‘Tis the season of lawn prep, so let us talk about the how to fertilize correctly!
The first thing to note is no single “cookbook” recipe exists for everyone to get the lawn of his or her dreams; because everyone’s dream lawn looks different. My husband and I are great examples of this. My dream lawn has little to no maintenance, a lot of native plants, a big vegetable garden, and room for my dogs and kids to play. You will notice, nowhere in my description did I describe a green space with manicured grass. However, if you ask my husband this same question, his answer would vary, but green grass would be a part of his response. Since everyone’s ideal space will look different, the steps of getting there will change drastically. If green manicured lawns are a part of your dream space, check out the following information to help get your space without hurting our rivers!
Before you buy any fertilizer, purchase a soil test from a big box store or local gardening facility. This test will let you know what chemicals you need in your soil to get one-step closer to your dream lawn. Unless your grass needs it, we like to suggest low phosphorus options! When water runs over your grass and down a storm drain to the nearest body of water, there is a good chance it will take some of your fertilizer with it. Fertilizers containing phosphorus can promote algae blooms and poor water quality in our area and places further downstream. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is low to no phosphorus for our lawns!
Using the information gained from performing a soil test, purchase a fertilizer that meets your needs. Remember, “too much of a good thing” can mean bad news for your lawn. When we add too much fertilizer, we can create an environment that makes it difficult for our grass to grow due to the potential changing pH in the soil. Too much of a particular nutrient can make it harder for your plants to absorb the nutrients it needs. On the flip side, not enough of the right nutrients will lead to your grass not reaching its’ full potential or delay it in reaching its’ peak.
Purdue University’s Department of Agronomy suggests that when fertilizing in the spring, that one does so in May or June with slow-release Nitrogen fertilizers. If there is rain predicted in the next 48 hours, avoid fertilizing! When we fertilize right before a rain event, most of the fertilizer is washed away. When this happens, all of those nutrients you wanted for your grass now are in our rivers creating poor water quality and help to create the conditions needed for algae blooms.
Place the fertilizer near the zone of the plant where nutrients are absorbed: the roots. For most of us, we will be using broadcast fertilizing methods or a rotary spreader. When using this method, be sure that you are applying the correct amount! Pro-tip: fill the rotary spreader up with fertilizer while the equipment is on a tarp! This way, you can easily clean up any spilled fertilizer. Another thing to remember, make sure to sweep sidewalks, driveways, and any other hard surfaces clean of fertilizers. By sweeping the nutrients back into the lawn, you are ensuring that you get your money’s worthwhile, also making sure that fertilizer is not making a straight line to our rivers.