Quick Guide to Safe and Effective Lawn Fertilization
For many of us, the summertime ushers in a long season of sweaty lawn work to keep our property looking well-manicured. Keeping our lawns thick, green and healthy may require fertilizer. But if we use fertilizers in the wrong way, not only can it damage your lawn, but it can cause water pollution and environmental damage.
The two main points to remember when preparing to fertilize your lawn are using the right amount of fertilizer and applying it at the right time.
Do You Need to Fertilize?
You want to determine if your soil needs to be fertilized at all. A soil test can help you learn which nutrients are lacking. Find your county Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent, who can advise you on soil testing.
If it turns out that you do need to fertilize, then you should determine the right type and amount of fertilizer you will need. This is done through a combination of measuring the square footage of your lawn, identifying the type of grass you have, and supplementing your soil based on the test recommendations. The Agrilife Extension office has a detailed checklist on how to determine your lawn’s fertilizer needs.
Use only the amount of fertilizer recommended for your yard. If you apply too much fertilizer, not only can that damage your grass, but the excess can find its way into the ground water supply and contribute to water pollution.
A safer option is choosing natural or organic fertilizers and always following the label directions. Organic fertilizers are made of rock minerals, plant and animal materials. Using these can be more expensive but they reduce water pollution in addition to feeding your plants and soil. The best organic fertilizers will come with a guaranteed minimum analysis, which is a set of three numbers indicating the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the formula. Another alternative is using compost on your lawn. This can act as a natural fertilizer as well as a way for soil to retain its moisture.
Timing is Everything
When you apply your fertilizer is also important. It matters what time of year you fertilize and what the weather conditions are around the time of application. Most experts recommend applying your fertilizer in the spring and fall, at the beginning and end of the growing season.
However, you also want to keep an eye on the incoming weather. You don’t want to apply fertilizer if you’re about to receive rain fall. If enough rain falls to cause runoff, the excess water will carry the chemicals through the watershed and into the streams, rivers, and lakes that are used for fishing, swimming, and drinking water.
It’s recommended that you water your lawn ¼” to a ½” after applying your fertilizer. But again, take care not to overwater your lawn. This can create runoff, wash away your fertilizer, and contaminate the groundwater.
Don’t Bag Clippings
Lastly, don’t bag your lawn clippings. The clippings act as a free, organic fertilizer and supply 25% or more of your lawn's needs. Mow off only the top one-third of your grass and consider a "mulching mower" next time you are in the market for lawn equipment. Mulching mowers make smaller clippings and force them down into the grass where they can quickly turn into fertilizer.
Get more landscaping information in the Take Care of Texas Guide to Yard Care.