dandelions) begin to show their ugly heads. When the grass is wet with dew or after a light watering is the optimal time to put down a VIPER Weed’n-Feed which also contains a 15-0-5 fertilizer with 25% XRT. The VIPER, as a systemic herbicide, needs to adhere to the weed leaves so the material can be absorbed and kill at the root level.
July – August
A Summer application of an organic fertilizer will provide the needed nutrition without the risk of burn, as well as improving the soil.
August – October
Late August to mid-October is the window to core aerate, over-seed and apply a starter fertilizer like 14-20-14 with 30% XRT. Core aeration is one of the most cost-effective investments in your lawn’s health. As for fertilizer, the phosphorus (the middle number) will aid in the germination and rooting process. The nitrogen will feed your seedling and existing grass for 12 weeks.
Late fall is the next scheduled opportunity for fertilizing your lawn. Apply a 25-0-3 with 32% XRT for another 12 weeks of feeding which will maintain green grass going into late fall and early winter. Not only will your lush green lawn impress your neighbors, but the grass will continue growing a better root system and storing carbohydrates in those roots. And remember to get those leaves up, as they’ll kill your seedling grass if allowed to pile up.
December – January
Mid December is the time for the next application using 32-0-7 with 32% XRT slow release nitrogen. The bulk of the fertilizer will be absorbed and stored in the root system helping the plant survive winter as well as being a much stronger and healthier plant for spring green up.
What Have We Learned?
Fertilizer is vital to our lawn’s well-being but must be used at the right time and in the correct amounts. The key is knowing exactly what’s in your soil prior to applying fertilizer. You can do so by having your soil professionally analyzed. Soil testing is the environmentally responsible and economically practical part of any good lawn care program. Take a look at the winter issue of Central Virginia HOME for an in-depth review of the best way to do a soil test and the best place to take your sample.
With the testing done know that fertilizer should be applied several times a year albeit different types and in varying quantities. It is also important to realize that a slow-release fertilizer (look for a percentage of XRT/WIN) is the best bet for your grass and for your budget.
When properly applied, fertilizer will allow you to have a much greener and healthier lawn and increase the appeal and value of your property.