Fertilizer application is one of the most important aspects of taking care of a healthy lawn. However, most lawn owners do not know how to apply fertilizer properly. With an improper application, fertilizer can be lost from surface runoff or can be completely ineffective. In Grand Rapids especially, many fertilizer applications are wasted due to an incorrect application, as the area experiences issues with soil compaction more than most other regions.
To yield the absolute best results from your lawn this year, follow these fertilizer application steps and watch your turf grow greener and faster than ever.
The first and most crucial step in fertilizing your lawn is to conduct a soil test on your yard. Grand Rapids contains different soil types, some of which are well drained and loamy, others are poorly drained and sandy. Dependent on what soil type your yard contains can mean that your fertilizer application methods can potentially vastly differ from your neighbor’s. The only way to know what your soil needs is to have your soil tested.
A soil test can be conducted at any time of the year and is a relatively simple process. Soil testing kits can be purchased online from the nearby MSU Extension Bookstore, or from your local county MSU extension office.
Once you have obtained a soil test kit, go around your yard and take 8 to 10 samples of soil from scattered locations, ensuring to dig about 6 inches down for each one. Mix your soil samples in a bucket or other clean container, and place in the soil box. If you purchased your soil kit through Michigan State University, the box should already be pre-stamped and postmarked, so all you have to do is mail it.
The most common grass types in Grand Rapids are bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Fine fescue, and perennial ryegrass. These are known as cool-season grass types, which means the main fertilizer applications should be completed during the spring and fall. For homeowners that don’t have too much time for lawn care, ensure that you make at least two applications per year; for this schedule, fertilize your lawn once in late April to early May, and a second time in September or October. For a more active fertilizer schedule for cool season grasses, make an application in late spring, early fall, as well as late fall. However, as the first frost date tends to come early in Grand Rapids, if frost has already started forming on your lawn, do not apply fertilizer, as cool season grasses go dormant in cold weather, and will not require any added nutrients.
Many different fertilizers exist, but they are all separated into two major categories: complete fertilizer, and incomplete fertilizer. Complete fertilizer contains portions of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which are the three primary nutrients needed by turfgrass. Incomplete fertilizer usually only contains nitrogen or a mix of nitrogen and one other nutrient. Many times lawn owners will directly buy the complete fertilizer, regardless of the time of year or soil conditions. However, by using a complete fertilizer when a nitrogen-only application is needed, you can end up causing a build-up of thatch on your yard, or lose most of the fertilizer to run off simply.
As stated before, the best way to know which fertilizer to use is to conduct a soil test. This test will show whether the levels of potassium and phosphorus are low in your soil. Most of the time, these two nutrient levels do not need adjusting in a lawn, and only a nitrogen fertilizer application is necessary, but usually once per year, a complete fertilizer may be required.
For more specific fertilizer options, it is always better to choose slow-release fertilizers over synthetic quick release ones. Slow-release fertilizers provide a steady flow of nutrients to your grass, while synthetic fertilizers tend to dump too much of the nutrients on your turf at once, which causes much of the fertilizer to go to waste.
In usual conditions, fertilizer application should be made on its own without other techniques involved. However, in Grand Rapids, many soils deal with the issue of compaction year round. Compaction is by foot traffic or excessive precipitation which compacts the soil, making it impossible for your turfgrasses to pull the nutrients they need out of the ground. Before fertilizing, it is recommended to use a core aerator on any spots on your lawn that tend to show signs of water. After raking the dug up cores back into the grass, now is the best time to fertilize.
The most important rule of thumb for fertilizer application is to never apply more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet at any one time. Any more fertilizer than this will merely sit on top of the lawn, and can very easily be lost to surface runoff.
For the best visible results, use a solid fertilizer, and apply by using a centrifugal, or gravity-flow spreader. While distributing fertilizer by hand is still useful, at times the amount spread will not be consistent, and you may end up with patches of the lawn growing faster than others. Follow an organized pattern while spreading, to ensure there are no mixed spots.
If you are a Grand Rapids resident, learn more about how Grand Rapids Lawn Care can service your lawn properly!
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