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Using Lawn Fertilizers

In most home landscapes, the lawn is the most prominent portion of the landscape.  So, it is important to keep it healthy.  Along with proper watering techniques and mowing, fertilization and weed control are essential. Many people use a lawn service to take care of those tasks, but lawn services can be expensive and their programs may not be the best solution for every lawn.  Knowing why, when, and how to fertilize the lawn yourself will save you money and make your home landscape more attractive.

Why fertilization is important

Like all living things, lawns don’t survive on water alone.  They need nutrients to keep them healthy and resistant to insects and disease.  Lawn fertilizers provide the necessary base nutrients for the lawn.  Most lawn fertilizers are formulated to be high in nitrogen (N), which is the primary nutrient that produces lush, green grass.  However, the lawn also needs the other primary fertilizer nutrients, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).  Phosphorous is important for developing a healthy root system and potassium helps to promote overall health and resistance to disease.

How to Read the Fertilizer Package

Package label for Scotts Turf BUilder fertilizerThe percentages of the different nutrients are listed on the package in NPK order, for example, on Scotts Turf Builder, the numbers are 32-0-4.  This is a common ratio for lawn fertilizers.  The major problem is that it doesn’t provide very many nutrients for the root systems (middle number phosphorous).  Most lawn care experts will recommend a higher amount of phosphorous.  What I like to do, based on advice from the horticulture department at the University of Illinois, is use a product such as Scotts Starter fertilizer which has a ratio of 24-24-4 and combine it evenly with the standard fertilizer.  That way, I get a ratio of 28-12-4 which is much better for overall health of the lawn.

Fertilizer with Weed Control

There are many products available that add weed control to the fertilizer. Unless your yard has many weeds, it is desirable to apply straight fertilizer and treat individual weeds as they appear in your lawn. When applying fertilizer with weed control, you need to be more careful not to get the weed control on your other landscape plants as it can damage them.  Plus, you can’t combine different strengths of fertilizer as mentioned above since that will reduce the effectiveness of the weed control.

When to Fertilize the Lawn

Contrary to what the lawn care companies and the fertilizer companies tell you, you don’t need to apply fertilizer all season long.  Again, according to lawn specialists at the University of Illinois, you need only two applications of fertilizer in a growing season.  The first one in the spring when the grass is actively growing to provide the nutrients the lawn needs to improve its health and help it survive through the hot summer months.  The second application should be in late summer when the grass is actively growing again to help it recover from the summer and give it the strength to handle the winter.

When applying straight fertilizer, it can be done any time and it is better if done right before it rains.  That way, the rain will water it into the soil.  If applying fertilizer with weed control, then it should sit on the lawn at least 24 hours before it rains so the weed killer has the chance to work. When using either type of product, apply it when it is not very windy to avoid having the wind carry it.

Applying Lawn Fertilizer

There are two primary kinds of lawn fertilizer available, liquid and granular.  Liquid fertilizers are convenient since they generally come in a container that connects to your garden hose and all you have to do is spray the lawn.  The biggest problem is that most people will find it difficult to get an even coverage of the lawn.

Fertilizer Drop SpreaderGranular fertilizers are the choice of most people. To apply a granular fertilizer, a fertilizer spreader is required, and there are two types; broadcast spreaders and drop spreaders.  Both types have good and bad traits.  Drop spreaders drop the fertilizer from a slot at the bottom of the spreader.  The advantage to this is that you can be very accurate when applying the fertilizer around your other landscape plants. When applying the fertilizer with a drop spreader, you do it just like mowing the lawn and slightly overlap the rows. Unfortunately, if you are off a bit and miss the overlap, you can wind up wit a bit of a striped lawn; nice and green where you fertilized and pale green where you missed!

Broadcast fertilizer spreaderBroadcast spreaders drop the fertilizer from a hole in the bottom onto a spilling wheel that throws it out in all directions. The downside is that the spreader can throw fertilizer to places where you don’t want it. So, extra care must be taken when you are close to landscape plants if you are using a fertilizer with weed control. When applying fertilizer with a broadcast spreader, take note of how far the spreader is throwing the fertilizer and use that as a line of reverence for your next pass on the lawn.  You want the areas to overlap, but you want to be at least two or three feet away from your previous pass on the lawn.


When applying fertilizer, be sure to follow the package directions for when to apply and the setting to use when applying the fertilizer.  Too much fertilizer is not a good thing and can damage your lawn. Hopefully, this artile covered what you need to know for fertilizing your lawn.  If not, please leave a comment below and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.



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