Buying The Best Fertilizer For Your Lawn

Some day more of America’s home lawns will be adequately fertilized. As things stood at the turn of the year, well-fertilized lawns were as scarce as the proverbial “hen’s teeth.”

This seems a bit awkward, especially when one considers that almost every lawn in the United States would be improved by more generous feeding and that good fertilizers have been plentiful and cheap.

Surely there must be some reason why homeowners seem to prefer to spend their money for weedkillers to destroy crabgrass—that they wouldn’t have had if they had spent the same money for the right fertilizer and for the right turf grasses.

bagged fertilizer and spreaders ready for spring

So far as fertilizer for the home lawn is concerned, there is a definite struggle between the technical and practical sides. Few people bother to learn the exact diet that each turf grass needs. Unless of course you were Marvin H. Ferguson, of the USGA Green Section, who in 1950 did his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Maryland on the “Nutrition of Zoysia Grass.”

We also know from long experience that each grass requires feeding with a particular mixture of nutrients at certain times of the year. On the practical side there are not enough educators to teach all fertilizer-using homeowners how to use the best—adapted mixture. Therefore, we must compromise and give homeowners a reasonably safe material that won’t get him into serious trouble even though it is used in improper amounts and at the wrong time of year.

A lawn should be fertilized to suit the predominating grass and supply the needed elements in sufficient quantity to produce the kind of a turf desired. This leads us to respond, in answer to…

  • “How should a lawn be fertilized ?”
  • “What kind of lawn do you want and are you willing to do what is necessary?”

The best bet is to devise a moderately “foolproof” approach that will fit a majority of cases even though it may be wrong for some lawns.

A Kentucky Bluegrass lawn (something that nearly everyone wants but few attain) should be fertilized only during late summer and fall when the crabgrass menace is past. At this time the grass will make the maximum use of the fertilizer. Moisture usually is adequate, new roots are storing food for next year’s crop and the destructive leafspot disease is relatively inactive. Adequate fertilizing at this time builds a heavy turf which should carry through spring and summer with little further attention except mowing.

However, since not all lawns get this ideal feeding program, a second feeding is frequently advisable. This should go on in late winter or very early spring before the grass has started into vigorous growth. At that time, the homeowner is not likely to burn the grass, regardless of the kind of fertilizer he uses.

Assuming, then, that fall is the best time to feed a bluegrass lawn, what is the best fertilizer to use? The answer will vary from region to region because different soils contain varying quantities of the basic elements such as phosphorus, potash, calcium and magnesium. Where all these basic elements are supplied by the soil the only fertilizer needed is nitrogen (20-0-0, 16-0-0, etc,). This situation, however, is rather unusual because most soils are low in phosphorus in which case a mixed fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus must be used (10-10-0, 6-10-0). Where potash is also lacking or low a complete mixed fertilizer is required (10-6-4, 5-10-5 or 6-10-4). Next comes a discussion of the kinds of nitrogen to use and how best to use each, what analysis is best and so on.

fertilizer applied with a spreaders

Master the Technicalities of Turf Fertilization

By now it should be apparent that you are not expected to master the technicalities of turf fertilization and, since there is such a diversity of recommendations based on different grasses, soils and climates, we shall not attempt it here. We shall leave that to the state experiment stations, extension service and the leading fertilizer companies. Many provide a soil testing service to give sound advice on fertilizers. Bulletins, pamphlets and leaflets are available on lawn upkeep.

The most serious error in fertilizer recommendations made by most authorities is that they do not recommend enough fertilizer! If they did recommend the full amount needed to give people the lawns they would like to have, the grass would be destroyed in most cases. Why? Because many of the fertilizers available are of the caustic kind that burn the grass unless applied with considerable care. There isn’t enough of the safe, non-burning kinds of fertilizer to go around. Therefore, we have largely a compromise between what should be used and what the homeowner can apply with a certain degree of safety.

More Fertilizer – More Grass Mowing

Then, too, there are objections to mowing grass. The more fertilizer, the more the grass grows and the more it must be cut. We must compromise here, too. ls it any wonder, then, that lawns have weeds? No longer should it be obscure why there are so few good bluegrass lawns. Most of them starve to death soon after planting. It distresses me greatly to see the untold of pounds of bluegrass seed sold for lawns where it is destined to starve to death.

Much of this discussion may be academic. During times of stress there is no question but that our entire fertilizer production, if it is needed, be reserved for crop production but so long as fertilizer is available for lawns and gardens it is important that it be used wisely and efficiently.

Therefore, consult your extension service or favorite dealer for the latest circular, pamphlet or bulletin describing the best procedure for the grasses adapted to your area. The procedure will be different for bermuda than for bluegrass as well as for bent, buffalo grass, fescues, centipede, zoysia grass or St Augustine.

Golf Course Superintendents Understand Grass Fertilizer Needs

The men who know most about the practical aspects of fertilizers for turf are the greens superintendents of the nation’s golf courses. Naturally, it is not practical to suggest that homeowners seek advice directly from the local golf course superintendent but they can invite him to garden club meetings.

urea for nitrogen slow feed

Fertilizers are more effective when they are able to reach the grass roots. Where soils are heavy, tight and compact fertilizer has difficulty reaching the roots and most compact soils lack air which is necessary for absorbing water in which the fertilizer is dissolved. Fortunately, equipment has been devised which aerates and cultivates the soil under lawn turf and lets air, water and fertilizer into the soil.

Most authorities have suggested “spiking” to help get fertilizers into the soil. The modern concept is to loosen and cultivate the soil beneath without disturbing the turf on the surface. Most greenskeepers recognize that aerating equipment is virtually a “must” in the maintenance of special turf areas. It has been my experience that most lawns would be greatly benefited by aeration each time they are fertilized.

Foolproof Nitrogen

Today in fertilizing a nitrogen material called “urea-form,” a non-burning granular fertilizer that carries up to 40% nitrogen and is virtually “foolproof.” Its effects last long because its nitrogen is released slowly and uniformly over a long period. Urea form nitrogen is the result of a carefully controlled combination of urea and formaldehyde. The chief advantage is: “It Won’t Burn The Grass.”

But, you say, we have good fertilizers now that won’t burn the grass. That is true. The organic materials derived from animal wastes are the best turf fertilizers for amateur use because they are relatively “fool—proof” and furnish a large proportion of the elements needed but there aren’t enough to go around.

To those of you who hoped to get the last word on what to use, how much, when, how and other details, I’m sorry. It just isn’t possible to do justice to the subject without considerable detail and explanation and the article would be too long anyway. Unless I miss my guess, you are likely to be asking for information on “What grass can I use for my lawn that will do well with little or no fertilizer?” You can be sure it won’t be bluegrass. In the meantime, get the most out of your lawn fertilizers by applying them in correct amounts, at the right season and in connection with aerating the soil.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Izyc August 1, 2010 at 6:44 am

Thanks for your article, it helped me in my research!