One of the common questions I get at Crabgrass Lawn is do I need to fertilize my lawn every year?
Well, the short answer is a resounding “Yes” because your lawn absorbs the nutrients from the fertilizer as it grows and over time these nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen become depleted, so you will have to top up your lawn with fertilizer.
What Exactly is Fertilizer?
Fertilizer is any material or substance that’s added to the soil to promote plant growth. Most fertilizers contain key nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), and each fertilizer product sold in stores has an N-P-K ratio listed on its packaging.
I won’t get into too much detail about the N-P-K ratio, but you can read my detailed N-P-K guide here to understand what NPK stands for in fertilizer.
There are three groups of fertilizers to choose from—mineral fertilizers, organic fertilizers, and industrial fertilizers.
Also referred to as chemical fertilizers, mineral fertilizers comprise naturally occurring elements, which are essential to plant life.
Mineral fertilizers are developed via a chemical process, but they contain materials that can also be found in the natural environment.
There’s a widespread misconception that mineral fertilizers aren’t environmentally friendly compared to organic fertilizers.
However, mineral fertilizers are chemically formulated to deliver far more essential nutrients than organic fertilizers. Furthermore, mineral fertilizers are easily soluble and are easily digested by the plant.
Organic fertilizers consist of natural materials such as bacteria, molds, worms, and other organisms. There are many different types of organic fertilizers like manure, blood meal, bone meal, and bat guano.
Organic fertilizers work slowly and take time to break down into the soil compared to their chemical counterparts which are released immediately into the soil.
If you’re wondering which fertilizer—organic or chemical fertilizer to use for your lawn, here’s my rule of thumb—if your lawn is in immediate need of nutrients, then applying inorganic fertilizers is your best option, but if your lawn doesn’t need an immediate dose of nutrients, apply a good organic fertilizer.
It’s worth mentioning that plants do not know the difference between organic and inorganic fertilizers, so your Bermudagrass isn’t going to complain if the nitrogen it’s feasting on came from a compost pile or a test tube.
When it comes to fertilizers, there are two types to choose from—liquid and granular fertilizers, here’s my guide on determining which one is best for your lawn. Learn more about the benefits of organic farming.
Key Signs Your Lawn Needs Fertilization
The other big question you may have is whether to fertilize or not to fertilize, because applying too little will prove detrimental to your lawn’s health, and applying too much can cause fertilizer burn.
Great chances are that you’ve come across that fancy, shiny fertilizer package at your local garden center with hyperbole like this formula can help your plants with miraculous growth, help you achieve the most beautiful garden ever, or it also has what plants desire—electrolytes!
But, hold up, and ask yourself, does your lawn even need to be fertilized, or are you simply falling for the fancy marketing?
The fact is that many lawn owners add fertilizer out of habit, but it’s important to first determine whether your plants are ready to absorb the nutrients from the fertilizer at that point.
Think about it this way—if you’ve just had a hearty meal, will you eat again in the next 4 hours or so?
Great chances are no because if you do, it will make you feel tired, sluggish, or drowsy, which in terms of grass translates to fertilizer burn. What are sure-shot ways to tell your lawn needs a dose of fertilizer?
Commonly known as elf rings, elf circles, or pixie rings, fairy rings are light-colored or patches of dead grass in the middle of your lawn, and at times you may even notice mushrooms growing on the outer rings.
These circular areas of abnormal turf growth signal fungus issues, which are often caused by applying high levels of organic matter or in turfs that are not being fed with enough fertilizer. Did you know fairy rings are classified as a turfgrass disease?
How to Prevent Fairy Rings in Lawns?
Three types of fairy rings can appear on your lawn— type 1, type 2, or type 3, and it’s important to correctly diagnose each type because each one requires a different method of treatment.
Type 1 Fairy Rings
If you have type 1 fairy rings, get ready to put in a little elbow grease to take care of the problem.
The fungi responsible for type 1 fairy rings coat the soil particles with a water and fertilizer-resistant waxy layer, hence you will have to get water and fertilizer into the soil.
Type 2 Fairy Rings
Type 2 fairy rings are a bit more common, but on the flipside have no cure. However, there are mostly confined to a thatch layer, so the best solution is to reduce the amount of thatch, overseed your lawn, and apply a good quality fertilizer.
Type 3 Fairy Rings
Type 3 fairy rings are easy to deal with, and in most cases don’t affect the visual appearance of your turf. You can simply remove the mushrooms to get rid of type 3 fairy rings.
If your lawn is plagued with weeds, then it’s probably lacking nitrogen. Another tell-tale sign of a nitrogen deficiency is when you mow your lawn, and there are a lower number of grass clippings.
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Rust is another type of fungal disease that’s related to nitrogen disease. This fungal disease usually appears in late summer or early fall and can take a toll on the vigor of your grass, and make it more susceptible to disease and turf issues.
You can pull a couple of blades out of your turf, take a closer look at them, and check for orange-red to yellowish-brown dust or spores.
The good news is that most grass rust issues can be resolved with good lawn care and maintenance practices including mowing the lawn at the right height, removing any thatch, and most importantly fertilizing in the fall and adding nitrogen if necessary.
A phosphorus deficiency will make your turfgrass turn a dull-blue-green color in its early stages, and the edge of blades a purple hue in the later stages.
The grass will eventually turn reddish, which indicates that your lawn needs a boost of phosphorous-rich fertilizer along with aged poultry and cow manure.
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The Lowdown on Nutrients and Macronutrients
Grass and plants need two types of nutrients to thrive—nutrients like hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen that they get from the environment and six macronutrients that are used in larger amounts including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Nutrients such as water and carbon dioxide are taken up in the grass when exposed to these elements, as long as you don’t (just like me) forget to water your lawn.
Fertilizers provide the essential macronutrients to help your grass properly grow and function.
Remember the three magic numbers I spoke about earlier—the N-P-K ratio indicates the percentage of the elemental nutrients in the package.
Macronutrients are used by your grass in larger amounts than micronutrients, and an easy way to determine what nutrients your soil is lacking is with a soil test.
Soil Testing: When, Why, and How?
It’s recommended that you test your soil with an accurate soil test kit several times a year to keep track of your soil’s nutrient budget.
If you’re going to test soil once a year, I suggest getting your soil tested by a lab because doing so will give you a detailed overview of the level of nutrients in your soil, and the amount of each nutrient you need to add to your soil for basic lawn health.
You don’t have to apply any fertilizer if the report says that the nutrient levels are normal – I repeat, don’t add anything!
Should I Fertilize My Lawn Every Year?
A regular dose of fertilizer goes a long way towards better lawn growth, but you can’t overfeed your lawn either, as it won’t benefit your turfgrass, can be damaging to your lawn and the environment, and needless to say, you’ll essentially be throwing money away.
3 Reasons Why You Need to Fertilize Your Lawn Every Year
- Your soil provides the essential macronutrients that your lawn needs, but isn’t able to supply them during the entire growing season.
- During the time your lawn is receiving a good and steady supply of nutrients, it uses a great deal of energy to stay healthy and promote new blade growth. However, you need to apply fertilizer periodically to maintain this supply of nutrients in the soil.
- The cycle of nutrients is a tad bit shorter in home lawns due to several reasons, most notably due to the necessary maintenance practices to produce a high-quality turf.
Some of these practices require the removal of grass clippings, fallen leaves, branches, and twigs, which would have otherwise returned nutrients to the soil if not removed.
3 Tips on Fertilizing Your Lawn Properly
If you fertilize your lawn properly, you can rest assured of a dense stand of turf that maintains a lush green color and gives weeds a run for their money.
1. Test Your Soil
Routine soil testing is perhaps the only definitive way of finding out if your soil lacks the proper nutrients.
The pH of your soil should be between six and seven, and any number below six means that your soil will become more acidic and will be short of essential nutrients.
2. Fertilize During the Right Season
The best time to apply fertilizer depends on several factors including the type of grass you have and your climate.
If you have cool-season grass that grows vigorously in the winter such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, or fine fescue, the best to fertilize is in the fall, and once again in late spring to early summer if your lawn looks like it needs it.
Contrarily, if you have warm-season grass like Bermuda grass, zoysia, or buffalo grass, the best time to fertilize is in the early summer, and another dose in August if needed.
3. Choose the Right Time of Day to Fertilize
After you’ve figured out the right time of year to apply fertilizer, it’s important to also choose the right time of day. The best time of day to fertilize your lawn is in the late afternoon or early evening but never fertilize under direct hot sunlight on your lawn.
Speaking of time, you shouldn’t apply fertilizer in the morning because your grass is damp from the dew at this time, so the fertilizer will not stick to the grass blades.
However, there are a few fertilizers that you can apply to damp grass but your safer bet is to apply fertilizer when the grass is dry.
Your lawn thrives with the right dose of nutrients, but nutrients from fertilizers wear off over time, resulting in the need for a fertilizer boost.
For best results, perform a soil test, and fertilize your lawn with a product that can replenish the lacking nutrients.
Hi, Alex Kuritz here. Growing up I remember that my family had one of the best lawns in the neighborhood. Richly green and lush. I did a lot as I grew up in terms of caring and tending for not only my family’s lawn but also my neighbors. I can say I have years of experience, and I am here to share it with you.