Beating Spring Weeds Starts Now: How to Choose the Right Fertilizer for Your Lawn

How-To Choose the Right Fertilizer

Wouldn't you like to make all of your neighbors jealous this fall? Well maybe not in the fall, but in the spring for sure. Today, we are going to talk fall fertilizing. I will give you all the information you need to choose the perfect fertilizer for your lawn. This will make you the envy of the neighborhood come spring. Knowing what to use and when to use it are two key factors for choosing fertilizer. 

The Numbers Decoded: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium

For starters, most bags of fertilizer will have three numbers listed somewhere. They typically look something like 28-14-0. Usually, you can find them on the front and sides of the bag; a chart on the back will give specific measurements regarding coverage and instructions for application. Those numbers are important, but they confuse most people. They look like a foreign code. In reality, they are quite simple. The numbers represent the fertilizer formula mix of three main ingredients.

The first digit in the series represents the amount of nitrogen present in the mixture. Nitrogen is important because it promotes healthy blade growth for grass, and leaf growth for things like shrubs and trees.

The next number represents phosphorus. If you want healthy roots, you need to feed them phosphorus. It is essential for helping them to grow deeper and to spread wider into the ground below. This will give you a well rooted plant. Also, make sure that it has plenty of access to water should your lawn go through a dry spell during summer.

Finally, the last number in the series indicates the amount of potassium present in the fertilizer mixture. This is an important component to plant growth as potassium generally helps plants function better at a cellular level and helps them absorb trace elements that are key to maintaining healthy turgidity (the plants ability to stand upright) and structure.

Knowing what these numbers mean and what they're used for can really help you out when you go to select your fertilizer. If you want better root growth, then choose one with a higher third number. If you are looking for that lush blade growth, then the first number should be largest.

My Personal Tip: For most lawns, you will probably want the last number to be smallest, since the two components you are most concerned with are probably healthy roots and long blade length. That's a personal tip from me; it's what I do.

Different Types of Fertilizer

As to the type of fertilizer, I checked a few of our local big box stores to see what they had on hand. Of Course, Scott's is a popular one. They have a good general all-purpose fertilizer that comes in a 32-0-4 formulation. The great thing about it is the fact that it is a slow release so you get great sustained growth well into spring and summer. However, there are zero nutrients present for root growth.

Vigoro is another great choice. They claim to green a lawn in 72 hours. However, most fertilizers will do this. The only thing I'm not a fan of is the formulation: 29–0–4. My soil is very compacted underneath in spots and very loose in others. I have to have root growth as a factor in my fertilizer formulation. Take your soil condition into account when choosing your fertilizer. I also like a higher number on the end to help encourage a solid blade structure. Know your soil and your fertilizer goals. It makes a difference.

Milorganite makes a good all-purpose lawn fertilizer. The formulation is 5–2–0 and only covers 2,500 sq. ft., whereas the other bags will cover 5,000 sq. ft. I mention this because the low price point may appeal to you at first glance. However, it actually costs more than well-known name brands. The reason? This one is all organic. Therefore, it is a great choice if you are looking to go green, to green your lawn. Also, its lower formulation and slow-release formula gives your lawn consistent, steady nourishment all winter long.

Finally, Sta-Green has a mixture that is really well-balanced in my opinion. It may seem a bit pricey, but it covers almost three times the amount of lawn area that the other brands do. Therefore, I can use it for two seasons or three seasons. The formula is 18–24-6. It is also a slow, sustained-release product, which I am also a fan of. It only feeds for three months, though, so you may need to reapply.

Fall Leaves

How and When to Apply

So let's put this all together now, shall we? According to the garden department manager at my local Lowe's home improvement store, fall is the best time for application. She recommends that you fertilize in late October or early November for best results. In addition, an early application in September can be beneficial too, especially if you have experienced a long period of drought (those of you in California just nodded your head when you read this).

The reason for fertilizing in the fall has a lot to do with your root system. Before winter comes in like a lion, your fertilizer will act as a stimulant that encourages extra root growth all the way up to the early part of December. This means your lawn will actually green up a lot quicker when spring arrives. It will also be more resistant to drought and disease.

To apply, simply use a spreader and walk your lawn just as you would if you were cutting grass. Add fertilizer to the spreader as needed, and make sure to cover your entire lawn. Follow these tips and guidelines, and you will have one of the greenest lawns on the block come spring. Your neighbor will be sporting the puzzled look he stole from you, and you will be wearing his stolen smile. I'd say that's a fair trade!

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