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How to Select the Right Lawn Fertilizer

Your lawn fertilizer is the essential piece of your lawn program. Here are a few tips to consider this spring to approach your lawn fertilization that goes beyond your traditional retailer’s off-the-shelf lawn fertilizer.

Summer is around the corner and you feel that you need to get that lawn ready for the warmer days ahead.

This is your year. 

You want that perfect thick green lawn to forget COVID-19 and all the bad news. You need that beautiful uniform lawn to regenerate, feel content, ready to create beautiful memories for the family.

Naturally, you know that Spring is the time to apply that lawn fertilizer. 

You probably have the lawn fertilizer bags stacked in your garage waiting for you.

Yet, something does not feel right. 

You are struck by doubt.  

Why does your lawn not look quite like the one of that beautiful house in Downingtown that you pass every day on your way to work? 

Why does that lawn look better than yours? Do they use a better brand? 

The truth is that they might take additional steps that you are not aware of. So, if you need to learn some drills, read on.

Before using a lawn fertilizer, conduct a soil analysis

“Know thy soil” is the first step to excellence and a golden rule. 

Indeed, it is essential to know the type of soil surrounding your property. 

Why?

Soil analysis provides an indication of the nutrients available in the soil that the plant will need to grow.  

For professional lawn care companies, the soil analysis is an essential method to put together a tailored and sound fertilization program. 

Otherwise, it is impossible to get good results.

In other words, the off-the-shelf lawn fertilizer that you bought may not respond to the true nutritional needs of your lawn.

Although soils in southeast PA are mainly clay, it does not mean that all soils are the same everywhere in Chester County.

One size does not fit all.

If you consider your lawn as “your baby,” then, try to literally consider your lawn as your baby. 

Because, without proper food, it is impossible to grow well and strong. 

Hence, conducting regular soil testing will help to correct your lawn nutrition program based on data. 

It may sound daunting, but you will achieve results more efficiently. 

If you identify the nutrient deficiencies of your soil, you may be able to control your fertilization program. 

By doing so, you may be able to appropriately tune your approach to lawn wellness and avoid excessive fertilizer applications to maintain a healthy lawn.

Check the Vitals Before Using Any Lawn Fertilizer

If you do it periodically, a soil analysis will inform you about different and essential values. 

These values are:

  • Soil pH
  • Neutralizable acidity
  • Phosphorus, Potassium, calcium, magnesium levels 
  • Organic matter
  • Cation exchange capacity

Depending on the values that the lab will send back to you, you will need to establish the appropriate remediation actions. In other words, you will need to:

  • Tune the pH if you missed it last fall (ideal pH is usually between 6.2 and 6.8 in PA)
  • Increase or decrease the amount of phosphorus (P) available
  • Check the volume of potassium (K)
  • Review the levels of calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg)
  • Target the adequate organic matter volume for a better structure
  • Determine how your soil retains nutrients with the cation exchange capacity (CEC)
  • See how much nitrogen needs to be added.

Although we will not go over the ideal proportions for all these elements in this article, you might now realize that the above is just impossible to achieve with off-the-shelf products.

Select the Right Lawn Fertilizer

Once the results of your soil analysis arrive, it comes down to the application of lawn fertilizer.

There are different types of fertilizers:

  • Slow-release 
  • Quick-release

What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, a quick-release fertilizer immediately provides the nutrients to the plants. Whereas, as slow-release fertilizer releases small and steady amounts of fertilizer over time.

What’s better between the two?

It depends, but the general answer is that it is always better to use slow-release or controlled-release fertilizer that will breakdown over time. 

Try to always prefer natural, organic fertilizers to add nutrients in the soil by naturally breaking down during the decomposition process.

There are slow-release fertilizers that have nutrients encapsulated in a polymer-based protective skin. 

That polymer-based skin slowly deteriorates under the action of heat and water.

Why is it better to use a slow-release fertilizer?

The reason is simple.  

You want the plants to have what they need throughout the growing season. A slow-release fertilizer achieves exactly that.

Even though the price per pound is slightly higher for slow-release fertilizers, remember that you will need fewer applications with this type of fertilizer. 

This almost evens the price over time if you compare both slow and quick-release fertilizers’ total cost for a season. 

Usually, slow-release fertilizers have a higher ratio of nitrogen and combine herbicides. Nitrogen promotes vigorous grass and green color. 

Do not saturate the soil with fertilizers. 

The effects could be disastrous.

Applying large amounts of fertilizer can leach nutrients from the soil and push too much succulent growth that is prone to fungal diseases. 

Therefore, check the recommendations on your soil analysis report and the fertilizer manufacturer instructions before any application.

Your Lawn Fertilizer And Your Action Plan is Right Here

To achieve a thick green turf, a periodic soil analysis should be performed to evaluate the nutritional needs of your lawn’s plants. There are test kits available online but the most thorough can be obtained through your local Penn State Extension office.

Once you have the data and value guidelines in hand, select the right fertilizer with the appropriate NKP values. 

Always try to use slow-release lawn fertilizers even if they seem more expensive. Over time, the total cost flattens compared to cheaper quick-release fertilizers.

Ultimately, do not over-saturate your lawn with fertilizer. Check the recommendations of the fertilizer manufacturer. 

Now that you know more about lawn fertilization, have you considered a proper piece of equipment to release your lawn fertilizer?