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How to Fertilize Your Yard

7/23/2018 5:00:00 AM

​Fertilization is a task many people neglect when it comes to lawncare. While watering, mowing, trimming, weeding and mulching are all important steps in caring for your lawn, proper fertilization is essential. Fertilizer helps grass grow strong and green, allowing it to outcompete surrounding weeds, even in the hottest, most trying months of summer.

Before starting, test your soils pH level. For most grass types, the ideal soil pH is neutral, meaning between 6.5-7.0. Depending on your grass type, this can differ, but it's essential to know where your soil stands to figure out the best kind of fertilizer for it.

The key ingredient needed for most lawns is nitrogen, but with a balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Once you've analyzed your soil's pH levels, you can better understand how often, how well, and to what extent you need to fertilize in order to grow a fertile, luscious lawn.​

Plan for the right time of the year

 If you are growing warm-season grass, fertilize in late spring or early summer. Don't fertilize during the heat of summer, or you risk burning the plants. You can also make a second application of fertilizer in late summer or early fall, but if you have warm-season grass that goes dormant during the winter months, don't fertilize once fall temperatures set in.

Fertilize cold-season grasses in early fall. One application of fertilizer is usually enough during October or November.

Some lawns may need to be fertilized up to five times per year, so plan your applications accordingly. You should apply fertilizer in the spring once temperatures reach 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with repeated feedings every four to eight weeks throughout the summer and fall.

Choose the right fertilizer

 If you're buying synthetic fertilizer, pay attention to the numbers on the label. You will see values for three nutrients: nitrogen, phosphate (or phosphorus) and potassium. An optimal mixture contains 20 percent nitrogen, five percent phosphate, and 10 percent potassium.

When shopping for fertilizer, pay attention to how the fertilizer breaks down. Slow-release fertilizers are ideal because they break down over a longer period of time. This prevents you from shocking your plants and allows you to wait longer between applications.

While professional lawn care companies often use liquid fertilizer, you should always purchase fertilizer granules.These are easy to apply, even for the most inexperienced applicator. Just maintain consistent application throughout the entire lawn.

Consider using a broadcast spreader

Broadcast spreaders are easy to use and don't allow wind to carry the granules in multiple directions. They disperse fertilizer for a wide distance and reduce the likelihood of you leaving narrow, untouched areas around your lawn. Spreaders are also inexpensive and start at less than 30 dollars in many places.

Avoid over- or under- application

You don't have to use an entire bag of fertilizer on your lawn at once. Try starting at one-third or one-half of the recommended rate, and then add more. Too little fertilizer is better than too much, but ideally you want to hit the just-right amount without going overboard. Fertilize the outskirts of your lawn first, and then work your way in to best estimate spacing and application rates.


Always follow up fertilizing with aeration. Aeration creates pockets in the soil, which helps fertilizer, water, and oxygen reach plant roots. Some riding lawn mowers have core aerator attachments, but you can also rent an aeration machine. This should be done whenever the thatch layer is one-half inch thick or more.

Water accordingly

Fertilizing your lawn increases its growth, but as it grows longer, it will need more nutrients to flourish. Generally, you should water before and after fertilization, but take time to read the instructions on your fertilizer packaging.

Add a natural nitrogen source

Consider adding clover to supplement your traditional fertilization methods. When planted among other grass species on a lawn, clover converts the nitrogen in the air into a form of nitrogen that is more available to grass roots. Clover helps to prevent weeds and grows low, requiring less frequent mowing. It even helps prevent several types of pests, such as grubs.

Consider organic methods of fertilization

"Grasscycling" is a hip way of allowing grass clippings to lie on the lawn and decompose after cutting. Grass is already high in nitrogen, so this can help cycle nutrients back to your hungry lawn. Try investing in a mulching mower, or just update your existing mower with a mulching blade. This cuts grass into finer pieces and allows them to decompose more quickly and evenly.

Compost is an organic fertilizer that releases nitrogen to grass roots slowly. This can help you avoid burning your grass or feeding excessively. Plus, these natural fertilizers prevent toxic runoff of dangerous chemicals that can be harmful when released back to the waterways.