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    Fertilizing your lawn

    Authored by Jemma Petts

    How often should you fertilize your lawn? Feeding your lawn with fertilizer once a year is a good start, but it’s insufficient for growing grass. Ideally, your lawn fertilizer schedule should have you feeding your grass four times a year. 

    When to fertilize grass

    A lawn fertilizing schedule that includes lawn treatments every six to eight weeks helps ensure you grow greener, healthier grass with a strong root system to combat heat, cold, drought, mowing and foot traffic. 

    Follow these lawn-treatment timetable tips:

    • Early spring fertilizer (February-April): Lawns are hungry in the spring, and feeding them good grass food provides the essential nutrients needed to strengthen roots and get the growing season off to a strong start. The best spring lawn fertilizers contain pre-emergent crabgrass control to prevent seeds from germinating and stealing sustenance. 
    • Late spring fertilizer (April-June): Spring is when your grass is using its stored energy to grow, and you want to ensure it receives the nourishment it needs by feeding it a serving of lawn food. Consider using a weed-and-feed lawn treatment to kill off dandelions and broadleaf weeds—like clover—while providing important nutrients.
    • Summer fertilizer (June-August): Heat, drought, foot traffic and insects stress your lawn during summer. Feeding it a summer lawn fertilizer will help fortify your grass against these challenges. A grass fertilizer with insect control can help keep pests at bay and also give your lawn a boost before the hottest stretch of summer.
    • Fall fertilizer (September-November): Fall is a tough time for lawns, as they need to both recover from summer stresses and prepare for winter. The season’s cooler temperatures and increased rain make it an ideal time to build the strong root systems and nitrogen stores required to sprout a lush spring lawn. You could argue that fall lawn fertilizer is the most important application of the year. 

    When to fertilize your grass in the fall will depend on where you live: 

    • Northern regions — It is best to fertilize before it gets too cold, since most dry lawn fertilizers don’t release nutrients if the soil temperature is less than 55° F. If you’ve applied fertilizer “too late,” don’t worry—it doesn’t dissolve with rain or snow and will begin to feed again in warmer weather.
    • Southern regions — The best time to fertilize a lawn is in the early fall before it turns brown. Dormant lawns turn brown as a defense against the cold, so feeding before this time encourages fresh growth that helps protect them against damage from the cold.

    How to read a fertilizer label

    Three numbers on the back of the fertilizer bag indicate the percentage of its primary ingredients. The numbers always appear in the same order—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—and tell you how much of these nutrients, by weight, are in that bag of fertilizer. For example, a basic lawn fertilizer with a label that reads “20-5-10” is four parts nitrogen, one part phosphorus, and two parts potassium.

    Nitrogen is the most important nutrient and is what makes your lawn green. Knowing how much nitrogen is in a bag of fertilizer helps you apply the proper amount to your lawn. Using too much can burn the grass, so one pound or less per feeding is generally recommended. To figure out how much nitrogen is in a bag of fertilizer, multiply the number on the back by the bag’s weight.

    How to spread fertilizer 

    The majority of DIY yard fertilizers, including organic fertilizers, come in granular form and require the use of a spreader. There are two primary spreader options:

    • Broadcast spreaders — The tool of choice for amateur landscapers, broadcast spreaders spray fertilizer granules in all directions to cover ground quickly and efficiently.   
    • Drop spreaders — As their name implies, drop spreaders drop grass fertilizer as you go, delivering a more controlled application. It’s a slower process, and even coverage is dependent on your precision.

    You don’t need a green thumb to grow a lust-worthy lawn. A lawn fertilizing schedule, season-specific lawn fertilizer, and a spreader should be enough to help you achieve healthy grass.