Fertilizer is designed to replace nutrients in the ground which are lost as the grass “eats” them up.
By selecting the right fertilizer and applying in the right number and rate, your lawn will be healthier in the long run.
Type of Fertilizer
Picking a good brand like Scotts Fertilizer is a bonus but is not always necessary. Simply look for fertilizers which contain time-released nitrogen. For lawns which are maintained, a controlled release of nutrients works well because the grass is well fed and does not need immediate treatment. In general, one pound of nitrogen should be applied to every 100 square feet of lawn. Since nitrogen is mixed in with other ingredients, simply weighing out one pound or fertilizer will result in less nitrogen being applied than needed. Use the bag’s content box to determine exactly how much to apply.
Nitrogen is the primary ingredient in fertilizers and is the most important. You can tell how much nitrogen is in the bag by looking at the ratio on the front of the bag. You will see three numbers separated by dashes (example 29-0-5). The first number refers to the amount of nitrogen in the mix. This is an N-P-K rating, or Nitrogen-Potassium-Phosphorous, signifying the three primary ingredients in lawn fertilizers.
Different Types of Nitrogen
There are actually two different kinds of nitrogen used in lawn fertilizer – fast release and slow release.
Slow-release nitrogen is designed to dissolve over time, seeping into the ground over a period of months to provide a constant stream of new nutrients.
Fast-release nitrogen is designed to provide a quick burst of growth in an attempt to repair damaged lawns or to quick start the lawn for the spring season. Good fertilizers have a bit of both kinds of nitrogen in their mix.
All lawn fertilizer bags have a “guaranteed analysis” label which specifies exactly what its contents are.
Can Fertilizer Burn My Lawn?
A misconception is that the nitrogen in fertilizer can burn a lawn. If applied in the correct quantity, fertilizer has a low likelihood or burning a lawn, especially if it is of a controlled-release variety. However, many of the multi-purpose balanced fertilizers can result in burning because they contain high levels of fast-release nitrogen. It is the fast-release varieties that end up burning a lawn in most cases.
A balanced fertilizer has a ratio of 1-1-1, indicating equal parts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. While available to consumers, they are not recommended for continual use. The reason for this is that when used, an excessive amount of phosphorous is applied. Too much phosphorous can result in weed and water runoff issues.
What is Organic Fertilizer?
In many ways, organic fertilizer is no different than synthetic fertilizer, at least to your grass. Although different in initial composition, both fertilizers are converted into nitrogen which the grass can use. The lawn doesn’t care where the nitrogen came from, so long as it’s there. A benefit to using organic fertilizer is that it has a much lower chance of burning the lawn. Unlike many synthetic fertilizers, organic ones contain low level of salt. However, there are many good synthetics out there which are just as gentle.
One issue with organics is that you can expect to apply a lot more fertilizer per 1000 square feet. Because the nitrogen content is lower, more fertilizer is needed to achieve the same effect. Organic materials like compost work better as soil conditioners rather than fertilizers. Cold-weather application will be less effective when using organic fertilizer because it relies on microbial action to convert it into nitrogen.
Dry / Liquid Fertilizer
Both dry and liquid fertilizers ultimately achieve the same effect- feeding the lawn. So, regardless of the form in which they are applied, lawn owners need to make sure that the N-P-K content is suitable for their yard. Both controlled and fast release fertilizers are available in dry and liquid form, so choosing one is a matter of personal preference.