Farmers rotate their crops every couple of years. This is because certain types of crops deplete the soil of specific nutrients. So they will grow corn and follow it with a rotation of soybeans or wheat to help replenish some of the nutrients into the soil. With lawns, we do not have the luxury of crop rotation, so fertilizing regularly and using the right fertilizers is extremely important to maintaining a gorgeous yard. Turfgrass is a plant that uses at least sixteen different nutrients from the soil in order to grow into a medium to dark green shade that is thick and resilient. When it comes right down to it, proper fertilization techniques will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of maintaining a quality lawn.
It’s Just Science
Fertilizing is crucial for a healthy lawn. However, it is important to fertilize properly. While turf requires sixteen different nutrients in order to thrive, it requires these in different proportions. Throwing off the balance, even just slightly, can result in grass that is burned, yellow, or sparse or even result in water contamination.
Of the sixteen nutrients required for successful turf growth, nine of them are necessary in larger quantities and known as macronutrients: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. The first three make up as much as 95% of the composition of each blade of grass and are never deficient as they are derived from carbon dioxide and water.
The next three nutrients are considered primary nutrients. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium do need to be replenished in turf periodically throughout the growing season. The last three nutrients are only necessary once in a while and can be applied either as fertilizer or lime.
The remaining seven nutrients required for growing healthy grass are called micronutrients. These include copper, manganese, iron, zinc, boron, chlorine, and molybdenum and are only required in tiny amounts and rarely supplied during fertilization. Iron can sometimes be used on grass to encourage a darker green without promoting additional growth.
Each nutrient has a specific role in producing healthy and beautiful lawns. Nitrogen and phosphorus are required for many of the plant’s normal functions, whereas many of the rest are only responsible for inducing a few chemical reactions. In plain English, nitrogen and phosphorus are among the most crucial ingredients required for healthy turf.
Minerals and nutrients must be in certain forms to be of value to your lawn. For example, there is a significant amount of nitrogen found in the atmosphere. However, this form of nitrogen does little to benefit grass. Nitrates or ammonia, however, are nitrogen compounds found in the soil that is the crucial compound necessary for grass to be able to photosynthesize. They are in a soluble form, which are then taken into the plant’s root systems through water and allow it to turn the desired deep green we expect from healthy lawns. At times, microorganisms in the soil can take up a good portion of the available nitrates or ammonia in the soil before the grass is able to absorb it.
Granular fertilizers are typically longer-acting. While the nitrogen and other nutrients are present in granular fertilizers, they are not water-soluble. This means the compounds are not immediately available for your grass. Granular fertilizers are excellent for long-term nutrient replenishment to help feed your lawn. They are also less likely to burn your grass than liquid fertilizers. One of the most common brands of granular fertilizers is Scott’s Turf Builder Weed and Feed. You can view the product at http://www.scottsprogram.com/checkout/cart/. Granular fertilizers are often more expensive than liquid fertilizers as well, though they will typically last longer than liquid applications. Slow release granular fertilizers are less likely to cause water contamination, as well. This type of fertilizer is often part of a good grass fertility program to keep your lawn looking its best all season long.
These fertilizers are applied directly to turf in liquid form. There are a number of benefits to liquid fertilizers, but one of the most important is that it is fast-acting. Liquid fertilizers are already water soluble so they can immediately be absorbed into the plant’s root system and into your grass for an almost immediate result. Liquid fertilizer applications are also typically less expensive. The downside to liquid applications is that there is a greater potential for burning your grass. It is also not as long lasting which means you will need more frequent applications throughout the growing season.
Bio-Nutrient Based Fertilizers
Bio-Nutrient fertilizers are becoming more in demand in recent years as people want to decrease use of chemicals. Bio-nutrient fertilizers work by helping to foster nitrogen fixation naturally without adding additional chemicals to lawns. These are typically considered a safer alternative than the other types of fertilizers and are touted as kid and pet friendly options. Bio-fertilizers are usually composed of living organisms, and work within the soil and root systems of grass to help improve nutrient uptake as well as create ideal soil conditions for a more robust lawn. The downside of bio-nutrient based fertilizers is that they typically take longer to work.
The Role of Healthy Soil in Lawn Care
Having healthy soil is critical to the success of your turf. Soil that is dense and compact will often lack the available nutrients for grass to thrive as well as make it more difficult for roots to grow deep into the ground. Deeper roots encourage a more resilient lawn that is drought resistant and long-lasting. Your soil should be made up of three components: sand, silt, and clay. This type of soil is called loam soil. Loam soil holds moisture but also drains well when watering or during regular bouts of rain. It is also able to retain nutrients and air flow making it ideal for grass.
Fertilizer Applications: When, Where, and How
Knowing when to fertilize your yard is half the battle. Applying fertilizers too early or too late in the season will result in encouraging foliage, which then may be crippled beneath cold snaps. Applying too much fertilizer will result in burning your grass and potentially contaminating water sources. Not applying enough fertilizer will do little to encourage proper growth and nutrient uptake and will waste time and money. Applying the wrong fertilizers can result in any number of issues with your turf.
For the most part, you want to begin the season with fertilizing your lawn in late spring or early summer using a granular fertilizer with a broadcast or rotary spreader. These can help more evenly distribute the granular fertilizers throughout your lawn for slow-release fertilization throughout much of the growing season. A day or two before fertilizing, water your lawn. When spreading fertilizer, start at the perimeter of your lawn and then move back and forth over the area of your yard with only a slight overlap to ensure even coverage. Lightly water your lawn after fertilizing to help activate granular fertilizers and washes granules off the blades of grass and into the soil. You will want to fertilize again in late summer in warmer climates. In climates where grass goes dormant in the winter, don’t apply your second fertilization until early fall.
Hiring a Lawn Service
To truly provide the best possible care for your lawn, hiring a lawn care service that can control weeds and manage fertilizer applications can be your absolute best bet. Professional lawn care companies will typically use a combination of granular, liquid, and bio-nutrient fertilization techniques to help keep your yard looking like a professional golf course or baseball field. They know the best techniques for treating lawns as well as how to mitigate common problems with lawn care and maintenance. Professional lawn care companies can save a significant amount of time and money, and can get you on your way to having a picture-perfect yard all summer long.