The Garden Patch: Tired of winter? Think about a green lawn

You all might be a little tired of vegetables every week, so thought we’d change the pace a little – how’s your lawn? Need a little umph? Could be greener in the summer? Here’s some fertilizing tips from K-State via the Emporia Extension office:

  • In spring and early summer, use fertilizers that contain slow-release nitrogen. This is especially important when applying fertilizer near a source of surface water or a storm drain, or where the water table is shallow.
  • When using fertilizer with a high percentage of nitrogen in the water soluble form, do not apply if a heavy rainfall is expected.
  • On sandy soils, use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer OR apply only small amounts at a time of a soluble-nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Apply about ½ inch of water after a fertilizer application to move the fertilizer into the topsoil, where it is most likely to be utilized by the grass.
  • Use a drop spreader rather than a rotary type spreader when applying fertilizer near open water.
  • Make sure you turn off the spreader when passing over pavement.
  • Clean up any granular spills and spread the material according to label directions.
  • Fill spreaders over hard surfaces for easy cleanup.
  • Push the fertilizer spreader – DO NOT PULL. Start walking before opening the lever and close the lever before stopping. DO NOT spread while turning. Keep the fertilizer dry so that it flows evenly from the spreader.
  • When using the spreader, walk in straight lines using reference points such as the spreader wheel marks or footprints to avoid overlapping streaks.
  • Fertilize when grass is dry to allow fertilizer to sift down into the soil.

Do you understand and know how to read the fertilizer bag label? The numbers are always in the same order and represent the same chemicals in the bag. Let’s say the numbers on the label are 16-4-8. That means that the fertilizer in the bag contains 16 percent nitrogen (by weight), 4 percent phosphate and 8 percent potash. Also on the bag (usually in smaller type) you’ll fine the “Guaranteed Analysis” that gives more detail on the kind of nitrogen in the bag.

Nitrate nitrogen, ammoniacal nitrogen, most urea nitrogen and some of the water soluble nitrogen are fast release sources of nitrogen. This type of nitrogen will result in a rapid green-up but is more easily moved by rainfall or irrigation into drinking water supplies.

The guaranteed analysis will also list how much of the nitrogen is slowly available, insoluble or “slow release”.

Some fertilizer products also contain weed and grub killers. Use these products only if weeds are present and the timing is right or if there has been a history of chronic weed or grub problems.

OK, we know the scientific details, now let’s ask a couple of questions …

Q. What’s the best kind of fertilizer to use on my lawn? In my garden?

A. In general, you should choose a lawn fertilizer that is mostly nitrogen, such as 24-4-12. This is different from a fertilizer for gardens or flowers which should contain more equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphate and potash (such as 10 -10 -10). In spring and early summer use a fertilizer with a high percentage of nitrogen in the slow-release form. Slow-release nitrogen sources provide a more controlled release of nitrogen and are less likely to run-off or seep through the soil into groundwater than water-soluble sources. When fertilizing cool season grasses in the fall, you can use a less expensive fertilizer that consists primarily of water-soluble nitrogen because intense storms that could cause runoff are less likely in the fall.

Q. How much fertilizer should I use on my lawn?

A. For quality lawns, use the following guidelines:

Pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet

Turfgrass May July Sept. Nov. Total
Tall Fescue 1 0 1 1 3 pounds
Bluegrass 1 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 4 pounds
Bermudagrass 1 1 0 0 2 pounds
Zoysiagrass 1 1 0 0 2 pounds

If a soil test shows a need for phosphate or potash, these nutrients should be applied in September on tall fescue and bluegrass, and in May on Bermudagrass and zoysia lawns. The fertilizer bag will give you specific settings to use for the different spreaders. DO NOT apply more than is recommended.

Anytime you are applying these type products, remember: KEEP FERTILIZER NUTRIENTS FROM POLLUTING WATER!

When applying fertilizer:

  • Use only low to moderate recommended rates.
  • Apply to DRY grass.
  • DO NOT apply immediately before an intense storm.
  • DO NOT dump or wash off excess fertilizer into storm drains or sewers.
  • TRY NOT to get fertilizer on pavement, but if you do, collect spills and apply to lawn area.

Well, that’s it for this week, folks! Ready to fertilize? Ready to dig? Ready to plant? Ready to grow? Ready to harvest? Ready to eat and enjoy? We all are! Here comes spring … till next week!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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