How To Fertilize a Lawn
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Which fertilizer should I use?
You should have your soil tested every 3-4 years to determine what nutrients may be needed. You can purchase a soil test kit, or take a sample to a local nursery. Some counties have agencies that can also test soil for a nominal fee.
The result of your soil test will be a factor in your choice of fertilizer. Generally, the proper ratio of primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous and Potassium.) is influenced by the season. The selection of secondary nutrients is influenced by the condition of your soil.
You have three choices when it comes to form of fertilizer; organic, liquid or timed release. Organic fertilizer is your classic food or animal waste that has been composted. The benefit of organics is that you really can't damage your lawn by over-fertilizing. You may also have a ready supply of composted material. The down side is that it won't contain the balance that your lawn needs, it is heavy, requires large quantities and is relatively difficult to apply. Liquid fertilizer can be convenient to apply because it is sprayed, usually with an attachment to your hose. However, it doesn't last as long and so it must be applied much more often. Slow release fertilizer comes in granules which are spread with a hand spreader or larger push spreader.
Also, don't underestimate the value of leaving the lawn clippings when you mow. These clippings break down quickly and return vital nutrients to the soil. The rumors you have heard about lawn clippings leading to thatch are untrue. The USDA has tested and determined that thatch does not result from lawn clippings being left on the lawn. The key is that you don't wait until the lawn is too tall and that you mow only when the grass is dry. Otherwise, you will end up with clumps of clippings that turn brown and are unsightly as well as may block sunlight from the grass underneath.
Because of all the factors that influence the selection of fertilizer, you should take advantage of the knowledge of the staff at your local nursery or home center. First of all, they are generally going to stock the appropriate fertilizer for the current season and the unique considerations for your region. Furthermore, their staff can help you to identify your variety of grass (bring a sample with you), answer your questions and help you select the appropriate fertilizer for your needs.
How Much Fertilizer should I use?
Over fertilizing can lead to chemical burn, excessive top growth and weakens your lawn. Under fertilizing results in a lawn that lacks color & lushness, increases risk of disease and results in more weed growth. Clearly, getting the right balance is important.
This is also where the local nursery staff is invaluable. The type of grass will affect the quantity of nutrients needed. Ask the staff to help you select the right product for your type of grass (remember, bring a sample of your grass). If you know your variety of grass, you can also just read the packages as they will include detail of how much of their product to use for your variety of grass.
Always follow all of the directions for the use, application and cautions listed on the package. Use of protective clothing, gloves, eyewear and breathing masks is recommended when working with chemical fertilizers.
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