When to Fertilize Your Lawn

by | Lawn Tips

Maintaining a lush and beautiful lawn takes a lot of time and effort. Besides regular watering, you also need to nourish your grass with the right nutrients. Fertilizer is one of the main ingredients in growing and maintaining a healthy lawn. But when is the best time to fertilize your lawn?

When and how often you should fertilize your lawn depends on the type of grass you have. Read on to find out the best time to fertilize a lawn.

Understand Your Grass Type

The first step to finding out the appropriate time to apply fertilizer is identifying your grass type and growing zone. Two main types of grasses are grown in North America:

  • Cool-season grasses
  • Warm-season grasses

There are also transitional grass varieties, which thrive in the central parts of the continent. The central region is usually too cold for warm-season types and too warm for cool-season varieties.

The right time to apply fertilizer to your lawn depends mostly on the grass type you have. Cool-season grasses perform well in lower temperatures, and their peak growing periods are early spring and early fall.

These grasses usually go dormant in the summer due to the season’s high temperatures and inadequate water. Popular types of cool-season grasses are Kentucky bluegrass, Bentgrass, Rough bluegrass, Ryegrass, Fine fescue, Tall fescue, and the Creeping fescue. They are predominant in the northern region of North America, whereas their warm-season counterparts thrive in the southern part.

As their name suggests, warm-season grasses prefer warm temperatures. As such, their peak growing season is midsummer. These grasses are hardy, and they create a thick lawn cover that becomes denser as the lawn matures.

Kikuyu grass, Bermuda grass, Centipede grass, Zoysia grass, and St. Augustine grass are the prevalent warm-grass varieties. Usually, those who live within the transitional zone have a combination of cool- and warm-season grasses, which require different care at different times.

When to Fertilize Your Lawn

Now that you know the type of grass you grow, you can easily determine when to feed it. Warm-season grasses require fertilization from late spring to early fall. If you apply fertilizer too early in the spring, the nitrogen may encourage the rapid growth of cool-season weeds that could harm your yard. Fertilizing too early in the fall may weaken the grass as it enters the cold season, making it more vulnerable to winter injury.

For cool-season grasses, the best time to apply fertilizer is in the fall and spring. They may also require fertilization in the winter to ensure that the grass grows for longer into the cool season and provides the reserves it needs for speedy green-up in spring.

It’s not advisable to fertilize cool-season grasses in the early days of spring. Otherwise, you may have an excessively lush top growth and poorly developed roots, which can undermine your lawn’s overall health. The primary benefit of fertilizing in the fall is that you won’t need to feed the grass again until later in the spring.

For the best results, fertilize your lawn at least once every 6-8 weeks during its active growth period. The best way to do this is by breaking up the annual requirement of nitrogen into a suitable number of applications. For example, you can make 1-2 applications in the spring and 2-3 applications in the fall for cool-season grasses, and three applications in the summer for warm-season varieties.

If you don’t want to mow your lawn frequently, fertilizing cool-grasses once in the spring and once in the fall would be ideal. For warm-season grasses, fertilizing once at the start of summer and once towards the end of the season will give you impressive results.

What’s the Best Fertilizer for a Lawn?

When choosing the best fertilizer for your lawn, it’s essential to understand what the three numbers printed on the label mean. These numbers represent the ratio of the three essential nutrients that your lawn needs for healthy growth: Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium.

A bag labeled 20-5-10 contains 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphate, and 10% potassium. The remaining content is filler material, which helps promote a uniform application of the fertilizer. When choosing the best fertilizer, you should go for a slow-release fertilizer to save you time and money.

Slow-release fertilizers release nutrients into the soil over a more extended period. That means you can wait longer before you need to fertilize your lawn again. With a slow-release lawn fertilizer, you can fertilize your lawn every 6-8 weeks instead of every four weeks, depending on your watering routine.

Also, make sure to choose a slow-release fertilizer that contains an adequate amount of nitrogen. Generally, lawns require one-tenth of a pound of nitrogen a week. Applying too much nitrogen may lead to faster growth, requiring you to mow your lawn more frequently. To make your lawn as green as possible without hastening its growth, give it 2-3 pounds of nitrogen over the whole growing season.

How to Apply Lawn Fertilizer

There are many ways of applying lawn fertilizer. For more uniform coverage, use a spreader instead of fertilizing by hand. Applying fertilizer by hand usually results in burnt areas that get too much fertilizer and pale regions that don’t get enough.

Broadcast or rotary fertilizer spreaders are user-friendly, and unlike drop spreaders, they don’t cause striping. The best thing about drop spreaders is that they eliminate the likelihood of overthrowing fertilizer to unwanted areas like sidewalks and driveways.

When using a drop spreader, you’ll need to make two trips over your lawn in opposite directions. If you make the first trip in a north-south direction, the next trip should be east-west. Once you fertilize the entire yard, you need to water it properly.

Watering after applying fertilizer helps to rinse the fertilizer off the grass blades to prevent burns. It also helps the fertilizer to absorb into the soil and deliver the needed nutrients.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Fertilizing a Lawn

Keep the following additional tips in mind to ensure you get the best from your lawn fertilizer.

Do’s

  • Apply fertilizer moderately using an appropriate fertilizer.
  • Adjust the spreader properly to avoid striping or an uneven color that makes your lawn look unsightly.
  • Divide your fertilizer into two halves and spread one half in one direction and the other at a right angle to the initial direction to ensure a uniform spread.

Don’ts

  • Don’t fertilize in high temperatures, humidity, or drought to avoid burning your grass.
  • Don’t fertilize your grass when it’s damp, including dew—it’s best to fertilize before a rain.
  • Don’t apply fertilizer in direct hot sunlight, as it may lead to grass burn—it’s best to fertilize in the late evening.

Conclusion

Proper and timely fertilization is essential for maintaining a healthy, lush, and beautiful lawn. You can achieve that by following the advice and tips in this guide. If you can’t create a proper schedule for fertilizing your yard, it’s best to hire a professional for help.

That’s where Yard Smart comes in. Yard Smart is a renowned leader in residential and commercial lawn care. Whether you want to fertilize your lawn or inquire about other professional lawn care services, call us at (647) 696-6168 to request your free estimate.

Matt Higgons

Matt Higgons

It’s been over 40 years since Matt Higgons started his first lawn mowing gig with his closest friend in high school. He used that money to pay for a business degree at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario and had big dreams of starting his own company. He never realized that the very business he would dedicate his life to, was the same one that helped him pay for that education.

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