10 Best Lawn Fertilizers | March 2017
- pellets are easy to spread evenly
- gentler on your grass than chemicals
- not powerful enough for new lawns
- helps your lawn survive the heat
- prevents crab grass and weed growth
- takes a long time to work
- great for soil with lots of clay
- works well on flower beds too
- helps normalize ph levels
- slow release formula doesn't burn lawns
- won't stain driveways and sidewalks
- brings lawn out of winter dormancy
- speeds root growth
- has immediate and time-released nitrogen
- clears up brown patches quickly
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- optimizes the health of a lawn
- fortified with calcium
- great value at a low price
- covers 15,000 square feet
- protects against bugs and insects
- can be used on any grass type
Lawn Fertilizer 101: Science Meets Nature
If you want to enjoy a lush, green lawn that grows evenly, covers reliably, and resists the encroach of weeds, then you are going to want to set aside a good deal of free time and get ready for some hard work. Establishing a healthy, resilient lawn is no easy task, but choosing the right fertilizer can certainly help. Thus the first order of business has nothing to do with elbow grease, and everything to do with research. (So yes, you're doing it right, by the way.)
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, just to be clear, fertilizer refers to material that provides nutrients to plants, in this case grass, that will help it grow more quickly and more robustly. You can think of it as plant food, and as with your own health, the type of food you choose to give your lawn will have a direct impact on its health.
Whether you are growing your lawn from seed or you are laying sod you hope will put down roots, giving the grass a hand is always a good idea, and it's an expense that will save you money in the long term. A few bags of fertilizer will cost a lot less than starting over with another round of sod or seed if that lawn you're raising doesn't make it.
There are many types of lawn fertilizers available, and they can be grouped according to myriad attributes, but in general, fertilizers can be assigned to three overarching categories, and these are:
- Single Nutrient Fertilizers
- Multi-Nutrient Fertilizers
- Organic Fertilizers
First we'll talk about single nutrient fertilizers: these are rich in nitrogen, which is arguably the most effective nutrient for enhanced plant growth. These fertilizers can also cause issues, though, such as potentially damaging aquatic ecosystems when they run off into rivers, lakes, and the ocean. With careful use, they are safe and effective. You'll find plenty of nitrogen in established brands like Miracle-Gro. (As it turns out, the miracle is just good old nitrogen.)
Multi-Nutrient fertilizers are, as you probably guessed, formulated to deliver more than one nutrient. This can include things ranging from iron to calcium to copper. This type of fertilizer can help restore lawns, bringing back the lushness and greenness you want in a yard.
Organic fertilizers are made primarily from animal waste, such as chicken manure or even bat guano, and may also be made from composted plant materials. Organic fertilizers generally contain lower nutrient concentration than inorganic (AKA synthetic) options, but they are generally safer to use around people, pets, and food plants.
When Should You Fertilize?
As with comedy, so too with fertilizer: timing is everything. A few things to consider before we discuss how to choose the right time for fertilization:
If you apply fertilizer too early or too late in a given season, its efficacy may be reduced. Premature applications can see poor results due to cold weather, rains, or dormant grass. Late application may simply be a waste of time and money.
And beyond the time of year, consider the age of the grass itself: if you fertilize young grass before it's hearty enough for the treatment, some fertilizers may do much more harm than good.
Remember too that fertilizing a lawn is hardly ever a "one and done" situation; there will likely be several applications per season, and their timing matters, so plan accordingly and plan ahead.
Knowing the exact right time to fertilize your lawn depends on many variables including the climate where you live, the age and health of your existing grass, and the type of fertilizer you have chosen to apply, but if you keep these broad strokes in mind, you'll be ahead of the game:
- Soil Temperature Above 55 Degrees
- No Rain Predicted For 2 - 3 Days Minimum
- Other Plants Are Starting to Grow and/or Bloom
It can be hard to tell exactly when the soil temperature has hit (or passed) that magic mark of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but that's when grass generally revives from its winter dormancy and starts to grow, so that's when you should feed it. Ambient outdoor temperatures provide a good estimation, or you can check with a local horticultural center.
While it's important to water fertilized grass regularly, it's also important to not fertilize before rainfall, as too much water will wash away the fertilizer, wasting your money and effort and potentially damaging the environment.
If you're having trouble telling exactly when to fertilize your lawn, just listen to the rest of nature: when other plants in the area are clearly starting to grow again, your grass is also probably entering a growth cycle and will appreciate the assistance from the first fertilization of the year.
And after that first treatment, plan to fertilize again every 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the temperature, your type of grass, and of course how well your lawn is doing.
Choosing The Right Fertilizer For Your Property
Choosing the right fertilizer for your lawn is partially science, partially preference. If you're OK with using synthetic, nitrogen-rich fertilizers, that will make the job easier, but it might mean days where your family and pets have to avoid the grass. If you insist on organic fertilizers, then it might take you a few tries to see what your grass responds to.
Really any lawn fertilizer will help you grow a thicker, greener yard, so instead of considering the grass itself as you search for the perfect fertilizer, instead consider other factors, by asking yourself:
- Do You Live In a Hot, Arid Climate?
- Does Your Lawn Have Weeds or Crab Grass?
- Do People and Pets Contact the Grass Regularly?
- Is Your Soil Soft and Absorptive or Coarse?
- Is Your Grass Yellowed In Areas?
In hotter, drier climates, consider turf builder fertilizers that can help maximize water absorption and makes grass more robust and hearty.
For weeds and crabgrass, choose a "weed and feed" variety that will help wipe out the unwanted plants.
If people and pets frequent your yard, look for phosphate-free and/or organic formulas.
If you have drier, coarse soil that doesn't hold water well, then look for a fertilizer rich in gypsum, which can help hold water, keeping it nearer to those grass roots.
And if you want a greener lawn, then look for fertilizers rich in chelated iron; this formula helps keep the iron that greens up the grass bio available no matter what the soil's pH level may be.