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Gardening, Lawn Maintenance, and Landscaping Articles written by Kim Lewey

Fertilization Program - Is it for You?


One of the best ways to have a healthy landscape is to incorporate a fertilization program as part of your lawn and plant bed care.  It typically includes a combination of fertilizer, pre-emergent herbicides and post-emergent herbicides along with lime, seeding, and proper watering to achieve best results.  Applications of fertilizer in conjunction with herbicides can help control weed growth but do not prevent turf disease.  So what are the benefits and is a fertilization program for you?

Let’s discuss the turf first.  Cool season grass is typically fescue in the Triangle of North Carolina.  Warm season grass typically includes Bermuda, Zoysia, and Centipede.  With either cool or warm season grass, there are two types of herbicide that accompany the fertilizer – pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides.  Pre-emergent herbicides may be applied to the turf, plants, or flower beds to prevent the germination of crabgrass and broadleaf weeds.  Post-emergent herbicides may be applied in conjunction with pre-emergents to destroy any growth of weeds that may have already germinated in the turf or plant beds.  There should be two to three pre-emergent herbicides applied in combination with the fertilizer for best results. Both fertilizer and herbicides may be applied in either liquid or granular form.

For cool season grass, pre-emergents are dispensed in conjunction with fertilizer from January through mid-June, but should not be applied after temperatures reach 90 degrees.  Starter fertilizer is applied in the fall when the turf is aerated and re-seeded with a follow-up fertilizer application four to six weeks later.

For warm season grass, pre-emergents are applied in conjunction with fertilizer during the grass’ dormant stage, typically December through April.  Post-emergent herbicides are applied also in conjunction with fertilizer during the summer growing season. 

Now that you have the basic groundwork, let’s dig a little deeper.  Fertilizer comes in different concentrations and is applied for best effectiveness based on Ph soil test results in the turf and plant beds.  If you have crabgrass or broadleaf weed growth, despite your best herbicide efforts, you can change the chemical balance of your post-emergent to address the particular weed.  Liquid post-emergents, by law, are not supposed to be applied if the wind is above 10-15 mph (depending on the specific product).   The effectiveness of a liquid post-emergent is diminished if it rains or the area is watered or is mowed within 24 hours of application.  A granular application of fertilizer is slow release, which means it begins activating as soon it hits the ground and breakdowns over a period of time, typically four to six weeks.   Deep-root fertilization is a special application for plant beds that requires special equipment and provides additional nutrients as the name applies.

Now that you know when and how the applications are applied, what else can be done to enhance the results of the fertilization?  Watering the turf or plant bed area regularly will help promote healthy grass growth.  Applying lime to cool or warm season grass in the summer is another way to jumpstart the growth of the turf.  Lime should be applied prior to aeration and seeding for cool season grass and the soil’s Ph level can be tested to determine proper concentration.  Aeration and seeding is another way to “feed” your cool season grass and is most effective in the fall when combined with starter fertilizer.  Again, watering becomes critical for proper seed growth.  The fescue seed will not germinate until water hits it, but once it rains or is watered once, it should be watered regularly.  The starter fertilizer is most effective when followed with another fertilizer application to complete the season.

So what about organic fertilization?  Organic applications will help promote growth of the turf, especially in conjunction with proper watering and lime.  Five applications are also recommended, just like regular “pesticide” applications.  The difference is in the control of weeds.  Organic applications contain natural compost nutrients and may include an organic pre-emergent for crabgrass control but are ineffective in the prevention or control of broadleaf weeds.  It may be necessary to hand-pull the weeds if you prefer to only use organic applications.

Whatever choices you make regarding your lawn and plant beds, consistency is important.  If you decide to go with a licensed pesticide professional, be clear about your goals and ask when reasonable results can be expected.  Ask about your responsibilities so that you are aware when you should and should not water.  Check their credentials and find out if there have been complaints, either through the Better Business Bureau or other referral sources.  If you elect to apply fertilizer and/or herbicides yourself, visit a garden center to make sure you purchase the proper type and spread according to instructions to achieve the results you are hoping for.  Fertilization is a great way to enhance the beauty of your lawn if you have the commitment to share the responsibility for optimal results.

Reprinted with permission from Boom! Magazine, January 2011