Lawn Fertilization
June 28, 2017
Weed Control on Lawns
June 28, 2017

There’s always that one family in the neighborhood that has a vibrantly green lawn. You may eye their grass with envy and wonder what they are doing to get their lawn to look so perfect. Chances are good they put a lot of time and effort into maintaining their lawn themselves or by hiring a professional lawn care company to maintain it for them. Either way, if you want your lawn to be the greenest and healthiest lawn in the neighborhood this season and for seasons to come, then learning the tricks of the trade is a wise decision to make.

Understanding Where Green Grass Starts

Your lawn is basically covered in thousands of tiny plants consisting of grass blades. Plants are able to convert energy from sunlight into glucose through the process of photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, chloroplasts within plant cells convert light energy into ATP, which is then used to create the reaction that splits water molecules into separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll, which is a green pigment. It is the green pigment chlorophyll that gives plants their deep green color. When grass is healthy, it can perform endless cycles of photosynthesis without disruption. When there are issues, grass may not appear as vibrant, thick, lush, or green.

Sunlight

Sunlight is essential for vibrant green grass. Without the energy plants absorb from sunlight, photosynthesis cannot occur. All plants need some sunshine to trigger this reaction. However, different lawns require different amounts of sunlight. For your lawn to thrive, it is essential to plant the right kind of grass, so spending some time doing research is critical! Start by charting the amount of sunlight different areas of your lawn get throughout the day. Areas of your yard that receive direct sunlight for most of the day will generally not tolerate some cool-season grasses like fescue that can burn out. Instead, a warm-season turf like Bermuda or zoysia may be a better option for lawns that get plenty of sun. If you have shady areas of your yard, say underneath ancient oak trees that have been growing for over a century, then warm-season grasses like Bermuda or zoysia are not likely to survive long because they need 5-6+ hours of direct sun to thrive. Instead, opt for more shade-resistant grasses like fescue that can withstand shade or indirect sunlight. The whole key is understanding how many hours of sun your yard gets and choosing grass based on hourly sunlight needs.

Since all plants and grasses do well with at least some direct sunlight, you may want to consider cutting down some trees or trimming branches from trees to open the yard up with sunlight. Ensuring each area of your lawn receives adequate sunlight will help your grass stay green and healthy all season long.

Watering

One of the biggest culprits behind lawns that look unhealthy or burnt up is improper watering practices. And believe it or not, over-watering a lawn can also destroy turf by creating conditions ideals for a fungal disease or root rot. When people notice their grass is looking sickly, yellow, or droopy, one of the first things they do is add water. They assume the problem is dehydration rather than over-hydration and continue with this cycle until the grass is barely hanging on.

For lawns that need hydration, watering deeply, but infrequently is one of the healthiest choices you can make for your lawn. During times of the year with daily scorching-sun, some lawns might have to be watered as many as 5-7 times a week for as long as 20-25 minutes per day. When you water, do so early in the day. Ideally, watering should occur between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. for as long as it takes for you to achieve one total inch of water or six inches of topsoil moisture. It is vital to avoid watering at night, as this can leave grass blades wet for many hours and cause them to become susceptible to fungal diseases. Without the sun’s rays to evaporate surface moisture, damp grass can become a prime location for brown spot and other common fungal diseases. If you do develop a fungal overgrowth, a simple fungicide application can usually take care of the problem for you quickly and affordably.

Healthy Soil

The roots of grass and plants soak up water to aid in photosynthesis. When the plant’s roots absorb water, water-soluble minerals are also absorbed into the plant directly from the soil. It goes without saying that what we put into the soil is extremely important to the overall health and well-being of the plants that grow in it. Healthy soil will typically have a good balance of clay, silt, and sand. Grass needs to be able to soak up water while allowing circulation and drainage. Soil compaction is one of the biggest challenges to proper circulation and drainage and can be compounded if your soil is a heavy clay or silt. Aeration can significantly improve the quality of soil in terms of drainage and circulation but is not a permanent fix. If you find your soil is too sandy, you can add compost or manure to add nutrients while allowing for better water retention. For clay soil, adding organic mulches can help the soil retain the nutrients found in clay while allowing for adequate drainage. Silty soil can be amended by adding compost as well. All three amendments may take several growing seasons to achieve the desired soil texture. However, when all is said and done, the hard work will pay dividends in healthy soil and healthier grass.

Having a healthy bio-ecosystem within your soil is critical for your lawn to feed itself. We strongly advise homeowners to think twice about applying blanket pest control applications on lawns too often. Even though pest control applications might be necessary to protect children and pets from biting insects, you still don’t want to kill off the delicate bio-ecosystem that naturally feeds your lawn all year long.

Fertilize Properly

There is more to fertilizing your lawn than merely throwing down a bag of the cheapest fertilizer you can find at the store. There is a science to lawn fertilization that will give your turf the most benefits. It may be more expensive initially, but the long-term cost and beauty of your healthy and vibrant lawn will far outweigh the up-front cost. Fertilizing should be a priority for your lawn if you want to have healthy and beautiful grass, and knowing the correct fertilizer to use and how much to put out is crucial.

The first course of action is determining the best type of fertilizer for your lawn. You do this through research! Figure out the type of grass you have, take into consideration environmental conditions, and spread the fertilizer according to the directions. Homeowners usually spread granular fertilizer themselves with a spreader that will need to be purchased. We are also starting to see more options for lawn fertilization via liquid bottles that you can attach to your hose and spray on your lawn.

Hiring a lawn care service is advised for proper year-round lawn fertilization. Well equipped companies use a combination of liquid and granular fertilizer applications throughout the year to obtain desired results. Hiring a professional can actually save homeowners money and a whole lot of time!

Granular Fertilizer

Granular fertilizers offer a slow-release feeding option for your lawn. The gradual deterioration of minerals allows it to break down over the course of many weeks and can feed your lawn slowly over this period. The breakdown of the fertilizer pellets is caused by lawn watering, rain, or even dew in the morning, which is the perfect compliment for fertilizer. Granular fertilizer has a lesser likelihood of burning out your grass because of this. The downside of this type of feed for your lawn is that results can take a long time to show, and granular fertilizers tend to be more expensive than liquid fertilizers.

Liquid Fertilizer

Liquid fertilizers are generally less expensive than their granular counterparts. They offer immediate nutrition to turf as they are applied in a soluble form along with water, so the nutrients are readily available to plants. Applications typically need to occur more frequently with liquids as they are usually absorbed from the soil more quickly than granular fertilizers. Liquid lawn fertilization is great for lawns that need immediate nutrients or for those who are looking to brighten up their lawn quickly. Liquid lawn fertilizers are known to burnout lawns, so it’s essential to apply them when there is a decent moisture level in the topsoil. Because of concerns about burning out lawns, you will often see lawn care services using granular applications in the summer or during times of droughty conditions.

Fertilizer Applications

Every type of grass has it’s own nutritional requirements, so the key to proper lawn fertilization is research. For the most part, you want to keep your lawn fertilized during it’s growing season. For warm-season grasses like Bermuda or zoysia, lawn fertilization usually starts right after grass comes out of dormancy. Cool-season grasses like fescue are fertilized through the winter in more southern parts of the country.

Fertilizing lawns in the early spring is always a good idea. When applying fertilizer in the summer, be conscientious of environmental concerns and drought. Using granular fertilizer during this time is often ideal, as the fertilizer pellets only break down with water activation for the most part. Fertilizing three to four times during the growing season is a pretty good rule of thumb, as it will help restore balance and nutrients to keep grass thick and green.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium Ratios

Most bags of fertilizer will have NPK ratios on them, and often the user has no idea what these mean or how they benefit their turf. NPK ratios are the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium found in fertilizers. Nitrogen is the most important component of fertilizers, as it is what helps lend to the deep green color of grass. For example, if a bag has an NPK ratio of 20-5-10, it contains 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. The remaining 65% is likely fillers to create the granular pellets. Different ratios will offer different benefits to different kinds of grasses. We strongly advise researching the type of grass you have and recommended NPK ratios.

Nitrogen

As already mentioned, nitrogen is a critical staple for most fertilizers and is one of the most common elements in the universe. Nitrogen plays many roles in overall plant and grass health and is the most significant contributor to the deep shade of green and growth rate. We recommend that homeowners hire a licensed lawn care service that is familiar with fertilizing all the lawn types in your area. If you insist on doing it yourself, it is critical to research your grass type and find the appropriate fertilizer for your lawn based on NPK’s discussed above. Nitrogen is the first number on the bag in the NPK. When researching fertilizer options, you also want to take into consideration the time of the year/season and environmental conditions like drought.

While it may seem tempting to “juice” your lawn with nitrogen, so it grows more quickly and comes in greener, it is wise to not give in to this temptation too many times. Grass can only take-in a certain amount of nitrogen, and too much can burn out a lawn. Excessive nitrate applications can also risk runoff into groundwater.

Urea is a synthetic form of nitrogen fertilizer that is common in modern-day fertilizers. It can be mixed with other compounds to create slow-release options. You see many lawn care companies using urea that can be mixed with water and sprayed on lawns.

One easy way to increase the nitrogen level in soil is to leave behind lawn clippings and allow it to break down naturally into the soil.

Phosphorus

Although phosphorus is usually found in smaller quantities in fertilizers, its presence is vital for a number of plant functions. This mineral is important for rooting, seedling development, and cell division in plants. It is usually found in higher concentrations in fertilizers intended for use in early spring when grass is breaking out of dormancy, as it aids in your lawns emergence from winter. Soil pH can have a direct impact on the presence (or lack thereof) of phosphorus in soil. Concentrations of iron, calcium, manganese, and aluminum can also affect the availability of phosphorus to newly emerging plants. More acidic soils can cause phosphorus to bind with other minerals in soil (iron, calcium, manganese, and aluminum) and therefore make it unavailable for use by plants. Phosphorus can be applied either as organic or inorganic fertilizer. Among the most common are superphosphates and ammonium phosphates.

Potassium

Potassium is used in plants for the synthesis of various proteins. It is necessary for photosynthesis as it is what helps complete the reaction, which converts energy to food for plants. It also plays a vital role in drought tolerance in plants and helps lends to its overall hardiness during some of the most intensely hot and dry months out of the year. While potassium is generally found in large quantities in soils, it is not readily available in a form that can be utilized by grass. When present in fertilizers, it is present as a positively charged ion, which makes it easier to bind to the right compounds for use by plants. The most common potassium fertilizers are inorganic muriate of potash and sulfate of potash.

Iron

Iron is important in plant enzymes, respiration, nitrogen metabolism, and plays a role in photosynthesis as well. Most soils in the United States have adequate amounts of iron to sufficiently feed grass. However, in areas where excessive liming occurs, there may be an iron deficiency in soils. Often, iron is used to supplement nitrogen applications as it can help give turf a deep green color without inducing excessive growth. The most common types of iron fertilizers for turf grasses are inorganic iron salts and organic iron chelates. Lawn care services sometime use iron-based fertilizer instead of nitrogen-based fertilizer during hot summer months as nitrogen-based fertilizers are much more likely to burn out a lawn.

Lime

Many lawn care services love to use lime on turf. It aids in the uptake of nutrients necessary for a healthy and beautiful lawn. Most plants grow best in slightly acidic soil, so lime helps to create the ideal pH for plants to thrive. Strongly acidic soils can result in a deficiency of micronutrients in the soil, such as calcium and magnesium, and result in too much uptake of other nutrients such as aluminum and manganese. These can be toxic to turf grass in high quantities. Liming helps balance the pH of soil so that nutrients can be absorbed in the proper quantities for optimum health.

General Tips For Greener Grass

Proper mowing and pest control also play important roles in maintaining a healthy lawn. Mow grass to the appropriate height, which can range anywhere between 1/2″ to 3″, depending on the type of grass in your yard. Mowing at the tallest height for your specific grass helps to shade roots and prevents scalping your lawn. It also aids in retaining the right amount of moisture to keep grass from becoming too dry. Weed control is necessary to prevent unwanted plants from taking root in your turf. Weeds compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients and can turn an otherwise healthy lawn into a war zone if not appropriately handled.

Ultimately, there is a lot of time and care that goes into maintaining a perfect lawn. However, once a good lawn care routine is established, it is often easier to maintain a course of action that is working well for you and your lawn than to fight never-ending battles to mitigate problems. When it comes right down to it, if you establish a good, healthy lawn care routine and cultivate a beautiful yard, the grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the fence.