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How to Fertilize New Grass Lawns & Existing Lawns

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Fertilizer

Fertilizers are literally plant food additives. Very few soils are fertile enough to supply the nutrients which healthy plants need. The soil in most areas has become so depleted over the years that fertilizers and other additives must be added.

Soil color is deceiving... and does not indicate soil fertility as the darkest soil may be lacking in essential nutrients. While lawn grass will survive without fertilization, it will not look and perform to the standards most people expect. A healthy, green, lush lawn is generally a result of a correct fertilization program.

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You will find a lot of different opinions among the experts, about how often and when to fertilize. In general you should fertilize at the beginning of the growing season when the type of grass you have (cool or warm season) most actively grows. For cool season grasses this is in fall and spring. For warm season grasses the time is late spring as growth really accelerates.

How often you fertilize also depends on the intensity of maintenance required. Low maintenance lawns require less fertilization (cool season - in fall / warm season in spring and early summer). Medium maintenance lawns usually have one additional fertilization added to the schedule. For cool season lawns this is generally in spring and for warm season lawns a fall application is added. High maintenance lawns are fertilized on a more precise application schedule during the most active growing months.

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Lawn Fertilizers - Cool Season Grasses

Cool Season Grasses - With the exception of Bermuda and Zoysia (both warm season grasses); grasses in the temperate area (cool season grasses - Fescues, Bluegrasses and Ryegrasses) do well with one to two light feedings in the early fall to promote root growth but not heavy enough to promote top growing. Mid spring feeding will help promote top growth and thicker foliage development. Never heavily fertilize in the summer or late spring and do not use a fast acting fertilizer on a cool season grass late in spring.

Fall feedings are certainly the best, as it helps the grass to store more carbohydrates which allows your cool season grass to survive the harsh winter dormancy period and come out growing strong in the spring.

Fertilizing Warm Season Grasses

Warm Season Grasses - Warm season grasses grow the most in late spring to early summer. This is the time that they need the additional nutrients supplied by fertilizers. A first application in early spring (when grass starts to green up and frost danger is past) will help the grass to start growing.

Each grass variety needs varying amounts of fertilization and nitrogen levels during the growing season to continue healthy root development and increased foliage. The amount of fertilizer applied is dependant upon the specific grass variety, --- see our web page for fertilization rates. Fertilization rates are also dependant upon soil fertility, the climatic conditions, watering schedules and the type of fertilizer that will be added.

Due to the growing season in the south, fertilizers should be applied on a regular basis wherever lawns stay green all year. In the colder areas of the south, warm grasses will most likely go dormant, but still need to be fed in preparation for the spring warm-up. Early spring and early fall feedings are good times for full fertilization and other nutrients to be added for a good root system to continue and develop more intensively in preparation for the stress of the heat of summer. Do not fertilize warm season grasses in late fall as this could make the grass more susceptible to cold weather injury.

Summer Lawn Fertilization

Summer Fertilization of warm season grasses can be handled during the summer by light applications of fertilizers. The time-released fertilizers are easy for the homeowner to manage and will not burn the grass if sufficient rainfall occurs or systematic watering is available. The level of maintenance you wish to provide (more fertilizer = more work, more mowing more disease control monitoring and more water) will determine how many applications you make to your grass. Higher maintenance could require monthly applications, but usually in smaller more precise amounts of nutrients. Do not fertilizer cool season grasses during the summer.

Soil testing before fall or spring will give you the edge on the balance of other nutrients that may need to be added for the healthiest lawn. Over-fertilization is certainly more harmful than under-fertilization. The phrase "if a little will do I will apply more" concept does not apply to a good fertilization program. Contact your local county extension service about getting your lawn soil professionally tested. You can check you PH and make basic soil tests on your own with soil test kits from Seedland -- but a professional soil test, at least to begin with, is recommended.

Lawn Starter Fertilizers - New Lawns - Planting Seed, Sod Or Grass Plugs

Seed plantings require a different fertilizer analysis content than do established lawns. Seedlings that are germinating need phosphorus and potassium to build healthy and strong roots. Newly sodded, sprigged or plugged lawns need to build root growth also. Nitrogen is used in the foliage part of the plant. The higher degree of nitrogen can always be added later but phosphorus and potassium need to be in the soil from the beginning.

Lawn Starter fertilizers need to be worked into the seedbed as one of the last steps before planting and these will contain a balanced blend of the three most necessary ingredients, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus for a health beginning. Many more elements are needed besides the main three and soil tests are conducted for this.

Always avoid the use of any of the weed & feed fertilizers with new seeding or sodding. These may work great for spring use on established lawns, but the chemicals used in these fertilizers can damage or kill your newly planted grass while it is attempting to establish itself in its new home (your soil).

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