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Home and garden: A quick guide to fertilizing your lawn

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No two yards are alike. Factors such as geographic location, sun exposure, soil type, and rainfall amounts affect what sort of nutrients your yard will require. Grasses require a steady supply of nitrogen and other nutrients during the growing season. The type of grass growing in your yard will also affect when and how often you fertilize.

Warm-season grasses

Grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine are popular in the southern United States because they thrive in hot, humid weather. These warm-season grasses are active and growing in the summer months. In general, warm-season grasses need their first feeding in late spring and preferably every six to eight weeks during the growing season. However, don't jump the gun when feeding your warm-weather lawn. Fertilizing too early will do little for the grass, but will cause cool-weather weeds to flourish.

Cool-season grasses

Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and rye are generally grown in the northern portion of the United States. These grasses withstand frigid temperatures nicely and are bred to stay green throughout the winter. Opposite of grasses grown in the south, cool-season grasses often go dormant in the summer months. Fertilize your northern lawn at least one time in the fall to keep them healthy throughout the winter and to provide root-system reserves for a growth spurt when spring arrives. For best results, apply follow-up feedings every six to eight weeks throughout the winter and into spring. Never fertilize northern lawns during the hot summer months.

Choosing the right fertilizer

Fertilizing grass is not rocket science, but there are a few things you should know. Here is some information that will help you choose the right fertilizer for the needs of your lawn:

  • The numbers on the fertilizer bag. On every bag of fertilizer, there are three numbers. These numbers indicate the amounts of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium contained in the fertilizer mix. For example, a bag of 20-5-10 will contain 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphate, and 10% potassium.
  • How nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium are used by grass. Now that you know what the numbers mean, it's time to learn how to evaluate which fertilizer you need for your lawn. Nitrogen is for leaf growth, phosphate feeds the root system, and potassium helps with flowering, seeding, and helps the plants tolerate extreme weather conditions. So if you need your lawn to green up, you would use a fertilizer high in nitrogen. If you need your lawn to spread to cover bare spots, use a fertilizer high in phosphate for a healthy root system.

More fertilizing tips

No matter what type of lawn you have or where it is located, fertilizing is usually necessary to keep your lawn healthy, lush, and green. Here are some other things to remember when choosing and applying fertilizer:

  • Use slow-release fertilizers. These fertilizers release nutrients over an extended period of time, enabling you to go longer between applications.
  • Use granules. Unless you are professional, granules are much easier to spread on a lawn evenly.
  • Don't over fertilize. If in doubt, err on the side of caution when it comes to fertilizer. One of the most common mistakes that homeowners make is burning up their lawn by way of over fertilization.
  • Watering. Apply fertilizer to a dry lawn to prevent the granules from sticking to the blades of grass and burning them. Then water the fertilizer in well to ensure that the nutrients get distributed into the soil.

In order to get the perfect lush, green lawn, fertilizing is usually a necessity. But there is no definitive answer as to when and how often you should fertilize. Factors such as soil type, grass type, weather, and rainfall amounts affect the health of lawns. Use these general guidelines to understand how to fertilize your lawn and keep it looking beautiful all year long.

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