Everything You Need to Know About Fertilizing Your Lawn

Fertilizing your lawn is the step in your lawn care regiment that will separate your lawn from the others.
It is the difference between an okay lawn and the green, lush and healthy lawn you have worked for.

In order to be healthy and grow, you need to feed it the right nutrients. Taking a soil test is the first measure in determining what nutrients your lawn is lacking. Learn more about soil testing methods.

Knowing when and how often to feed your lawn is not an exact science.

There are guidelines you can follow.

Your fertilizer program should be matched to:

  • Your grass type (cool season or warm season grass)
  • The composition of your soil
  • Where you live and the weather conditions
  • Your lawn care maintenance preference (low maintenance, moderate maintenance or high maintenance).

Fertilizing Your Lawn - The Optimal Time

The best time to fertilize your lawn is during it's active growth stage. During this period, your lawn will receive the full benefit of the nutrients. The active growth stage begins at different times depending on your grass type (cool season or warm season).

Cool Season Grasses

The two prime times to fertilize your lawn are in the Spring and Fall.

When you fertilize in early Spring, you can use a quick start fertilizer. It will encourage fast growth.

If you fertilize your lawn in late Spring be sure to use a slow-release fertilizer. It will help the grass survive the stress on it during the Summer. Using a quick release fertilizer in late Spring is not a good idea. The fast growth will make it very difficult for your lawn to survive the summer stress.

Fertilizing your lawn in the Fall will allow it to grow for a longer period into the cold weather. The fertilizer will stimulate your lawn to thicken and assists the grass in storing carbohydrates. This allows the grass to survive the winter and get off to a good start in the Spring.

Warm Season Grasses

The best time to fertilize your lawn is in late Spring when the grass is no longer dormant and in mid-Summer.

Your first application is when your grass first greens up in the late Spring. Use a quick release fertilizer to encourage growth.

The timing of feeding your lawn in the Summer is very important. Be sure to fertilize your lawn mid-Summer, not late Summer. Fertilizing your lawn in late Summer promotes the growth of succulents and it leaves your grass susceptible to damage when the colder weather arrives.

Fertilizing Your Lawn - How to Know the Right Number of Fertilizer Applications

This is where your lawn care maintenance preference comes into play. Do you want a low maintenance lawn, moderate maintenance lawn or a high maintenance lawn? Your lawn maintenance preference dictates how often you have to mow, water and fertilize.

Learn how to apply fertilizer the correct way.(future page)

Low Maintenance Lawns

For a low maintenance lawn you only need to fertilize once or twice during the year. In the North, Fertilize in the Spring. In the South, fertilize in the late Spring and mid-Summer.

Moderate Maintenance Lawns

Fertilize your cool season grass in the Spring and Fall. Fertilize your warm season grass on the Spring, mid-Summer and early Fall.

This is my preferred method for my own home as well as the majority of my customers.

High Maintenance Lawns

Regardless of where you live, you should fertilize once a month during the active growing season. You should be aware that the chemical fertilizers could cause thatch build-up in your lawn, thus creating more work for you.

Fertilizing Your Lawn - Knowing Your Fertilizer Options

It is easy to become confused when shopping for fertilizer. It comes in many forms, formulas and brands. There are 3 general classes of fertilizer.

Soluble Synthetic Fertilizer

Also known as "quick release" fertilizer it is typically made with

  • Sulfate
  • Ammonium Nitrate
  • Ammonium
  • Urea

It is quick to dissolve in water and green up your lawn. This is the least expensive type of fertilizer.

Learn more about the different types of fertilizer.

Slow-Release Fertilizer

Also known as "controlled-release" or "time-released" fertilizers. The nutrients are spoon fed so the grass has steady, controlled growth. Slow release products include:

  • Methylene Urea
  • Urea Formaldehyde
  • Sulfur Coated Urea (SCU)
  • Polymercoated Urea (PCU)
  • Isobutyline Diurea (IBDU)

Learn more about the different types of fertilizer.

Organic Lawn Fertilizer

Organic grass fertilizer is made from recycled agricultural and plant waste. It is granular and can be applied the same way as regular fertilizers. It adds organic matter back into your soil which is beneficial in so many ways. Learn more about organic lawn fertilizer.

Understanding Fertilizer Numbers

Fertilizer contains 3 key ingredients:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • On the fertilizer package you will see it listed as 3 numbers separated by dashes. For example, the package may show 30-3-3. The first number (30) is the level of nitrogen. Nitrogen is listed first since it is the most beneficial of the nutrients. The second number (3) is the level of phosphorus. The last number (3) is the level of potassium. Learn more about what the fertilizer numbers mean.

Fertilizing Your Lawn - Why You Should Use Grass Clippings on Your Lawn

Grass clippings are an inexpensive way (they are free) to add organic matter back into your soil. They actually disappear and decompose in a few days. If you use a mulching blade on your mower they disappear even faster.

You can get approximately 1/3 of your fertilizer needs from leaving the grass clippings on the lawn and it is free. The best part is they do not cause thatch as chemical fertilizers do when used in excess. On my own lawn, I only bag the clippings 5-7 times a year (2-3 times in the Spring and 3-4 times in the Fall).

Even if you decide not to leave the grass clippings on the lawn, dump them into your composting bin for later use. I cannot stress enough the benefits your lawn will receive by adding organic matter to it.

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Pushcart for collection of fertilizer in Japan. Picture taken prior to 1922.

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Label of Fertilizer Bag showing Levels of the 3 major nutrients: Nitrogen (N)-Phosphate(P)-Potassium/Potash(K)

Hand Held Spreader (good for small fertilizing and seeding jobs)

Fertilizer Cart or Fertilizer Spreader

When using any sort of chemical, always read the instructions on the back of the bag/container.