Regular fertilizing is essential to help your lawn maintain its health and appearance. Grasses are asked to survive in particularly competitive conditions. Most evolved on ranges and prairies, and now they are grown under more stressful conditions, including poor urban soils and mowing. They have to compete with other grasses, shrubs, and even large trees for water and nutrients. And one of their natural sources of nitrogen, grass clippings, is often removed.

If you are trying to become a savvy weekend fertilizer, here are four tips from the pros to keep your grass healthy, looking good, and ready to help protect the environment.

Use the right kind of fertilizer. You’ll find lots of choices of fertilizers to use on your lawn. Look for ones that contain Slow Release Nitrogen. You should be able to find this on the label on the bag, in the section that reads “Guaranteed Minimum Analysis.” As a general rule, the more Slow Release, the better. This helps feed the grass evenly, minimizes growth flushes that can make mowing difficult, and also minimizes the potential for nutrients to leave your lawn prematurely.

Apply fertilizer at the right rate. Read the label and apply your fertilizer according to the instructions. More is not necessarily better. Too much fertilizer will cause your grass to grow too fast. And if you apply more fertilizer than the plants can use, that increases the chance for negative environmental impacts. If you are using “weed and feed” products, excess herbicides could harm your grass or even other plants in your yard. Conversely, too little fertilizer will not provide your grass with what it needs to be healthy. The right amount of fertilizer helps your grass to be healthy and prepares it to fight against weeds, insects and diseases.

Fertilize at the right time. If you live in the northern U.S., the most important times to fertilize are generally spring and fall. During mid-summer, when it’s hot, grasses in the north grow more slowly. They may still need some fertilizer, but not as much. Slow release fertilizers help provide slow but steady nutrition through the summer. If you live in the south and have Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, St. Augustine grass, or other “warm season” grasses, the most important times to fertilizer are from late spring (when you lawn starts greening up) through mid-summer. This is when your grass is growing its fastest, and needs fertilizer the most. Many fertilizers are formulated for certain regions and certain times of the year.

Apply fertilizer in the right place. Keep as much of the fertilizer on your lawn as possible. Fertilizer usually ends up on driveways, walks, sidewalks, and even streets. Sweep this fertilizer up and put it back in the bag, or sweep or blow it back into your lawn. Fertilizer that stays on hard surfaces can be washed into streams or other water bodies, or storm drains that lead to the same places. Protect the water by keeping fertilizer where it belongs. If your fertilizer does not contain herbicides or insecticides, it’s okay to fertilize your shrubs and other plants as you fertilize your lawn.

Finally, let science be your guide. Consider getting a soil test to help identify the nutrient status of your soil, especially if your lawn seems unhealthy. A landscape professional can conduct this test for you and can also make recommendations on how to ensure the maximum health of your lawn. Properly cared for, your lawn will add value to your home, provide the foundation for enjoyment of your outdoor living spaces, and help protect the environment.

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