Imagine this: The sun shines brightly, and you flip a burger on the grill one last time, putting the finishing touches on dinner. In the yard, the kids sprawl out on lush green grass tussling with your family dog. Soon, you’ll deliver dinner to the picnic table where the whole family will enjoy it together.
It’s an amazing picture – but unfortunately, many don’t get to experience it.
Because most people don’t have the type of lawn for these activities. What kids want to romp in brown or scraggly grass? And who wants to serve dinner at a picnic table surrounded by withered grass?
At Pure Turf, we understand the work and headache that goes into creating a beautiful lawn. That’s why we’re here to share one of the basics of creating a lush lawn – fertilizer.
Whether your lawn is newly seeded or is many years old, proper fertilization is key to its health. In this blog, we’ll address some commonly asked questions about fertilization and discuss some alternatives for conventional fertilizers.
Ready to learn more?
Let’s dive in.
Why should I fertilize my lawn?
Lawns that have the proper fertilization have good nutrient and pH levels. They are healthier overall and tend to be greener, lusher, and more aesthetically appealing.
Many kinds of turf grass aren’t native to the region where they are planted. This means that the soil often lacks some of the nutrients the turfgrass needs to thrive. Fertilizers take care of this issue by providing the missing nutrients.
In other words:
Fertilizer allows you to have a nice green lawn that people enjoy and you are proud of. Beyond that, it helps you to make healthier life choices by encouraging you to get out of the house and enjoy the beauty of nature.
But don’t make a hasty decision on fertilizer!
Fertilizer is not always the antidote to an unsightly lawn. So how can you know if your lawn needs fertilizer?
Does my lawn need fertilization?
Though fertilization is a vital part of a healthy lawn, the answer to whether your lawn needs it now isn’t automatically yes. Overfertilization and application at inappropriate times can cause severe damage to your yard and the environment. (More on this later.)
Two things determine whether or not your yard needs fertilization: pH and nutrient levels.
Many homeowners just use observation to determine if their lawn needs fertilizer. But looks can be deceiving. Just because there is moss in your yard or it’s a bit patchy doesn’t mean the pH levels are off or there are nutrient deficiencies. Those are probably signs of other issues but not necessarily a need for fertilizer.
That’s why it’s essential to start by conducting a soil test. A soil test assesses your lawn’s pH levels and whether there are nutrient imbalances.
Thankfully, testing your soil is pretty easy!
Kits are readily available from hardware stores like Lowes or Amazon. These kits include directions and an addressed envelope to a lab that will test your soil. If you don’t want to purchase a kit, you can simply gather a soil sample, package it, and mail it to an approved lab. Prices for soil testing vary based on what you’re testing for and the particular lab.
If you hire lawn care professionals, they will conduct soil testing before beginning a lawn care program that includes fertilization.
Lawns should be tested before they are re-done or before a new yard is seeded. Other than that, lawns must only be tested every 3 – 5 years. You can test your soil any time during the year for maintenance fertilizing. Just make sure your yard is dry enough to spade a sample easily.
What type of fertilizer does my lawn need?
Once you know whether or not your lawn needs fertilizer, you’ll have to decide which type of fertilizer you need.
As suspected, this isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds!
The type of fertilizer your lawn needs varies based on region and the kind of turfgrass you’ve planted.
Complete blends contain a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three primary nutrients turfgrasses need. Nitrogen is the nutrient most needed by turfgrasses. It is essential for growth and rich green coloring. It consists of plant proteins, chlorophyll, amino acids, and other plant-based substances. Among other benefits, phosphorus is needed for strong root development. Potassium promotes disease resistance and heartiness to drought and cold.
Incomplete blends contain only nitrogen or a mix of two primary nutrients. Incomplete combinations can also include secondary or micronutrients. An incomplete blend is used when the soil already has sufficient levels of one or more of the primary nutrients.
In Tennessee, much of the soil naturally lacks turfgrass’s primary nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Tennessee soil generally has adequate supplies of secondary nutrients. Of course, the only way to know what fertilizer your lawn needs is to conduct a soil test. But you can begin with the assumption that you’ll probably need a complete fertilizer for your Tennessee lawn.
While lime isn’t technically a fertilizer, it’s necessary for adjusting your lawn’s pH levels. Because of the soil type, most Tennessee lawns become acidic if lime isn’t applied. Yards with high acid levels become less hardy and more prone to weeds. Lime reduces these acid levels and makes it possible for the grass to get the nutrients it needs.
When should lawns be fertilized?
When fertilization should happen depends on the type of grass you have and the type of fertilizer you want to use.
Cool-season blends like Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass are used for lawns in cooler regions. Warm-season blends like Bermudagrass and St. Augustine are best suited in areas with hotter summers (think Florida and Texas). Since Tennessee is in the transition zone temperature-wise, it’s possible to use either warm or cool-season grass, depending on local climate patterns.
Some companies recommend only fertilizing in the fall, while others suggest a spring and fall program with varied amounts depending on the kind of grass.
Some of these variations are expected, given weather and soil conditions differences. However, you can follow some general guidelines, no matter where you live in Tennessee.
If you have a cool-season grass blend, the best time to use nitrogen-based fertilizers is in the early spring and later autumn when the weather is cool. Do not use fertilizers that contain nitrogen between June 1 and September 1 or during drought. Cool-season grasses won’t grow much over these times, and the fertilizer will only encourage weeds.
If you have warm-season grass, these recommendations are reversed. The optimal times to fertilize will be in warmer (but not the hottest) times of the year, presumably in early summer or early fall. Fertilizing with nitrogen-based fertilizer in early spring or late autumn has the undesirable effect of promoting weeds and decreasing hardiness.
Although late fall is preferable, lime can be applied anytime during the year, as needed.
If you are establishing a lawn, you’ll want to use lime and fertilizer before seeding. Mix the desired amounts (based on soil testing) into the top 4-6 inches of soil.
Pro tip: For great results, fertilize or lime right before rain or irrigate promptly after fertilizing.
What is the proper way to fertilize lawns?
Once you’ve decided your lawn needs fertilizer and chosen the perfect fertilizer for your lawn, it’s time to apply it.
Generally, this is a pretty straightforward process, but there are some variables to keep in mind. For example, the best way to apply fertilizer depends on whether it’s solid or liquid.
Solid fertilizers are best applied using a gravity flow or centrifugal spreader. This ensures more even distribution. You can also spread it by hand, but this isn’t as desirable since there’s a greater risk of spreading unevenly.
Liquid fertilizers are best applied using a hose-end sprayer or a pressurized sprayer. There’s a slightly greater risk of foliage burns when using liquid fertilizer, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s amount directions.
Lime is best applied using a gravity flow spreader. If you are using pelletized lime, centrifugal spreaders work as well.
Pro tip: When applying solid fertilizer by hand, divide the fertilizer into two equal portions. Begin by applying one portion over the entire area in one direction. Cover the area again with the second portion, but this time move crosswise.
What if you don’t prefer to use traditional fertilizers for your lawn? Are there other options?
Yes! You actually have a few options available if you prefer a non-traditional or organic lawn. There are numerous organic fertilizers available. Check with your local hardware store or lawn care provider about the options available in your area.
Here are a few tips for a non-traditional lawn:
If you want to forgo any store-bought fertilizer, you can try composting. Adding a thin layer of compost to your yard can add necessary organic matter and improve soil structure.
When switching from a traditional to an organic lawn, you may have the best luck by overseeding or replacing your lawn with native or organic grass seed.
It’s important to maintain realistic expectations. Transitioning can take some time, and weeds are often more challenging to keep under control.
Also, professional lawn care companies like Pure Turf offer many services like weed and grub control, soil aeration and micronutrients that reduce the need for fertilizer.
We all love the beauty of a well-kept, healthy lawn, and fertilizer is one key to such a lawn. In Tennessee, the soil usually needs the nutrients fertilizer provides, so be sure to fertilize your yard this year!
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