Types of Fertilizers

Types of Fertilizers

A healthy green lawn needs three basic essentials to thrive. Water, Food and Air. If your lawn receives lots of watering, either through a sprinkler system or rain, your grass will grow, but won’t necessarily be healthy.

Healthy lawns need fertilizers to ensure the proper balance of nutrients throughout different times of the year.

Proper nutrients will help a lawn battle heat, pests and insects, dry weather, foot traffic and mowing. The key is providing these nutrients year round and not just in the growing season. Nutrients come from fertilizers, and one trip to the garden store or any landscaping company will tell you that there are many fertilizers out there.

The question is, which is best for you and your lawn.

The fertilizer that’s right for you depends on the condition of your existing lawn and the climate in which you live. Another factor is the time of year when the fertilizer will be spread.

It also depends on where the lawn is located and how the lawn is used. For example, if your child or dog will be spending an excessive amount of time in the yard, you need to read the label of the fertilizer carefully. There could potentially be harmful agents in the fertilizer you choose.

Not all fertilizers are pet and child friendly. Labels will guide you towards the best choice in this case.

Natural Organic Fertilizers

Natural organic fertilizers consist of old-fashioned plant or animal waste that has been dried and composted. Most are good choices in fertilizer, but cost may be a factor in this choice, along with the smell these fertilizers leave behind.

There are many different varieties available ranging from municipal sewage sledge to blood meals to vegetarian seed meals.

One of the advantages of using a natural organic fertilizer is that it’s almost impossible to over fertilize. The action of these fertilizers are very slow, however, they are heavy, messy and hard to handle. This is why with these fertilizers, cost is more of an issue if purchased at the store. They require greater quantities due to their low nitrogen percentage.

Be careful if you’re getting your natural fertilizer from a local farmer. Manures that haven’t been properly cured could be too strong and result in burning of your lawn. Be especially leery of chicken waste. This type of manure can remain too strong even if cured for many years. It’s always a risk when using as a fertilizer.

In order for an organic fertilizer to be productive, it must have active microbes. Microbes become active in natural compost with the proper moisture, temperature, and oxygen. Without the proper mix of all, organic fertilizers will not produce the required nutrients to properly feed your lawn.

Natural organic fertilizers can vary in efficiency due to the unreliability of microbe activity. The activity will rise and fall with soil temperature. This means that nutrients may not be available in early spring or late fall when the grass begins to grow and temperatures are too low for the microbes to be active.

If you wish to utilize a naturally organic fertilizer, it’s probably best to use it during the warmer months when the microbes will break down properly.

Soluble Synthetic Fertilizers

Soluble synthetic fertilizers are produced by a chemical reaction, from organic or inorganic materials. You’ll find some double synthetic fertilizers labeled as “organic” because they’re synthesized from organic compounds.

The soluble synthetic fertilizers release nutrients extremely fast into the soil, which results in greener grass in less time. These fertilizers don’t depend on microbes for effectiveness, like the natural fertilizers do. That means that these fertilizers are great in the colder periods as well as the warmer periods, with the same effects. This type of fertilizer is also usually more affordable and lighter than organic fertilizers due to their concentrations.

The downside to this type of fertilizer is that they demand more work. Their effects are shorter-lived, so they’ll require more applications than other choices. This type of fertilizer may need an application of up to six time of year.

Beware of soluble synthetics with a high salt content. These may cause your fertilizer to burn your yard instead of green it.

If using a soluble synthetic fertilizer, read the manufacturers instructions thoroughly and avoid applying in times of drought, when the lawn will be more susceptible to fertilizer burn.

Controlled Release Fertilizers

These fertilizers, also called timed-release or slow-release fertilizers, combine some of the characteristics of both the natural organic and the soluble synthetic fertilizers in a controlled release formula.

Some of these fertilizers contain nitrogen as part of a complex compound that breaks down slowly in the soil.

Some control release varieties have pellets that, when placed on the lawn, break down and distribute nutrients slowly into the ground. These pellets release when they’re wet.

This type of fertilizer has the advantage of slow nitrogen release, which lessons the chance of burning your lawn. They also require less work, needing reapplication every three to six months depending on the brand and amount of rainfall.

Complete Fertilizers

These fertilizers are just as they sound. They contain all three of the primary nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The ratios of each will be listed on the bag, and the amount of each you need, will depend on the time of year it’s applied.

These are often sold in bags that indicate the time of year for use. This ensures proper quantities of each for the time period in which it is being applied.

Other things that need to be taken into consideration when using a complete fertilizer are the local climate, soil conditions and the form of nitrogen used in the bag. Some complete fertilizers are marketed for the use of specific grass types.

Once again, read the label carefully with this type of fertilizer. Often they’re not environmentally friendly, meaning they could potentially harm small children, pets and fish if not applied properly.

Fertilizer, Herbicide, and Pesticide Combinations

The last type of fertilizer available combines the fertilizer with other herbicides for control of broadleaf and crabgrass control. Some even combine insecticides and fungicides to control insects and lawn disease.

These fertilizer combinations are great for saving time. They also reduce the amount of material used and money saved when buying one product to do all.

This type of fertilizer is not for everyone however. If you have pets and children, it’s extremely important you keep them away from treated areas until it’s safe for their return. The time frame will be listed in the manufacturer’s instructions, usually under warnings and precautions.

Also, timing of the combination fertilizers can be tricky. The best option is to apply the product during the growth period of specific problems you wish to stop.

For example, you want to apply at the beginning of the dandelion cycle for proper control. If you stop the cycle before the seeds spread, you’ll be much more successful with dandelion prevention.

When to Fertilize

Most lawns require four to five applications per year of a fertilizer for proper nutrition. The first feeding of the year should come about the same time as the first time you will mow your lawn for the year.

The last feeding should come at the around the time you will mow your lawn for the last time before winter. This is when the grass has stopped growing, and you’re evening it out for the winter months ahead.

Most lawns require an application in early spring, late spring, late summer, early fall and late fall. The exact time you fertilize in these seasons will vary depending on weather conditions.

Some fertilizers shouldn’t be used if rain is in the forecast for the next 24 hours. Be sure and read the manufacturers directions for proper application time.

Early Spring (February to April)

This feeding is important to give your lawn new life. The spring feeding strengthens root systems and gives the lawn a healthy start. This is also the time you’ll want to use crabgrass or grassy weed preventatives. It’s also a good time to add grass seed to any bare looking spots. Then use a lawn roller to keep the seed in place if you have one.

Grassy weeds include Yarrow, Quackgrass, Crabgrass, and Wild Onion.

Late spring/early summer (May to June)

Your grass is actively growing at this time, requiring weekly mowing. This is the time when your grass is most susceptible to problems that will be seen later in summer.

The grass is actively sucking out all the nutrients it can just to keep up with its growth. It’s important to feed your lawn during this time to ensure it will receive adequate nutrients and get it through the dog days of summer, which are just around the corner.

This is also a good time to use preventatives for actively growing weeds, such as broadleaf weeds.

Broadleaf weeds include Plantain, Thistle, Spurge, Daisies, Speedwell, Dock and Dandelion.

Late Summer (July-August)

Okay, your grass is now stressed. You’ve walked on it, mowed it, played ball on it and it just can’t take any more. This is a crucial time to feed it with an application that will help your lawn recover from the abuse and combat other potential problems such as drought. Be sure and apply your fertilizer on a cooler summer day. Fertilizers should never be spread when temperatures are above 90 degrees.

Early Fall (September to October)

Your lawn is now winding down. The nights are cooler and there is more rainfall and dew to supply the lawn with water. Now it’s time to add to the extra water by providing nutrients that it needs to repair the damage of summer.

This is one of the most important applications of fertilizer to your lawn, so please don’t skip it thinking that you can catch up with the late fall feeding.

Late fall/early winter (November to December)

The final feeding. This feeding is important to help your lawn store up nitrogen and other nutrients it needs to get it through the brutal winter. This is also the application that will help ensure the great start the following spring. Storing energy for the up coming spring will strengthen roots. Your roots will remain active for at least two weeks after the top growth stops for the year.

Spreading Your Fertilizer

When spreading whatever fertilizer you choose for your lawn, using a quality spreader will ensure an even application of fertilizer. A lawn aerator isn’t necessary.

Make sure you walk at a steady pace, neither too slow nor too fast. This will allow the application to be spread evenly and eliminate spots with too much or too little fertilizer.

The fertilizer you choose should have instructions for the setting rate on the spreader. Make sure you follow the manufactures directions. Be sure and begin on a driveway or walkway so that any spillage of fertilizer can be easily cleaned up.

It’s not a pretty sight when you are on your lawn, filling your spreader with your expensive fertilizer, and you’ve forgotten to turn your spreader off. The result is a huge pile of fertilizer on your lawn that needs to be cleaned up before it burns a big brown spot.

Once your spreader is full, begin by making two header strips at each end of the lawn so you have an area for turning the spreader on and off. Once you’ve finished a row, turn your spreader off before turning to begin another row.

If your lawn is irregularly shaped, apply a header strip around the edge of your lawn. Go back and forth in the longest direction, shutting the spreader off when you reach the header strip.

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