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326680

Act now for a lush lawn

You know the best timing and methods for planting, fertilizing, and harvesting your crops. When it comes to your lawn, there are some similarities, but as with crops, you’ll get the best results when taking its specific needs into account.

This time of year, giving your lawn a little boost of fertilizer can do wonders. You’ll see some familiar letters on the label: NPK. N is nitrogen, which supports green and leafy growth. P is phosphorous and it helps root, fruit, and flower development. K stands for potassium, which provides tolerance to stresses such as disease and drought.

The numbers on the bag refer to the percentage per weight of each nutrient. A common ratio is 10-5-10, which means by weight the fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous, and 10% potassium.

Most lawn fertilizers are high in nitrogen for maximum leafy growth. If you put the same high-nitrogen fertilizer on your tomato plants, however, you’ll get a burst of foliage but not too many tomatoes. Formulations for vegetable and flower gardens have a more balanced nutrient ratio specific to their needs. One size does not fit all, so be sure to read the labels.

If you aren’t sure which type of fertilizer is best for your lawn, do a soil test, just like you would in the field, then consult local university Extension for advice.

Some fertilizers are labeled as “quick release” or “slow release” and are intended for specific times of the year.

“When we get into spring and into the growing season, we want to have the quick release. Those plants need to have that nitrogen right there and right then to be that deep green to photosynthesize and grow vigorously,” says Beth Berlin, an Extension horticulturist at the University of Minnesota. “Toward the tail end of the growing season in fall, it’s better to have slow release so that it’s ready to go come spring, or it’s just available if the plants still need it.”

Watch the Waterways

I’s important to protect streams and ponds from fertilizer run-off in your yard, just like you would in the field.

Some people with ponds adjacent to their lawn mow right up to the water’s edge, but that makes it easier for fertilizer to end up in the pond. Fisheries biologist Bob Lusk with Pond Boss magazine says this adds nutrients to the water that it doesn’t need.

“When you get excessive amounts of nitrogen, it starts to grow things you don’t want in the water, especially algae,” he says.

Even if lawns are fertilized correctly to minimize runoff, the lay of the land, soil type, and climate can make that more difficult.

“If you’re in an area where you’re prone to really heavy rains, I think it’s great to have a buffer zone around the edge of the pond so that way, you’ve got a 4- or 5-foot buffer area of native grasses that can catch whatever nutrients, silt, or whatever else tries to wash into a pond with heavy rains,” Lusk says.

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Smooth it Over

Spring is also a good time to address bumpy lawns. They become rough and uneven over time because the turfgrass compacts and thins. The freezing and thawing of the ground from season to season lifts up or “heaves” the soil, making the surface bumpy. Animals digging through the lawn can also cause problems.

Turf specialist Dave Minner says the reestablishment of healthy, thick grass will help alleviate this problem. But if the thought of ripping up the yard and planting a new lawn sounds daunting, you can build it up gradually by spreading ½ inch of top dressing each year.

“You could go out and top dress with compost, with sand and soil, with sand and compost, any of these in combination, and you just basically keep filling it,” Minner says. “Don’t bury the grass completely, but about ½ inch is about the most you’d want to put on at a single time and the grass will grow right up through it.”

Early spring is a good time to do this, because you have to give the grass a butch cut with the mower.

“Scalp the lawn as low as you can and then you can see all the bumps,” Minner says. “It’s easier to spread the materials and drag them around and do leveling. When the grass is 2½ inches tall, you can’t drag the half inch of material around because it just gets stuck down there in the grass.”

If you have access to a drag implement that can be hooked up behind a lawn tractor, try using it as an easy way to pull the material off the high spots and drop it in the low spots. Minner says this is also a good time to aerate the soil and drag the plugs around.

One thing you do not want to do is try to flatten the yard with a heavy roller, for the same reason you take care with heavy machinery in the field. It will take care of some of the roughness, but it also damages the turf by compacting the soil, which is what you’re trying to avoid.

Fill in the Blank

The best time to overseed a lawn is in the fall, but sometimes you need to do some touchups in the spring to fill in bare spots.

Lance Walheim is the garden expert with Bayer Advanced. He says before you seed, understand why your grass is thinning. Maybe there’s too much water, not enough water, or it has disease and insect problems. These things need to be addressed or your seeding efforts won’t do any good.

Perhaps your lawn is just tired, and the ground is compacted. Walheim says to revive it with a core aerator.

“That increases aeration, water penetration, and nutrient penetration. And if you do that prior to overseeding, you’re really going to get better results,” says Walheim. “If you can’t do that, then I recommend you do a good low mowing, and if you can, rake the lawn hard with a steel rake so you can really rough up the soil surface for good contact with the seed.”

Walheim says skipping that step is a key mistake made by many: They toss the seed on the ground and let it fend for itself. It’s also important to apply the seed at the right rate. If you’re not sure, check with your local Extension service.

After you’ve put down the seed, cover it with a light layer of mulch or whatever is available in your area. It’s very important to keep the seed moist until germination.

“That may take watering every day, depending on how the weather is. Once those seeds get up, then you can start backing off,” he says.

At that point, he says you can apply top dressing and fertilizer. Before you know it, your lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood.

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