The best thing that you can do for your lawn is research the uses and abuses of fertilizers. The more you know, the better you'll be able to gauge your lawn's specific needs. Let us give you the latest scoop on lawn fertilizers!
The basic steps to lawn fertilization are:
The best fertilizer for your lawn depends entirely on your lawn. After all, soil conditions in Birmingham, Alabama are not the same as those in Fairbanks, Alaska. There are some steadfast components of fertilizer that you should look for, however.
Nitrogen is the most important nutrient for your lawn. On fertilizer labels, the first percentage listed is the quantity of nitrogen in the bag. You can determine exactly how much nitrogen is in your bag with a simple formula. Take the percentage of nitrogen in the bag (let's say it's 30 percent) and divide it by 100 to convert the percent into a decimal. Then take your decimal (0.30) and multiply it by the total number of pounds of fertilizer in the bag (let's say it's 60 pounds). So the equation would look like this: (30 ÷ 100) x 60 = 18; that is, there are 18 pounds of nitrogen in the bag of fertilizer.
A balanced fertilizer is one that contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. So if the label reads 10-10-10, it means that it has ten percent nitrogen (always listed as the first value), ten percent phosphorus (always listed as the second value), and ten percent potassium (always listed as the third value). A fertilizer that has a zero anywhere on its label is incomplete, meaning that it's missing one of the key nutrients that your soil needs.
Depending on your soil, however, you may want a balanced or unbalanced fertilizer. If you're serious about fertilization, have your soil tested so that you can know what nutrients it lacks and which it already has.
Fertilizers that contain a lot of nitrogen should not be applied to your lawn repeatedly. And balanced fertilizers, such as one with a 10-10-10 label, should not be used repeatedly because of the amount of phosphorus, which can lead to runoff problems.
If your fertilizer has a quick-release nitrogen formula, you should never apply more than one pound of nitrogen (see the formula above to determine how much nitrogen your fertilizer has) per 1,000 square feet of lawn in a single application. Any more than that and you risk burning your grass. It's important to determine exactly how much nitrogen is in your fertilizer so that you can ensure that you don't exceed this limit.
If your fertilizer has a slow- or delayed-release nitrogen formula, you can apply slightly more fertilizer to your lawn in a single application. Some fertilizers actually suggest amounts of fertilizer to apply; if this is the case for yours, follow the directions listed on the package.
The best time to fertilize your lawn is in the early fall or whenever summer temperatures start to drop. If you live in Illinois, for example, you could fertilize in early September or late October. If you live farther south, where it's cooler, you might want to push that date a bit later.