Fertilizing Your Lawn
Hey everyone. We're glad to have you here, listening with us today. You're listening to The Shed, with Micah and Andrew, where we talk lawn turf tips and tricks. Obviously today, I have with me, Micah. Hey, Micah.
Today we're planning on talking about fertilization. I would give a more in depth explanation of that, but that's pretty much all I know.
Yeah, so we'll get into some details. Since last episode we talked about mowing, and I know this can be quite a bit of information, being bombarded by, we'll just start out with a really quick mowing overview. As the average homeowner, a lot of these tips are just going to take time and practice to sink in, and adopt into your maintenance practices. Is there anything, any clarification you'd like, for any of the mowing tips? Or just general stuff you should be doing right now in the Spring, in your lawn? How's the absorbing or sponging up of all this information going currently for you?
I feel like it's gone pretty well. Even though I like to mow my lawn, I'm looking for that, when it reaches the 1/3rd ratio. Making sure I'm only cutting off 1/3rd of the grass blade at a time. Went out and measured my mower, I'm not sure if it's a mower deck. It's not a deck. It's the rotary blades. What height they are. They're at two inches, so I'm waiting for my lawn to reach three inches. Then I'll cut off that 1/3rd. Then, I think the biggest thing that has stuck with me, with these conversations that we've had thus far, is having essentially a game plan before starting this lawn work. As our listeners know, this is a new home, for myself and my wife. We just moved in. We have a lot of problems with our lawn. This year, my goal is essentially to eradicate all of the moss that I have, and keep my lawn green throughout the Summer. That's pretty much it, at this point. I think the tips that you've given me so far, Micah, are starting to percolate down. Obviously I'm missing stuff. But I feel like the big things have stuck with me so far.
That's good. I mean, before you can enter the Kentucky Derby, you've got to tame the horse. You've got a good plan. As we go forward with more of these cultural practices, they'll start to overlay on top of each other. As each of these primary cultural practices in mowing, fertilization, irrigation, they all are dependent on one another. If you alter your mowing or fertilization or irrigation schedule, they'll affect the others as well. Once we cover those, and you start adopting each of those principles, that's when you really start seeing beneficial results in your lawns.
Yeah, good. That's good to know. Because right now, my lawn is still struggling. It's definitely looking better than it was, when we first started out. But it's still definitely struggling. Something people have told me is, "Hey, Andrew, you need to put some fertilizer on your lawn". Fortunately, the previous home owner left a bag of fertilizer. I went out and looked at it, and the numbers on the bag don't mean anything to me. It says it's a 28-0-4. Honestly, I just don't know what that means.
Well that's a perfect question to lead into this fertilization talk.
Okay, cool. Should I put that on my lawn?
"I mean, before you can enter the Kentucky Derby, you've got to tame the horse. You've got a good plan. As we go forward with more of these cultural practices, they'll start to overlay on top of each other. As each of these primary cultural practices in mowing, fertilization, irrigation, they all are dependent on one another."
Yeah. Honestly, that's a pretty good ratio. What those represent, right off the bat, you have three numbers, 28-0-4. Those represent N, P, and K. Which are the single letter acronyms for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. There's a whole bunch of nutrients that plants are taking up. That's why there's only three of them. They're categorized as the primary nutrients for turf grass, specifically. Different plants, I don't think this is the case, but maybe three other elements are a little more beneficial or crucial for the health of that plant. Most often, those are the three across the board, I'd say. So when you -
Those numbers are out of 100? Is it, 28 percent of that bag is nitrogen?
Yeah. 28 means 28 percent. Zero means zero percent. Four means four percent. When you look at that, you will use actually those numbers, to dictate how much of the product you'll put down. Or however much nitrogen, whatever actual, maybe it's phosphorous, maybe it's potassium, that you want to put a specific amount down. That's what you're going to use in your calibration of your fertilizer spreader, to know what you're applying. To make that pretty easy, or break that down, let's just say most often on the holiday plan, we're going to recommend four applications throughout the year. Each of those applications, generally we would recommend one pound of nitrogen per 1000. You kind of key on nitrogen, because that's the most critical nutrient for growth for turf grass. By basing it off of nitrogen, the other elements will just kind of fall into place, that are in the fertilizer. What you do is, you've got your 28 percent nitrogen. Well, you take, if your goal is one pound of nitrogen per 1000, picture a little math equation here. Your top, the numerator, is going to be your one pound. That's your goal of nitrogen per pound. Or, per 1000, I mean. Your bottom number would be 0.28. You divide one by 0.28, and you're actually going to get the physical pounds of product that you would need to apply, per 1000 of that fertilizer, to get that one pound of nitrogen per 1000. Does that make sense?
It does. Okay, so I just did it, and it's roughly three and a half pounds, per 1000, of this product. Per 1000 square feet?
Yeah. If you took a scale, it could even just be a little larger kitchen scale, if it does that. Or even just one from the bathroom. Just weigh out that exact amount of product. All the fertilizer. Make sure, there's a lot of tools now. You can actually even go on, gosh, what are some of the tools I just downloaded? I was interested, for this podcast, what to look at. There's actually an easy app called My Lawn, that actually measures your lawn, just from aerial photos of your house. You just click around the corners, and basically draw around your property, and get a quick measurement for area. I mean, there's many other tools. But you want to know the area of your lawn, so you can pretty much calculate exactly how much product you need to put down, over all turf grass areas. Which sometimes, that's probably a little complicated, when you get into really narrow areas, and all that stuff. Especially with how you might fertilize it. If you've got a spreader, it's probably going to be chucking it across, wider than the area that you're trying to fertilize. It might actually take more pounds than what you're calculating, to get specifically on the grass itself.
Okay. This may seem like a dumb question. But how important is it, to get that ratio accurate, at least? I mean, okay, so I see three and a half pounds is the number. Or, is the pounds of product that I need to be spreading, per 1000 square feet, on my lawn. How important is it? If I spread five pounds per 1000, is that bad?
No, and you can always back calculate, to get the number of nitrogen applied. The main thing is trying to catalog or document what you have done on your lawn. So that in the future, if things come up. Maybe every time you're applying a pound and a half of nitrogen per 1000, and you do that four times a year. You're going to be at six pounds of nitrogen per 1000. Which, in your case, maybe with your mower, if you've got to push the reels and stuff, you might be growing a lot of turf grass, and having to cut quite a bit, and working harder than you might have to. Especially with a fine fescue lawn that you have. You might only need a couple pounds. Maybe even one. Or when it's really set in and mature, possibly no fertilizer. It's more just to know what you're putting down. Then also, if you can get accurate in your application, then you're just dialing it in. To where, if you know you only want to put down two pounds of nitrogen per 1000, you want to make four applications, half a pound per app. You're just going to be able to do that more accurately, and save time, money, in the long run, from balancing out your cultural practices for mowing, fertilization, irrigation. All of the above.
Okay, okay. This falls back on that. The whole idea of, information is power. Taking that idea. Applying it to your lawn and saying, "Let's approach the lawn in a systematic way. With practices that are well established, and have been proven to work".
Yeah. As a home owner too, when things go wrong, like you said, information is power. When people come to us at Barenbrug, and maybe ask, "What's wrong with my lawn?". It's either one of two ways, or I would even say three ways. First is just a photo, "What's wrong with my lawn?". We don't have really any information. Then we have to poke and prod. "Where do you live?". Then with that information, and of course historical data, I can look at all that sort of stuff. The other one is, no photo whatsoever. We get a situation where, "My lawn died. What's wrong?". It leads to more and more questions. More information to gather, what might be wrong? The third information is, someone's probably a turf nerd, and already knows every single thing they've done. They list it out, and it makes recommendations or general observation to describe what might have gone wrong, to help them out. The more things you know about your lawn, and the management you're doing with it, then when things do come up, it'll be much easier to narrow down what your problems might be. If you're just practicing fertilization practices in general, then your lawn is going to be a bunch healthier in the future anyway. By health, I mean competing with weeds. Just, the actual planet is healthy. That's ultimately what turf grass is. Once you can fill out the canopy pretty well with a healthy plant, then it's out-competing other things, which are deemed weeds, or detrimental to something. It might be resources, from what the weeds are pulling out of the soil. Or just, it's detrimental to look at. You don't like the aesthetics of weeds. All sorts of stuff. It could be invasive. The list goes on.
Okay, okay. This is really helpful. Because basically what I'm hearing you say is, making sure to document what I do with my lawn, in this case, applications of fertilizer, will help me save money down the road. Because I won't have to take a shotgun approach when something goes wrong with my lawn. I can look at it and say, "No. I've done all these steps". Then based on the steps that I've already taken, I can make a reasonable assumption. "This is the problem my lawn is facing".
Exactly. I see it like, to really dumb it down for myself even, if you have a car and you get an oil change. Maybe you take it to get the oil change done, and they put the little sticker up in the top window. "Come in at this point next, for the oil change", with however many miles. "This is when you need an oil change". Just making a note of that is what you're basing all this stuff afterwards on. For example, if I change my own oil, I don't really have the sticker thing. I could go buy one. But I might just jot it down in a notepad. "I did my oil change at this many thousand miles". Then I'll just know. Add, whatever, 3500. 5000 if I'm using synthetic. Then I'm judging my future practices off of that. You could just chuck a whole bunch of fertilizer a couple times a year, and your grass will probably be healthy and stuff. But you just won't know what you're doing.
Yeah, that's helpful. That's helpful. Now, speaking -
Speaking of fertilization. You've said, and this might be an average. But on average, we'll say I'm supposed to apply fertilizer to my lawn four times a year. Is there a calendar I should follow? Is that twice in the Spring, twice in the Fall? Or is it once every two months or something?
I always forget the seasons of the holiday plan. That's terrible, because I went to school for that stuff.
Oh, the holiday plan is actually a thing that we can look up?
Yeah, Google, "Holiday plan", you'll probably find it in some extension agencies. Or other turf areas. But I believe Memorial Day or Labor Day, 4th of July. Then it is Thanksgiving, and Halloween, I believe. You're basically looking for that first app in the Spring. Keep in mind though, this is for general turf grass. Where you have mostly fine fescue, or you will, your fertilization amounts will probably be half, or even a quarter of the normal amount. In general, the timing of the year is, I wouldn't say quite early Spring. Maybe mid Spring. You're waiting for that first natural flush of nutrients. Which, the plant will do. You see grass really green up and start growing real quick, just on its own every Spring? That's the flush I'm talking about. You wait for that to pass. Because if you were to fertilize then, you're going to be basically baling hay. There's going to be a lot of growth. You wait for that to subside. You fertilize for the first time. That's your Memorial Day time period. Or, I always forget, which one is Memorial Day, which one's Labor Day.
Memorial Day is May 25th this year.
The May one, yes. The May one.
Because that's my birthday.
Oh my gosh, good to know. Jot a note down. Yeah, by Memorial Day. You know, it's just rough estimates. Around that time should be about the first fertilizer app. The second one, you want to aim for, before it gets too hot in the Summer. A lot of areas, that's about 4th of July. Areas that get much hotter sooner than that, you're going to be wanting to put that down before that date. It's just a general timeframe. You don't really want to fertilize in the middle of Summer. It's going to be pretty hot. In some areas, it's going to be humid. Some areas it will be dry, obviously. But generally, a good idea to avoid fertilizing during that time. It might just encourage diseases, and other unwanted growth. Wait for the peak heat of Summer to go by. Thanksgiving comes up, or ... Dang.
Halloween, jeez. I am not a holiday guy, if you didn't notice. Or a date guy. I can not remember dates for the life of me. Summer subsides, Fall starts to creep in. You're applying that on Halloween. Around that timeframe, I'm not sure, many other environments, when they specifically feel this. But in the Willamette Valley here in the Pacific northwest, about Halloween is when the rain really starts to come in. What's happening around that time is, the soil is actually still warm. The rain starts to come in, so there's moisture. Which is also a pretty good time to seed, at the end of Summer, early Fall. Keep that in mind, on that third fertilizer app. You might be over-seeding, under-seeding. To beef up your turf stand, if there's weak areas. But yeah, the last one about would be Thanksgiving. You don't want to fertilize too late in the year, or else it's going to be pretty much all for not. Or again, you might actually encourage diseases through the Winter. Especially in areas where they have a lot of snowfall, or just heavy, heavy rain. Freeze thaw cycles. Some people actually apply different types of fertilizer throughout the year as well. Their last fertilizer, they might actually decrease a lot on the nitrogen, and give it more of the secondaries, like potassium. Or even some ... Sorry, did I say secondaries? Still the primary, in potassium. But a little more secondary, or micro nutrients, to help it harden off throughout the Winter.
Okay. Speaking of over-seeding on that third application of fertilizer. If I'm looking to plant in the Spring, I know this is different than fertilization. But if I'm looking to plant, would I plant before I apply the first application of fertilization? Would that be in March or April?
Sorry, could you repeat that again?
Yeah. I'm just curious, if I'm looking to plant in the Spring instead of the Fall, would that fall in line with my first application of fertilization? As if I'm looking to over-seed in the Fall, that would coincide with my third application of fertilization. I'm just curious, if seeding lines up with application of fertilization?
I'd say generally, yeah. For example, if you're redoing your lawn now. Or, not redoing. But you're going to be over-seeding, or whatever practices you do. Generally, that's going to line up with the first app in an established lawn. It's just, for you, going to probably be your starter fertilizer. If you're seeding, you're going to fertilize at the same time. Which, you do have some grass populations already. If you didn't spray out your entire lawn, that's actually going to help the grass that's already there survive as well. Yeah, if you're fertilizing in the Fall, and seeing at the same time, in that scenario, the third app. Thanksgiving. Or, sorry, Halloween. It gets me every time.
Yeah. If you're seeding in that time as well, you'll have still the normal ratio, with higher nitrogen in the fertilizer. Then maybe still back off a little in the fall. But still make an app there. As a good rule of thumb too, as far as worrying about secondary nutrients. Which include iron, sulfur, calcium, magnesium. Just to list them off for people here. If you're in doubt of whether you need to or not, we always recommend getting a soil test as well. A soil test, they'll come back and tell you how many parts per million, usually. Or higher or lower, depending on the actual presence of the nutrients. With a soil test, you can tell what you've actually got. For the primary, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, you're still going to be applying those. Those are taking up much greater levels than the other ones. The secondary, or even tertiary or smaller micronutrients. Just with the soil test result, you'll have a baseline for what else you might have to add besides the primaries. Usually they actually even give you advice in those. It depends which lab you send it to, and what services they provide. Oftentimes they'll even take PH, and they'll even recommend, "Put lime down to balance that", all other sorts of stuff. Which, that's behind the eight ball on that as well. Because I would like to do that, and see where I stand. Because I still haven't seeded my lawn, and it's all dirt. But yeah, it's really, really good to know. I'd say for people looking to get in tune with their lawn, or at least just know what's going on, that should probably be the first step. Just see what you've got in the soil. Because that's going to dictate the potential, at least, for what your turf grass can do in the short term.
I would assume what fertilizer you end up purchasing?
Exactly, yeah. That might dictate if you, for example, in the northwest here. In Oregon and Washington. Actually, Washington's more stringent. In our soils, the silty loams, to clays, we already have high phosphorous content. Most of the time with a soil test, we'll probably see a high phosphorous level, and we just won't need to apply it. The fertilizer specifically that you're putting down, the 28-0-4, that's got zero, it doesn't have any phosphorous in there. In Washington specifically, I still believe you're not able to apply a fertilizer with phosphorous. Unless, if you can show via a soil test, that you actually need it. They've outlawed phosphorous applications. Because maybe you apply it on your lawn. A little bit gets on the sidewalk. It washes off into the sewer drain. That's what leads to algal blooms, and denitrification in the water sources. Gulf of Mexico stuff going on. That's the reasoning behind that. But yeah, you could get really detailed in the fertilizer game, I guess. There's slow release and quick release. Which, if you go to a store and you just get a bag of some name brand fertilizer, it's usually a mixture of the two. There's water soluble components, where once they dissolve into your soil, or even in fuller application instances, it's going to be readily available, and be taken up really quick. Which, it's also a threat to be washed away via water sources in that scenario. So you want to be careful. The other option is polymer coated, or other coated stuff, like urea. Where it actually holds on, those little ... You can sometimes see in soil, if someone's applied. Ages after the stuff's been used up, little tiny polymer shells sometimes, if it is polymer coated. They look like little BBs, essentially. There are just so many types.
That brings up a good question. After I apply my fertilizer, and I'm certain mine's the mixed, generic kind that you're talking about. Do I water my lawn immediately, after I apply? Or do I wait to water it? How does that work? How does it look?
It's a pretty direct answer. But I'm just going to also, after that, give you the side note.
Micah Gould side note, okay.
Hopefully that doesn't last another half hour. It can happen. The quick answer would be yes, you want to often dissolve that in. Especially if it's sitting up in the leaf blades of the grass. That's what can lead to fertilizer burn, especially if you go with the higher rate. Often, one pound of nitrogen per 1000 can be a higher rate. Especially if you over-calculate, or under-calculate but over apply. Yeah, you want to water it down, just to bring it down to the soil level. It will initiate some of the dissolving and releasing functions in some of the fertilizer. That's a quick yes. Irrigate after. I guess I should clarify. When you irrigate, don't flood it entirely. Even just a little bit, just to mist it or moist the stuff. Maybe it'll fall if it didn't, or keep it in its place. But you don't want to water too much, to cause it to drift off entirely.
Okay, so should I turn on my sprinklers for five minutes, or something?
Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I'm not sure how much output they have. But yeah, five minutes probably is just fine. The only difference here, and a lot of people do this, because the product's pretty heavily marketed and all that stuff. Fertilizers that contain herbicide. What happens there is, there's an actual herbicide granule, that's dried obviously. Kind of like a fertilizer granule. What you want most often, because there are granules where you'd want it to be root absorbed. But for the most part, this is weed and feed stuff that might be dicamba, or 24D, or other products. You want that to be absorbed through the leaf. Imagine, your lawn is dry. You go put this weed and feed down. The chances of that sticking to a leaf blade on a weed, especially a leaf blade that's waxy, like a waxy cuticle. Which is a natural defense barrier for the weed, from desiccation and all that other stuff. To get that to stick, you can imagine, you might need a little bit of moisture. In those instances, yeah. You'll probably, even if it's just a mist, mist the lawn. Maybe again, five minutes. Whatever it takes to get water on the leaf blade. If your irrigation system is a rotor, you want that thing to turn a couple times around. Especially if it's a 360 rotor. Just to actually get the lawn wet. Then you would apply those kind of products. Irrigating first. Yeah, I think you would probably want to refrain from irrigating too much afterwards. Because you'd probably be washing it off the blade again. Does that make sense?
Yep, that was going to be my next question.
In general, it's hard, because I just live in a world where, coming from the level of golf course maintenance, I'd rather just do the two separate. Fertilize in one, and then spray, or even just hand remove. A lot of the time, I'll just take out a little old worn chisel, and just pop the weeds out from, making sure I get the taproot. Pop them out, and just repair those areas where they are. But in general, there's going to be less and less of that, if you are properly mowing, irrigating, fertilizing. That's the idea, from IPM management.
"The holiday plan follows Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, roughly. As just general guidelines for when home owners should be looking to apply fertilization to their lawn."
That's helpful. Just before we wrap this up, is there anything else you want to add, Micah?
I think that pretty much covers it. The only thing I would keep in mind, and especially, we didn't go too much detail. Just to know the species you've got in the first place. Maybe if you've got fine fescue, or tall fescue, you're going to be requiring a lot less nitrogen, or just nutrients in general, for growth in that. I mean, it opens up another side discussion. Some people will want tall fescue, but want it to act or look like a rye grass, or Kentucky blue grass, to be really high quality. It defeats some of the benefits or purposes of some of these plants. Where they can withstand really low nutrient environments. But in general, perennial rye grass, Kentucky blue grass, creeping bent grass as well, they're going to take a little more nutrients to get the high quality look that you might desire. Or just to keep out weeds in general. I think that's pretty much it. I had a thought in my head, but it kind of just wandered off.
Well I'm going to try to sum up everything that you've said, and then you can correct me. Because I feel like we covered a lot. But essentially, from what I can understand, is the holiday plan is a good plan to follow, when applying fertilizer to your lawn. That holiday plan follows Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, roughly. As just general guidelines for when home owners should be looking to apply fertilization to their lawn, and I specifically should. We got the holiday plan. Then we got, the numbers on a bag of fertilizer correspond to N, P, and K. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Then the numbers represent the percentage of the mixture they make up. Mine is a 28-0-4, so it's 28 percent nitrogen. If I was looking to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet, would just basically go, "One, divided by whatever the percentage of nitrogen is", to get the pounds of product I have to apply to my lawn. There's that. Then basically, if my fertilizer isn't a fertilizer with an herbicide, I would water after I apply the fertilizer. But if it is a fertilizer with an herbicide, I would water before, to make sure that it sticks to the leaves of the weeds. But Micah Gould's little plug is...
I don't know if that's my plug. It's just my, I don't know.
But again, it all comes down to what species you have on your lawn. I have fine fescue. But someone with a lawn that has perennial rye grass are going to have a different fertilizer program than mine, correct?
Perfect. In those two differences, yeah. Your fine fescue is going to take a lot less nutrients, or need a lot less than the others. You can either look at it two ways. You can still fertilize four times a year, but really reduce down the amount that you're putting down, to a quarter or half a pound each. Or just simply apply a pound, once in the Spring, once in the Fall. Generally, when you spread those fertilization events out, you're getting more controlled growth. You're not getting as much of a spike and a drop from that. Which, just a little tidbit of information again. The lower mowing heights you're going, like a putting green, they're spoonfeeding that. Probably fertilizing every other week, actually. Sometimes less or more. But yeah, every other week, even applying 1/10th, or sometimes even lower, 1/10th of a pound of nitrogen per 1000. There's a crazy world out there, where all these different variables come into play for different management styles. Or expectations, even.
Yeah, that's nuts. That's nuts. Cool, well I appreciate your time, Micah. If our listeners are interested in more information, they can go visit our website at www.barUSA.com to learn more. As always, Micah, I appreciate your time willing to talk with me.
Awesome. Yeah, thank-you. It's both been a blast.