A balanced diet is important for your body’s health, and your lawn needs a balanced diet too.
The three numbers on the bag of fertilizer are important because they tell you the makeup of the product, much like the Nutrition Facts label on the side of a cereal box; but you still need to know how to utilize that label in order to make the right decisions.
The first number on the fert bag represents Nitrogen, which makes the grass green. The problem is, that most of you good-intentioned DIYers think that more nitrogen means greener grass.
Your turf can only consume so much nitrogen over a period of time, and anything more in the soil is going to cause problems. In addition, high nitrogen fertilizers, even when applied properly, do very little for the long-term health of your turf.
The first problem with an over-abundance of nitrogen is burned-up grass! That’s right, when people talk about their grass being “burned,” it usually means they put down high nitrogen fertilizer in epidemic quantities. If you don’t believe me, try it: drop a handful in a small pile in your lawn and see what happens in about a week. The same thing happens when your dog urinates on your lawn in the same spot repeatedly.
Too much nitrogen in the soil will also thin out turf, as well as kill earth worms and other soil-enriching organisms. And remember, healthy soil is the foundation for healthy turf.
Don’t get me wrong, we do want nitrogen in the lawn, but in quantities suitable for proper growth and in balance with other lawn nutrients. My recommendation is that you:
- Utilize slow-release fertilizer products. You should look for ones that are labeled as Sulfur Coated Urea (SCU) or any other such terminology such as “long-lasting feed.” In addition, most organic lawn fertilizers are slow-release by nature and are a good choice as long as outside temperatures are above 50 degrees. (organics do not breakdown in the cold)
- Use a broadcast spreader instead of a drop spreader. A broadcast fertilizer spreader throws the materials out in wide, well-distributed patterns that tend to keep the fertilizer from clumping or congregating. Drop spreaders, on the other hand, do just that: drop mass amounts into the lawn which increases the chance of over-fertilizing. With a broadcast spreader, overlap your pattern back to the wheel marks of the previous pass.
- Be sure that you are putting down the recommended amount of productper 1,000 square feet. If you buy a bag of fert that is labeled to cover 5,000 square feet, and you only get that bag to cover your small front lawn, then you’re putting too much down! Your lawn’s square footage is calculated by measuring sections and multiplying length by width. (See my awesome diagram for more info.) It may take some practice to get the coverage just right, so start with a lower setting (one that does not shoot out much product) and walk the lawn with the spreader and see how you come out. Then, 6 weeks later on your next application, adjust accordingly until you get it just right.
- Purchase products with some potassium in them too and not just a bunch of nitrogen. Look for ratings of 20-20-10 or 15-15-15 instead of ratings of 33-3-3 or 28-2-5. (more info on the numbers on the fertilizer bag here)
Nitrogen to a lawn is like candy to your kids. Your kids love to eat candy, and will eat it everyday, all the time if you allow it, and it will eventually cause them major health problems. They need fruits, vegetables and protein in addition to that sugar rush they crave!
The same goes for that lawn of yours. Sure, a lot of nitrogen will turn it green, but it will also starve the root system and eventually your turf will thin out and die. You need to feed it other elements like potassium, phosphorus, and micro-nutrients like iron and magnesium. A little lime might also be in order to support the soil composition.
Next time you choose a lawn fertilizer, look for a rating with a good balance that will not only give your lawn a green rush, but also develop healthy roots in the process!____________________________________________________________
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