Fertilize your lawn properly, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy, dense stand of turf that maintains a deep green color and gives weeds a run for their money. Nitrogen is every lawn’s most important ingredient, and each type of grass demands different amounts to display peak growth and performance. How often you fertilize affects not only lawn appearance, but also maintenance level. The more you fertilize, the more you’ll have to mow, for instance.
Using a Broadcast or Rotary Spreader
A broadcast or rotary spreader works well when you’re fertilizing larger lawn areas. Before filling the hopper, make sure it’s closed. It’s a good idea to fill it on a tarp, so you can easily gather any spilled fertilizer. Apply fertilizer around the perimeter of the lawn first, and then start to move back and forth across turf in an orderly pattern. Overlap application strips slightly to ensure that you cover the whole lawn evenly with fertilizer.
Using a Drop Spreader
Choose a drop spreader for controlled fertilizer distribution. Overlap slightly on each pass to ensure you have adequate coverage, and don’t forget to close the hopper when you come to the end of a pass. You’ll typically pay more for a drop spreader, but if you’re tending a typical suburban-size lawn, it’s worth the investment. If you accidentally dump fertilizer onto your lawn, gather what you can, then use a stiff broom to spread out any remaining fertilizer as far as possible. Water it in well, and do so again a few days later to help move that nitrogen down through soil and out of the lawn’s root zone.
Using a Handheld Broadcast Spreader
A handheld broadcast spreader works well for fertilizing small lawn areas. Walk evenly and slowly, and be sure to overlap distribution patterns slightly with each pass. A small spreader like this also works really well when you have shady areas in your lawn that require a different fertilizer rate than the sunny sections. Some fertilizers combine an herbicide with the lawn food. These products are sold as weed-and-feed lawn care products and are applied using a lawn spreader.
Using a Handheld, Pre-Calibrated, Battery-Powered Spreader
Handheld, pre-calibrated, battery-powered spreaders make application a cinch for small yards. Simply flip a switch and start walking to fertilize your lawn. This type of handheld spreader works well in small yards or areas that make it hard to maneuver a traditional push lawn spreader, like on slopes.
Fertilizer and Water
A day or two before applying fertilizer, water your lawn thoroughly. After grass dries, apply fertilizer. Then lightly water again. This second watering is vitally important, because it washes fertilizer off grass blades and into soil. You can also time fertilizer application between rainfalls to let rain wash fertilizer into soil. Just be sure you don’t fertilize before a downpour, or you may wind up with fertilizer washing away, especially if your lawn slopes. Avoid applying fertilizer during a drought when a lawn has browned or withered from lack of moisture.
Grasscycling refers to letting grass clippings lie on the lawn after cutting. These clippings can provide up to 25 percent of your lawn’s fertilizer needs, saving you time and money. One hundred pounds of lawn clippings can yield up to three to four pounds of nitrogen. On an annual basis, an average half-acre lawn in a temperate zone like Pennsylvania yields more than three tons of grass clippings, so grasscycling can play a big role in nourishing your lawn. You don’t need a specialized mulching mower to grasscycle, although you might want to replace your current mower blade with a mulching blade, which cuts grass into smaller pieces that decompose more quickly.