Spring Lawn Care: Fertilizing Basics

Kick of the growing season with a lush, green lawn. Learn when and how to fertilize your lawn to make your grass thick all summer long.

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Lawn fertilizer adds fresh nutrients to your soil where they have been depleted. In areas where plants have been growing for a long time or are planted repeatedly, the plants use up the primary nutrients over time. Plants that are expected to produce flowers or fruits continuously over an entire season use up soil nutrients faster than even the most fertile soil can provide. With these helpful tips, you'll fertilize your lawn in a breeze.

Learn more about how organic matter helps your plants.

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What Fertilizer to Look for

Lawn fertilizers are categorized as organic fertilizer or synthetic fertilizer. Both provide the same nutrition, but vary in their sources of nutrients. The nutrients in synthetic fertilizers are manufactured from chemicals, while the nutrients in organic fertilizers are derived from natural plant and animal sources, such as manures, wood, paper, fish and bone meal, and seaweed.

When searching for the best lawn fertilizer, your best option is choosing an organic fertilizer, such as compost. Look for fertilizers that are slow-acting and granular. For general use, choose those labeled "balanced" or "all-purpose". You can buy specialty organic products for certain groups of plants, such as lawns, roses, acid-loving trees and shrubs, bulbs, and vegetables. Their formulations are adjusted to the needs of these plant groups.

When planting container-grown plants, look for container-specific fertilizer. Container plants require special lawn fertilizers; these fertilizers intended for container use are typically soil-free—lighter, disease-free, and devoid of nutrients—an action that, fortunately, is becoming more common.

Editor's Tip: Our best advice to the healthiest plants? Always go for organic. It's better for everyone.

Check out different types of fertilizer to use on your lawn.

When to Fertilize Your Lawn

Fertilize plants in early spring to supply them with consistent nutrients for up to 16 weeks—a good main meal. This provides the right balance and gets your grass used to the natural soil in your lawn. Just like humans, plants need their vitamins and minerals to grow and thrive, too! Make sure your plant has these three essentials: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potasium. Nitrogen fuels leaf and stem growth and depletes fastest (especially in lawns). Phosphorus stimulates root growth and seed formation. Potassium promotes flowering, fruiting, and disease resistance.

Fertilizer fills the deficiencies; it's not just a substitute for healthy soil. Thin, compacted soil with virtually no organic matter needs a lot of help from fertilizer if it's to do anything more than hold plants up. Reduce the amount of fertilizer you'll need in future years by amending the soil and adding organic matter every year. The resulting rich, fertile soil needs less help from fertilizer.

See more ways to organically fertilize your lawn.

Getting Started

You can never fertilize your lawn too much, right? Wrong. Before you begin fertilizing your lawn, make sure you don't overfertilize it with these helpful tips.

  • Avoid overuse of lawn fertilizers.
  • Water plants and lawns well before using water-soluble products.
  • Delay fertilizing newly planted trees and shrubs for a year.
  • Do not fertilize plants stressed by drought.
  • Do not fertilize and lime the lawn simultaneously.

What You Need

  • Rake
  • Cultivator
  • Lawn fertilizer

Step 1: Rake Grass

When preparing a new garden bed, it's always good to start fresh. Rake away any debris for a clear area. Raking your grassy lawn will also lossen up the soil.

Step 2: Stir it Up

It's time to stir things up a bit! Use a cultivator to mix up the soil. This allows nutrients from deeper down to make their way to the surface. Cultivating the soil will also help the fertilizer live within the soil, instead of just sitting on top.

Step 3: Spread it Out

Disperse lawn fertilizer on the freshly cultivated beds. Spread a thin layer of fertilizer evenly in the patchy areas. It's best to use organic fertilizer for the healthiest-looking lawn.

Step 4: Water Thouroughly

Lawn fertilizer doesn't work without proper hydration. When first applied, water your lawn fertilizer well. This establishes the lawn fertilizer and starts the regrowing process. Make sure to water lawn fertilizer well before using water-soluble products.

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