Applying fertilizer is one of the most important procedures done as far as lawn care goes as it influences grass color, helps it deal with stress, and prevents weed invasion and disease.
Two important factors to consider when applying a fertilizer are when and how much. Use Labor Day and Halloween as a guideline for the appropriate times to apply fertilizer in the fall.
Fall fertilization has proven to be the best time for application as it helps to produce the healthiest turf throughout the year. Some of the benefits of fertilizing in the fall are that you will have a lengthened period of green, you will have an earlier greenup in the spring without the excessive top-growth and the energy stored in the plant and available for growth remains higher throughout the spring and summer, thus resulting in a reduced incidence of summer disease occurrence. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are the three major nutrients needed by grass. Nitrogen gives the grass it’s deep, rich color and promotes vigorous growth. Potassium builds strong roots and phosphorus is important in stimulating early root growth and promoting plant vigor.
It is recommended to obtain a soil test before applying a lawn fertilizer so you can determine what mineral elements your soil needs. There are two types of nitrogen – quick release (soluble) and slow release (insoluble). A good turf fertilizer will contain some of both. The slow release will provide nitrogen over a period of time but is not available to the plant during cool weather. The fast release will provide nitrogen almost immediately after application and during cool weather. To avoid fertilizer burn, do not apply more than 1½ pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. at one time, spread it evenly, apply when foliage is dry and then water it in after application.
Return your grass clippings to the lawn. It’s free fertilizer! Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients that can generate up to 25 percent of your lawn’s total fertilizer needs. In years past it was recommended to set the mower blade down and cut the grass short for the final mowing in the fall. This is no longer recommended. Why? Photosynthesis is high during the fall even with the cooler temperatures. The higher the photosynthesis, the more energy the plant will store over the winter and into spring, thus producing a healthier grass plant. Mowing off more of the grass blade will result in reduced photosynthetic capacity which will reduce energy storage and result in a decrease in plant performance the next summer.
One last thing – mulch those tree leaves! Layers of tree leaves can smother and kill the grass beneath it this fall. Layers of tree leaves can also contribute to snow mold, a winter turf disease. Mulching leaves with a mower is much easier than raking, blowing or vacuuming them. Regularly mowing them in the fall will cut them into small pieces that will then filter into the turf.
As always, Happy Gardening!