Earlier this summer Jeff Lynn -- a classic do-it-yourselfer -- decided to apply fertilizer when his grass started to weed up. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, portions of the lawn began to develop large brown patches. In short, he found out the hard way that too much fertilizer can cause what experts call "lawn burn."
Now that fall is here, Lynn is paying more attention to what lawn experts have to say: Anybody concerned with keeping their yard happy and healthy should understand how fertilizer and lawn nutrients work.
A key component of lawn care is providing the lawn with nutrients it needs to grow. Nutrients are usually divided into two catetgories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Most fertilizers contain the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Next time you buy fertilizer, take a look at the three-digit label on the bag. The fertilizers are always listed N-P-K for nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium. Each number indicates the number of pounds of that nutrient per 100 pounds of fertilizer. If you have a 100-pound bag you might see 20-10-5 for 20 pounds of nitrogen, 10 pounds of phosphorus and 5 pounds of potassium.
If you are wondering what fertilizer to buy, find a knowledgeable staff member to help at your local gardening center. Alternatively, call a lawn service professional to take care of it for you.
Most lawn experts recommend two applications of fertilizer in the fall. Autumn is also the best time to get rid of those pesky dandelions, which are controlled by a post-emergent broadleaf control.
Remember to use fertilizer responsibly by cleaning up it that lands on the streets, sidewalks or driveways where they can be reached by children or pets or can be washed away into lakes, oceans or other water sources.
Other lawns experts prefer a more natural way to keep lawns healthy. "Mulching is hands down one of the best ways to maintain a beautiful, low-maintenance lawn," says Daryn Walters of Exmark Manufacturing. "It's free, and it's great for lawn health."
Mulching helps you ditch some of the chemicals, he says. It feeds the lawn nutrients and can even help with moisture retention. "Your yard trimmings are not trash -- they are an effective, natural and free fertilizer," Walters says. "For a healthy lawn, drop the bag and let the mulch do more for you."
The National Association of Landscape Professionals also recommends sowing grass in the early fall when temperatures are more consistent and highly competitive weeds, like crabgrass, are at the end of their life cycle.
"That's right," says Jack Robertson of Jack Robertson Lawn Care. "Fall is nature's best time to sow seed. Spring seeding can be performed but more complications can occur." Root systems are actually very active in the winter. By seeding in the late fall you are allowing roots to store energy. That way, grass will green up quicker in the spring.
Robertson says that even though you are fertilizing and planting in the fall -- and the weather is cooler -- you should never cut grass too short. "Never remove more than one-third of the grass blade at one time," he says.
Whether you rake or mulch the leaves that land on the ground this fall, continue to take care of the grass underneath. If you want a lush lawn in the spring, put in real effort this fall. Come next year, you'll be glad.