Buying fertilizer for a lawn can be confusing, an early spring feeding schedule is where many people start their fertilization program. However, all the numbers on bags can stop a homeowner in their tracks. Find out what you need to buy the best fertilizer for grass.
Question: My neighbor always seems to be out with his broadcast spreader applying a bag of fertilizer to his yard. I will admit it looks like a healthy lawn.
Whenever I ask him questions about his “annual lawn care program” he gets all technical, starts talking about slow-release fertilizer, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and throws out a bunch of chemical names, ratios and numbers. Basically I get confused!
I want to make my yard look better and need to know the best grass fertilizer to buy along with some tips in setting up a maintenance program. Help! Peter, Atlanta, Georgia.
Answer: Peter, your lawn or better yet grass is just like people; turf need water, protection, and lawn food to survive. Most of the elements needed for grass to exist you’ll find naturally in the environment.
However, by feeding your grass with three major elements – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, you can build a healthy lawn, a beautiful carpet of grass, just like your neighbors.
Now before you head over to the local garden center to buy their recommended “best brand” of weed and feed fertilizer for grass or think about a homemade plant food solution, it’s important to understand why. Any grass fertilizer depends and needs N,P,K – nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to flourish.
Major Elements: Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus
Nitrogen – Of all the major elements your plants and lawn need, nitrogen fertilizer is at the top. This is what give the grass its rich green color and makes it grow sturdy, dense and thick to create a healthy environment.
When your lawn or grass is strong and healthy it will have the right conditions to naturally fight off bugs and pests and produce a beautiful accent to your house.
Potassium – works right along with the nitrogen to help toughen the roots and foliage – yes grass leaves are foliage – this enhances your lawn’s ability to resist drought, wear and tear, disease and cold weather.
Phosphorus – rounds up the big fertilizer three working more under the surface to encourage strong grass root growth.
Buying Fertilizer – Basics
Lawn Care Basics – Any yard fertilizer found at your local garden center or nursery will contain the three major elements. But they all come in the same amounts. All fertilizer brands list the major elements represented with a three-digit number such as 12-6-8 or 30-10-10 right on the fertilizer bag.
Each number is the percentage of each element in the following order: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (n-p-k ratio). Each blend of fertilizer serves a different purpose or need.
For example, a blend with more potassium is a good “winterizer fertilizer” for preparing grass for the winter season or one with weed control built in. There are also formulas for warm-season grass.
Before choosing any blend of grass fertilizer it’s best to know the weed or grass type and its needs to determine the right combination of the elements.
In fertilizing, consider the time of year, the climate, soil type and most importantly the type of grass or plants:
- St. Augustine
- and others
… along with the health or condition (learn about lawn fungus) of the lawn – is it new or established. The more you know the more informed decision you can make on feeding your lawn.
Use a soil test kit to help determine the current soil pH and nutrient levels in the soil.
Not only do turf fertilizers come in different percentages of key and primary elements but also different fertilizer types. On the aisle where all the lawn fertilizer choices are located you’ll find:
- Granular fertilizer (fast and slow-release fertilizer)
- Liquid fertilizer for lawns
- Synthetic Fertilizers
- Organic Fertilizers
And even seasonal blends for feeding your lawn or grass – late spring and early fall products.
Granular Turf Nutrients
Their ease of use and longevity make this fertilizer type the most popular. These granulars come dry in bagged form making it easy using a tool like a Scotts fertilizer spreader to make application a breeze.
Make sure you read the bag, as granular fertilizers are also available in slow time-release formulas. Slow release of the nutrients provide a fertilizer application over two to six months – this time can vary depending on heat and water.
Time-release fertilizing is an efficient option for homeowners, stretching months between applications.
Granular also comes in fast-release, and applied in the same way as time-released but the nutrients are released faster and work better in cold weather.
Fast release fertilizers usually cost less. However, watch out for grass burn… watering will be a key factor to good results.
The name says it all – liquid fertilizer for lawns or plants usually comes in a concentrated liquid form. The application is normally done by attaching a hose and nozzle to a spray bottle.
The concentrated fertilizer mixes with the water as it’s applied. Basically, if you can use a hose, you can apply liquid fertilizer with this easy method.
Gone is lugging those back-breaking 50-pound bags and spreading granular around the yard.
However, liquid water-soluble fertilizing is not long term. The nutrients are available immediately to the roots and leaves. With liquid fertilizer the results are immediate, applications need to be repeated more often than when applying granular.
Liquid is more expensive to start with, and can be more costly. There are also some liquid organic lawn fertilizer options, check the local garden center to see what these organic fertilizers carry.
Why is this fertilizer type called synthetic? Simply because it is manufactured chemically. Engineered lawn fertilizers make lawn grass green with their immediate release of nutrients by simply penetrating the soil quicker.
The downside – the results don’t last very long, so applications of synthetic fertilizer need to be redone more often. Another minus – synthetics can burn your lawn if not applied in a proper manner.
This type of fertilizer is made from once living organisms and their bi-products – liquid fish emulsion fertilizer for example. They are normally applied with a fertilizer spreader, rakes and even by hand. This organic totally natural fertilizer solution tends to break down slowly when releasing nitrogen.
They can improve the texture and density of your lawn, especially when amended to soil or sand. One drawback to organics includes a strong foul smell with manures.
In selecting any lawn fertilization and nutrition program, consider the following:
- The current nutrition of your lawn
- How much money is in the budget
- How much work you want to put into the application – initial and ongoing
- Personal preference
As technology in the field of lawn care, grasses, irrigation and fertilization keeps growing, the choices and combinations continue to increase.