Adventures in Gardening: Lawn Fertilizing

by David Soper

Lawn grasses are heavy feeders. They particularly like fertilizers that are heavy in nitrogen (the first number on the bag or box). I'd use a moderate fertilizer such as 12-4-8 or so. If you live where your soil is acidic, you might want to add a bit of lime, too.

Both organic and inorganic fertilizers are best applied with a spreader. You have a much better shot at even distribution that way. If you have had difficulty getting the fertilizer spread equally, consider setting the applicator at half the recommended rate. Apply by going back and forth one direction i.e. north-south, next apply by going east-west. It really helps eliminate those green stripes. Be sure to water thoroughly after you've fertilized, or do it when rain is imminent. It takes only a few minutes for fertilizers to burn tender grasses without water to dilute them.

How often to fertilize depends on where you live and the kind of grass you are growing. If you live in the Northwest, Northeast, Midwest or higher elevation areas where summer rains are common and summer heat not extreme, you are probably growing "cool-season" grasses. You've no doubt noticed your lawn grows most vigorously in the spring and in the fall. Cool-seasons grasses should be fed once in the spring and twice in the fall. I recommend May, September and November.

If you live in our hotter regions, you are probably growing a sub-tropical or hot-season grass like Bermuda or a Bermuda hybrid. You'll want to feed your lawn in May and late July. If you've had to cut back on watering because of drought, cut back on your fertilizing as well.

Occasionally, you'll find bare spots in your yard (courtesy of your neighbor's dog, maybe) and you want to reseed those areas. For cool-season grasses, do it early in the spring or late in the fall. If you are fall seeding, you'll need to time it so the seed will have 6 weeks of temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 degrees.

Its better to use plugs, stolons or sprigs for patching hot-season grasses. Be sure to prepare the area according to the directions from your grass source.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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