How to Fertilize Your Lawn

Gardening, Home & Family, Outdoors
on August 28, 2011

A lawn provides a low-maintenance, safe play area in the yard for children and pets and can greatly enhance the curb appeal of your property. Here are some tips on how to fertilize your lawn.

Why fertilize? Unfortunately, if the soil is poor, weeds will quickly invade the area. Fertilizing a lawn makes the grass grow densely, choking out weeds. There are many lawn fertilizers on the market, but all will deliver the essential elements of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen stimulates growth and produces the deep green color of healthy grass; phosphorous is necessary for strong root development; and potassium is essential for disease resistance.

Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium fertilizers are referred to as NPK fertilizers, for the letters that represent the chemical elements. They will have a series of three numbers on the label, such as 15-15-10, 15-5-20 or 25-3-5. The first number indicates the percentage of nitrogen, the second that of phosphorous, and the last is the potassium in the blend. The remainder is made up of bulking agents and minor nutrients, which might include calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, molybdenum and boron.

When to fertilize. The timing and chemical blend required to fertilize your lawn will depend on your locale and the grass type. Hot-season grasses have their main growth season in the hot summer months, while cold-season grasses have two growth seasons in the cooler months of spring and fall. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture publishes a fact sheet to help you identify the best fertilizers to use on your lawn throughout the year. The fact sheet also includes information for calculating the lawn area.

Fertilize early in the day when your lawn is still wet from dew or just after a light rain. Avoid fertilizing after a heavy rain or when a downpour is expected, as the fertilizer will be flushed through the lawn and wasted.

How to fertilize. Spreading lawn fertilizer by hand is not recommended; it is difficult to achieve an even coverage, and you are likely to end up with a patchy result. Use a spreader or a sprayer. A broadcast or drop spreader will cover an area more thoroughly, whereas a rotary spreader, with a spinning wheel beneath the bucket, will cover a wider area less thoroughly.

Mix fertilizer on a hard surface, not on the lawn, and follow the instructions on the bag to calibrate the spreader. This will ensure that you don’t under- or over-cover the ground. Wear gloves and a mask when handling fertilizer. Begin walking before you turn the spreader on, and turn it off before you stop walking. Move at an even pace and ensure a small overlap of coverage on each pass to avoid having unfertilized strips on your lawn.