Fertilizer facts

January 6, 2020 -  By
Fertilizer being spread (Photo: groveb/ iStock / getty images plus/getty images)

Photo: groveb/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that fertilizers help lawn care operators (LCOs) produce healthy turf with high wear tolerance and aesthetic value, but fertilizer applications also help turf outcompete weeds, experts say.

“By having a healthy turfgrass canopy, the weeds have a much more difficult time competing for nutrients, water and sunlight necessary for turf,” says Tony Goldsby, Ph.D., research agronomist for The Andersons.

However, it’s important that LCOs pay attention, instead of mindlessly applying any given fertilizer product.

“Fertilizer may seem like a minor purchase to many LCOs, but it does have a tremendous impact on turf and its appearance,” says Eric Miltner, Ph.D., research agronomist for Koch Turf & Ornamental. “Applying a less-than-optimum fertilizer product or applying it incorrectly at the wrong time of year can lead to turf that’s not as healthy or attractive as it could be.”

Jeremy Bigler, landscape channel manager for LebanonTurf, Goldsby and Miltner provide insight when it comes to fertilizer application.


Application timing often depends on the type of turfgrass, according to Goldsby. For cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, fertilizer can be applied in spring and fall months. For warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, fertilizer can be applied during times when the grass is actively growing, like in the summer months.

It’s also important to match the fertilizer technology with the season, according to Miltner.

“Many enhanced-efficiency fertilizers’ release rates depend on the temperature,” he says, adding, “Plant nutrient demand varies with the season and turf species, so understand your plants, weather and climate.”


In order to ensure they’re applying the correct rate, LCOs should follow the instructions on the label and be sure the spreader is accurately calibrated.
Bigler adds that LCOs shouldn’t apply too much nitrogen, as this could lead to excessive growth and potentially burn turf. For example, if LCOs are putting down 3 pounds of nitrogen annually, three applications would typically result in 1 pound per application.


When choosing fertilizer, Miltner suggests thoroughly analyzing lawns’ needs.

“Some LCOs are tempted to stick with the same fertilizer they’ve used out of habit. Others may only look at the price per bag and try to save money by going with the less expensive alternative,” he says. “There are good reasons why one bag of fertilizer costs more than another, and it’s important to know what you’re getting.”

Goldsby adds that most LCOs apply fertilizer products containing at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen in the springtime, but during the fall, when temperatures cool, LCOs can switch to quickly available nitrogen sources since stimulating shoot growth isn’t as much of a concern.


When applying fertilizer, Bigler says implementing a slight overlap will help ensure no streaks are visible in the lawn.

Goldsby adds that a deflector shield can help protect driveways and other surfaces from fertilizer spillover.

Also keep in mind regions’ restrictions when it comes to what type, how much and when fertilizers can be applied.

“Be aware of your surroundings and choose products that will minimize potential losses to the environment,” Miltner says.

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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