Fertilizing your lawn properly can give it the nutrients it needs to grow strong and healthy and be resistant to disease and weeds. But doing it wrong can burn and kill your grass and leave what remains more vulnerable to pathogens and parasites. How can you make sure that your lawn has what it needs to thrive, without harming it accidentally?
The key is to understand how and why to fertilize your lawn. Do it at the right times of year, not too often, and using the right tools. Don’t overdo it and apply too much fertilizer – that’s what burns grass. And be careful when you apply fertilizer, so it goes on evenly and doesn’t damage your grass.
Fertilize at the Right Times of Year
Ideally, you should fertilize every four weeks throughout the growing season with a fast-release fertilizer, or every six to eight weeks with a slow-release fertilizer. That’s why many homeowners decide to use a lawn care service for lawn fertilization – it’s simply too big of a chore to do every month or even every two months throughout your lawn’s active season. If you decide to take on this lawn fertilization schedule yourself, start right around the time the grass starts growing in spring, and continue until about mid-October to make sure your grass has the nutrients it needs to get through the dormant season and thrive in spring.
However, many homeowners opt to fertilize only once or twice a year. If you fertilize only once a year, do so around the beginning of September. This will help grass replenish its nutrient stores ahead of winter. If you opt to fertilize twice a year, do so in the early spring and again in the late fall.
Use the Right Tools
Don’t fertilize by hand – it’s too easy to apply fertilizer unevenly and burn your grass. Drop spreaders also take some skill to use, even if they can prevent spraying fertilizer onto gravel and pavement. A broadcast spreader, also called a rotary spreader, is the best tool to spread fertilizer on your lawn without burning or striping it. Broadcast spreaders offer better coverage than drop spreaders, so you can fertilize your lawn twice as fast. However, you’ll need to experiment with the spreader on a tarp to see just how much coverage you get, and to practice using it before you attack the lawn.
Water After Fertilizing
After you fertilize your lawn, water it well. Watering prevents fertilizer burns by rinsing fertilizer off of your grass blades. It also helps the fertilizer soak into the soil, where your grass’s roots are. Keep kids and pets off the newly fertilized grass for 24 to 48 hours.
Don’t Apply Too Much Fertilizer
It’s easy to apply too much fertilizer, especially in the spring, and it’s better to err on the side of caution and apply too little fertilizer rather than too much.
Don’t risk burning your grass. Apply about half as much fertilizer as it says on the package, especially for the first application in the spring. Avoid using liquid fertilizers; if you’re not a lawn care professional, it’s hard to know exactly how much to apply and how to apply it.
Apply Fertilizer Carefully
It’s important to be careful when applying fertilizer, because carelessness can lead to spills that will damage your lawn. Use your spreader on a large tarp to get used to it before you use it on the grass. Make sure to close the hopper before filling your spreader with fertilizer, or else it will all spill directly onto the ground. Put a tarp under your spreader while filling it or fill it in a driveway or on a sidewalk, to keep spills off of your grass.
Walk slowly and at a steady pace when fertilizing your grass. Do the perimeter of your lawn first, then fill in the middle in long rows. Close the hopper when turning the spreader to start back down another row.
Don’t use fertilizer around wetlands, marshes, rivers, streams, lakes, or ponds – it can cause algal blooms, weed growth and other environmental harm. For the same reason, avoid spreading fertilizer on frozen ground and sweep up any fertilizer that has spilled on hard surfaces.
Applying fertilizer is more of an art than a science. You need to know just how much to apply, when to apply it, and how to apply it right. But once you’re adept at fertilizing, you’ll be rewarded with a lush, healthy, thriving lawn.