Why We Apply Lawn Fertilizer When We Do


With warm weather, you spend more time outdoors, including doing yard work. This includes lawn maintenance.

For those who lay fertilizer, why do we apply it when we do, and are there alternatives to the usual synthetic varieties?

What do you want to know

  • Lawns should generally receive at least a few fertilizer applications each year
  • Fertilizers contain nitrogen to help roots grow
  • Organic fertilizers come in granular form, just like common synthetic options
  • Keep fertilizer only in grass and off hard surfaces where it can get washed away

In the northern half of the country, cool-season grasses such as bluegrass and fescue typically receive three or four feedings each year. Warm season grasses, such as Bermuda grass, are more common in the southern United States and can be fed more.

Why do do we apply lawn fertilizer several times a year? David Gardner, professor of turf science at The Ohio State University, says it’s all about nitrogen. “Unlike all other nutrients, we don’t have a reliable soil test for nitrogen, so we apply on a schedule.”

Lawns use about one pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet, Gardner says.

Some people apply three times a year, others five. “The important thing is to recognize that newly established lawns, until they are about eight to 10 years old, require relatively more fertilizer and older lawns do not need as much fertilizer. .”

For cool season grasses, fall feeding is most important. This dose of nitrogen promotes root growth during the winter.

(File photo)

Most people use synthetic fertilizers, which are readily available and easy to apply. However, if you want to use an organic alternative, you have options.

“These tend to be lower in nitrogen, which means you apply more product in order to achieve that one-pound nitrogen rate,” according to Gardner. But, he adds, you can buy them in granular form and apply them the same way as any synthetic fertilizer.

Whatever type of lawn fertilizer you use, you can help it do its job better. Apply it in the morning and when the grass is actively growing, usually when the outside temperature is between 40 and 90 degrees.

Gardner also suggests fertilizing shortly before rain or watering so it can penetrate the thatch and soil.

Be sure to only put fertilizer on the grass. If it’s on a hard surface like a driveway, sidewalk, or street, remove it. Otherwise, it will flow into storm drains, polluting the water.


A front yard in Westchester County, NY, pictured May 4, 2022, has been converted from lawn to pollinator-friendly native plants. (AP Photo/Julia Rubin)

However, don’t spend all your time getting your lawn spotless. Save a little effort by planting and tending a variety of flowers or even grasses to make bees and other pollinators happy.


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