When maintaining your lawn, it's important to focus on your particular goals. Do you want a
particular type of grass to thrive, or are you just trying to build up the turf? Have the weeds
taken over your space? Once you determine your goals and the biggest barriers to those goals,
you can start a fertilizer plan to help you maintain a healthy lawn.
Test Lawn's Soil First
Before you fertilize, get your soil tested. In early spring, choose a dozen spots in your lawn and dig down 4 inches. You want plain dirt with no root product in it. It won't take much soil to get a good sampling, but you will need to dig down a bit to get a cup of the soil mixture. Mix these samples together and contact your local exchange office or a nearby garden center for a testing facility near you. You need to know the pH of your soil, the potassium, and the phosphorus content before you fertilize. There are strong indicators you can use to determine the biggest problems with your soil. For example, if you notice moss anywhere in your yard, the soil in that area is probably quite acidic.
Use Fertilizer Lightly
Over-fertilization will kill your grass. If your goal is to have a consistently green lawn from street to house, be aware that inconsistent fertilization can cause stripes that will take a while to grow out and mow away. Once you've determined what your soil needs to grow a healthy turf, invest in a broadcast spreader to apply fertilizer in a wide arc. Consider adding stakes to the edge of your lawn just while fertilizing so you can maintain straight lines during the early spring applications.
Watering Is Key
Early spring rains can be challenging if you're trying to fertilize your lawn between downpours. Carefully time your fertilizer application and be ready to stretch out your timeline. A good fertilizer isn't cheap and if Mother Nature chooses to change up your watering schedule, you've just fertilized your local storm drain. If you get a good soaking rain, wait two days to fertilize. Once fertilizer has been applied, lightly water one more time to wash fertilizer product off of the individual blades of grass.
Companion Planting for a Healthy Lawn
If your soil is not in good shape, consider spreading clover seeds across a scrubby-looking lawn. Clover roots add nitrogen to the soil. This hearty plant is also resistant to many insects that destroy grass roots. If mowed short, clovers look good in the landscape. Be aware that flowering clovers will draw bees. Mow early, and if anyone in your household is allergic to stings, consider planting an annual grass to fill in brown spots and add organic material to the soil instead.
Don't Kill the Weeds
It can be tempting to kill off all the weeds in the hopes that grass will get aggressive and take over the empty patches. Unfortunately, many grasses are slow spreading and probably won't fill in as quickly as you would like. Additionally, weeds are an indicator of soil problems and can give you a clue of the next step. Dandelions grow from a large, deep taproot. If you see many dandelions, your soil is probably in need of aeration to get the grass to thrive. If you see a lot of chickweed growing in one patch, you probably have a drainage problem there. Quack grass is a strong indicator of compacted clay soil. Check the pH of the soil in any area of your lawn where quack grass thrives.
Building a healthy lawn takes time. The key is to create a wonderful environment for grass to thrive. This means making sure the soil is healthy and draining well. Once you know the problems in your soil, you can use fertilizers and companion plantings to boost the quality of your dirt.