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What is the importance of fertilizing my lawn?

Most people hear the word fertilizing and cringe, thinking this is going to hit them deep in the pocket book. However, fertilizing your lawn can be very cost efficient if you select the right product and the right times to apply. A healthier lawn will actually require less maintenance. A lawn can survive without being fertilized, but over time you will notice some deterioration of the root system. This deterioration allows weeds to move in because your root system isn't strong enough to block them. A sign of grass deterioration is when color fades and bare spots start to appear in your lawn. The weakness opens the door to insects and pest damage and your lawn won't be healthy enough to repair itself. 

Once you’ve decide to take the fertilizer plunge, the first step is to determine your square footage. Multiply the length of your lawn by its width. 

Once you know the amount of area to be covered, it is time to pick a fertilizer. When selecting a fertilizer you will usually see the word nitrogen on the package. This is because nitrogen is the most used component, as well as the element with the shortest life. Three other major elements found in your lawn are Phosphorus, Potassium, and Iron, but a total of 17 elements are vital and equally important in varying amounts

The following will help you determine what is lacking in your lawn:

    1. My lawn is turning pale yellow and is growing at a snail’s pace. - Lack of Nitrogen
    2. I was shocked when I noticed my lawn was turning a very dark green, then began to take on a purple he and became easily affected by disease. - Lack of Phosphorous
    3. I haven’t noticed any changes in color, but my lawn seems stressed, - Lack of Potassium
    4. My lawn is starting to look like the sun, nice and yellow. - Lack of Iron
    5. We can’t forget about Calcium and Magnesium. Their deficiency symptoms can mimic those of Iron and Nitrogen. A Magnesium shortage might be the culprit when your grass turns yellow and a lack of Calcium can also cause your grass to grow very slowly.

So what's a person to do when they notice their lawn is turning yellow?

It may be tempting to automatically turn to fertilizer to solve your problem, but you must first identify the cause. Remember, both iron and magnesium deficiencies can cause yellowness. To test for low iron, pick a yellow patch and spread iron sulfate or iron chelate onto the area. If the area greens up in 24 to 48 hours, you will know you had an iron deficiency. If you still have a yellow spot on your hands, test for a shortage of magnesium. Mix a teaspoon of Epson Salt with two cups of water and apply to the area. Once again, you should see results in 24 to 48hours.

A soil test can prevent a lot of deficiencies from occurring. They provide accurate information on the element levels and will alert you to problems before they become too advanced. This information can guide you in determining the amount of fertilizer needed, which elements your lawn is lacking, and how often you need to fertilize. Soil test will also measure your pH level, which determines whether or not your soil can support plant growth. You might need to add a dose of lime in order to improve the fertility of your lawn.

Collect several soil samples around your yard with a soil probe.

Mix the samples together and measure 1 cup of soil to send to the testing facility.

One of the hardest things to determine is when you should fertilize. First, it is important to determine which of the two types of grass you have: warm-season or cool-season. Warm season grasses can be fertilized four times a year, between late winter and late summer. However, cool season grasses should not be fertilized during the summer months.

The next biggest question is what type of fertilizer should I use? There are two major categories that all fertilizers fall into – slow release and fast release. One advantage of slow release fertilizer is that it lasts longer. You can spread the slow release and forget about it since it lingers, requiring fewer applications. The nitrogen is released gradually in this formula, making burning of the lawn less likely. Downfalls of slow release fertilizer are that they are typically more expensive and you must live in a warm weather area in order to activate the release of nitrogen.

Fast release fertilizer does exactly what it says.  Nitrogen is released immediately into the soil allowing for faster results. Unlike the slow release formula, this product doesn’t require warm weather and it isn’t too hard on the wallet.  However, fast release fertilizer does have a tendency to burn so application must be done carefully.  You will also need to fertilize more often in order to maintain the correct levels of nutrients.

An important thing to remember is to allow your grass to maintain an even, steady growth. Since fertilizer provides food for your lawn, you don't want to "binge feed" your grass. Fertilizing over a period of time keeps your grass consistent.  As with most things, overdoing it can be as harmful as doing without.


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