In the early spring your lawn was “waking up” after being less active over the wintertime, and lawn care during early spring involved helping seedlings grow and fighting back pre-emergent weeds. But now it’s the late spring, and the needs of your lawn are very different. Your grass is now entering its “growth phase,” when it needs nutrients to support its healthy growth. And by strengthening the health of your grass, it enables it to crowd out weeds, since as you probably have seen, if your lawn is weak, then the weeds take over.
In this article and video we cover:
- Do you really need to fertilize in late spring?
- Selecting the right fertilizer
- How to apply it
- When to apply
- General Tips
DO YOU REALLY NEED TO FERTILIZE IN LATE SPRING?
You may have heard the story of the first-time homeowner who walks into their local nursery in the spring, and asks “can you tell me everything I need to know about taking care of my lawn?” And the person there says “sure . . . the green side goes up.” Well, the real answer is “it depends.” It depends on where you live, the type of grass you have, and the type of soil in your yard . . . but it also depends on what your goals are: Do you want to just minimize weeds and not embarrass yourself with the neighbors? Or is your goal to create a magnificent lush green award-winning landscape? The answer for most people is somewhere in between . . . that is, how can I get the best results for the least investment of time and money?
When it comes to late spring lawn care, the big question for most people is “do you want to fertilize once a year, or twice a year? And of course, there may be some people who even say “I don’t want to fertilize at all, and for their region of the country, climate, soil, grass type and most importantly, their goals . . . this could be the right answer (however, they will likely find their lawns being taken over by a continual battle with weeds!).
If you decide that once a year is all that you want to invest in fertilizing your lawn, then the good news for you is that you don’t need to do anything now. If you are only going to fertilize once a year, then the fall is the best time, when the cooler weather is the better for grass growing.
And if you decide that you want to step up to twice a year, then the next question “early spring versus late spring”? Here the answer again is “it depends on the region of the country you live in and the type of grass you have, and the type of soil.” With that said, if you are going to fertilize in the spring, here is a simple table that describes the best time of the spring based on your region of the country and your type of grass. As you will see, the table breaks grass into two types: “cool-season grasses” such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue, and Ryegrass; and “warm-season grasses” such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Bahai. Cool-season types of grasses tend to grow best in cooler climates, and warm-season grasses tend to grow best in warmer climates.
And finally, if your goal is a magnificent lush green carpet, then you will likely be fertilizing four times a year: in early spring, late spring, early fall, and late fall. However, you should NEVER fertilize during the heat of the summer, as this can damage your lawn.
SELECTING THE RIGHT FERTILIZER
If you do decide to fertilize in late spring, then next let’s look at what type of fertilizer you should use. Here again, the answer is that it depends on the climate for your region of the country, your type of grass, and your soil. But in general, the questions you will face are:
- Do I use plain fertilizer, or “weed & feed”?
- What chemical composition to use?
- What type of fertilizer?
So let’s go through each one of these. First the question of fertilizer alone, or both weed & feed. This decision basically comes done to whether or not you have weeds in your yard. But just because you have a few weeds in your yard, it doesn’t mean that you need to take the expense and risk to your family of adding a herbicide to your entire lawn. You may be better off just pulling a few weeds by hand or spot-treating just certain areas. And if you feel you must use a weed killer, try to spot-spray weeds directly with the least-toxic product designed for your particular weed concern. Always read and follow label instructions since anything that kills weeds can also have health and environmental impacts. And remember, in addition to exposing herbicides to children and pets playing on lawns, the herbicides may be tracked inside your home where they don’t easily break down. The other thing to keep in mind is that rather than fighting the weeds after the fact, the presence of them can be a symptom of underlying problems such as the wrong grass for your growing conditions, poor mowing practices, insufficient fertilization strategy, etc.
Chemical Composition to Use
Here again, if you are going to be fertilizing in late spring, then the choice of the proper chemical composition to use will depend on your region of the country, type of grass, soil, fertilizing frequency, etc. You should check with your local nursery or lawn care professional to find out what specifically you should be using for your particular lawn.
When you talk with them, they will be recommending fertilizers based on their chemical composition of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. You can tell the composition of a fertilizer by looking at the big numbers on the side of the bag. If the bag says “15 – 5 – 3”, then this means that bag contains 15% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous, and 3% potassium. Each of these helps your lawn in different ways. One way to think of it is that nitrogen helps your lawn above the ground by helping growth, creating lush, tender, green blades; and phosphorous helps your lawn below the ground by stimulating root growth as well as promoting the development of flowers, fruits, and seeds; and potassium help your lawn all around by helping it resist disease and tolerate weather conditions. And again, depending on the climate in your region of the country, your type of grass, and fertilizing frequency will determine what specific chemical composition you should be using if you are fertilizing in late spring. Most local nurseries or lawn care professionals can help you with this.
Type of Fertilizer to Use
There are four different types of fertilizer that you can use, each with their own advantages and disadvantages: Dry Granular; Liquid; Organic; or Synthetic.
Let’s start with the most popular: granular.
Granular comes in two types: time-release and fast-release. Both come in 20 and 50 pound bags and are applied the same way to your lawn, but the major difference is that, as you would imagine, time-release goes into your lawn slower and does not need to be applied as often, whereas fast-release delivers nutrients to your lawn quicker, but needs to be applied more frequently. You are less likely to “burn” your lawn when using time-release granular fertilizer, but time-release fertilizer tends to be more expensive than fast-release.
Liquid fertilizer comes in concentrated form and is applied using a special spray bottle that attaches to a regular garden hose. The advantages of liquid over granular include: that you are less likely to “burn” your lawn with liquid fertilizer; you don’t have to lug big heavy bags; and that it acts quickly on your lawn. However, the downside is that liquid fertilizer is more expensive, plus you have to apply it more often.
Organic fertilizers come from plants, animals, and their by-products. Depending on the type, they need to be applied with spreaders, rakes, and sometimes by hand. The advantages of organic fertilizers are that they tend to be very good for your lawn’s soil and of course, the environment; and they provide benefit over a relatively long time. The downside, however, is that they are slow to deliver results, and some can have a strong offensive smell.
Synthetic fertilizers are chemically manufactured to have what your lawn needs. One way to think of synthetics is they are like you taking a daily vitamin capsule which is meant to have all of the vitamins and minerals that you need, but is manufactured in pill form. The advantage of synthetic fertilizers is that they act very quickly to green up your lawn, but the downside is that they have to be applied more often.
Next, let’s look at how to apply fertilizer to your lawn.
HOW TO APPLY
The first step to effectively applying fertilizer to your lawn is to check and adjust your lawn’s pH, which is a measure of your soil’s acidity and alkalinity. Having the proper pH will allow your fertilizer to deliver the best results. To check your lawns pH, take samples of your lawn’s soil from 5-6 locations around your lawn, and put them into a bucket and mix it all well. Then you have a couple of choices for measuring the pH: you can take the bucket to a local nursery; you can mail a sample of it to a service which can measure it; or you can measure it yourself by purchasing a measuring probe which you can stick into the bucket. The ideal pH of your soil is 6-7 on the pH scale (which goes from 0-14). If the pH of your lawn is below 6, then it is too acidic, and it needs to be adjusted up by applying lime to your lawn. If the pH is above 7, then it is too alkaline, and it needs to be reduced by adding aluminum sulfate or sulfur to your lawn. Once your lawn has the proper pH, you are ready to apply your fertilizer (helpful accessory: lawn pH acidity testers).
Applying granular fertilizer
You have several options for applying granular fertilizers: hand-crank; drop spreader; and broadcast spreader (helpful accessories: handheld spreaders; drop spreaders; walk behind broadcast spreaders).
A hand-crank style spreader is a small container which you carry with one hand, and then with the other hand you turn a crank, which turns a rotor which causes the fertilizer to be flung out in a circle from the spreader. The advantages of a hand-crank spreader are that it is inexpensive and good for covering small areas. The downside, however, is that when doing a large area they get heavy to carry, and it is time-consuming to have to continually re-load the small container.
A drop spreader has a larger container for the fertilizer, which sits between two wheels, and when pushing it, you squeeze a trigger on the handle which allows the fertilizer to drop from the bottom as you are walking along. By watching the marks your wheels make on the grass, you can see exactly where you need to walk to get very even coverage. A drop spreader works well for evenly applying fertilizer over a large area.
A broadcast spreader is sort of like a combination of a hand-crank and a drop spreader. Similar to a hand-crank spreader, it flings the fertilizer around in a circle, and like a drop spreader, the container sits between two wheels, and you push it from behind. A broadcast spreader is good for covering large areas, but it does not cover as evenly as a drop spreader.
Applying Liquid Fertilizer
As mentioned earlier, liquid fertilizer is applied by pouring the concentrated liquid into a special bottle sprayer which is connected to your garden hose. You then sweep the spray back and forth as you walk across your lawn.
WHEN TO APPLY
So if you are going to fertilize in the late spring, let’s now look at what are the best days and the best time of day to apply fertilizer. Regarding the ideal day to fertilize, you will want to pick a day when your grass is dry, and it is forecast to rain well the following day. This way, the fertilizer will fall down into your lawn (rather than getting stuck to the wet grass blades), and then will get watered into the soil right away. However you want this to be a good rain, but not a torrential, as this can wash away the fertilizer before it gets a chance to soak in.
Regarding the best time of day to fertilize, morning can be a good time, if there is no dew left on the grass blades. The afternoon can be a good time too, as long as it’s not too hot out. And evening can also be a good time, when it is cooler.
And finally, here are few general tips to help you with applying your fertilizer:
Wear a respirator:
Regardless of the type of fertilizer and the method of application, some fertilizer will be dispersed into the air, and you will want to wear a respirator to protect your lungs as you are working in this area (see costs and reviews of respirators).
Wear gloves, long pants, and long sleeves:
You want to keep the chemicals away from your skin, and especially be careful not to get or rub any in your eyes (see types, costs, and reviews of gloves).
When pouring fertilizer, do it over a driveway:
You want to do this for two reasons . . . first, you don’t want to burn your lawn with spillage; and secondly, if you spill granular on a driveway, it is easy to scoop back up.
As this can burn your lawn.
Properly store excess material:
If you have any excess, make sure it is stored safely away from children and pets, in a cool dry place.
We hope this article and video has helped you to understand whether or not you need to fertilize in the late spring, how to select the right fertilizer, how to apply it and when, and some general tips for doing the job.
Courtesy of 1strateinspections