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6 - Common Fertilization Myths

Some people just ignore lawn fertilizing. This neglect may be motivated by saving money and time. However, fertilization is necessary to maintain an attractive, healthy lawn. Even though grass is a natural occurring plant in our environment, even the most common turfgrasses are highly specialized plants which have gone through extensive bio-genetic engineering. The demands placed on these turfgrasses take a lot of energy to maintain (translated: it requires additional nutrients— fertilizer, to be successful).

Fertilized lawns are more vigorous, healthier and result in better resistance to environmental stresses, weed invasion, disease infection, and insect infestations.

Other common lawn fertilization misconceptions include:

MYTH #1: If some fertilizer is good, more must be better.

FACT: Heavy fertilizer applications result in excessive growth. You will need to mow more often. Excess fertilizer applications also increase susceptibility and occurrence of some lawn diseases, and cause additional thatch buildup. Too much fertilizer may actually harm or even kill the grass. Too much fertilizer applied during periods of slow growth or dormancy, can stress the turfgrass even more. Lawn fertilizer applications should coincide with periods of natural turfgrass growth.

MYTH #2: Combinations of fertilizer and herbicides get the job done faster and cheaper.

FACT: This is mostly true, but only if your lawn has weeds. If your lawn is weed-free, there's no need to apply a herbicide, "just in case." Fertilizers and herbicides should only be applied when needed. Kentucky bluegrass grows faster during spring and fall, and fertilizer should be applied during these seasons. Herbicides should be used specifically for identified weed problems. If proper timing is ignored, combination products may have minimal effect.

MYTH #3: Nature takes care of itself; fertilizer is not needed.

FACT: Turfgrass needs a low-level of supplemental nutrients to remain healthy. A lawn is not an altogether natural environment for grass. Although turfgrass is the ideal plant to be cut regularly to keep that soft, attractive looking appearance, when clippings are collected after each mowing the soil is robbed of important nutrients that could have been recycled back into the soil. It's a fact of life that most lawns are grown on compacted, urban soils that are not ideal for good turf growth. Nutrient supplements in the form of fertilizer (either chemical or organic) are needed as supplements to keep your lawn doing what it should be doing best: growing healthy blades of grass and deep, deep root systems. Homeowners can reduce the amount and frequency of applying fertilizers by mulching their grass clippings as they mow.

MYTH #4: Plant food is plant food; if it is good for the roses and shrubs, it should be good for the grass. All those numbers are just too confusing and besides, the government wouldn't allow them to sell stuff that could harm my lawn, could they?.

FACT: First, fertilizers are not really plant food. Plants manufacture their own by turning sunlight into food through photosynthesis. Fertilizers are just supplemental elements and nutrients that plants require in making that conversion.

Common lawn fertilizer contain a balance of nutrients designed to provide the right proportion of elements specifically for turfgrass. Fertilizers for lawns should not be used on flowers, vegetables, or fruiting plants unless those plants require a similar ratio of nutrients (unlikely).

Fertilizers for established lawns are normally high in nitrogen. When used on flowering plants, these products might produce lush foliage at the expense of no flowers.

Some weed and feed products should never be used on vegetables or trees.

And finally, the government can't always protect us from ourselves. You have a responsibility to understand how to use the products you buy and use, whether they're for your lawn and landscape, your automobile, or inside your home. Manufacturers are under strict government control and that's why they put all those warnings on their labels. Take the time to read and understand those warnings. Those warnings are a contract between you and the manufacturer. By purchasing the product, you are agreeing to be bound by that contract.

MYTH #5: All fertilizers contain the same chemicals, so use whatever is on sale or cheapest.

FACT: Lawn fertilizers should be selected according to the season, whether or not the lawn is established or newly seeded. Lawn fertilizers should contain both slow- and fast-release nitrogen. The slow-release nitrogen should be 30% — 50% of the total nitrogen. This provides nitrogen for even, seasonal growth. The fast-release nitrogen is for quick greening. Quality fertilizers have uniform particle size for uniform application. Cheaper fertilizers have particles of variable size and often large particles that do not pass easily through a spreader.

Trace elements are another consideration. Most name-brand fertilizers contain minute quantities of minerals and other important chemical elements that are also important to healthy development. Inexpensive fertilizers may not have all of these micronutrients.

MYTH #6: Organic fertilizers are better.

FACT: Most organic fertilizers are less likely to burn turf-grasses. However, their nutrients are usually made available to plants through microbial activity which means slower release over a longer period of time. Organic fertilizers are also more expensive and have lower N-P-K ratios.

If you have a planned program of developing a natural lawn, then by all means consider the organic fertilizers, but also remember that it is just part of the program. Insect activity is part of the mix, microbes are a part of the mix, as well as the natural fertilizer elements that you might apply. You can't just add fertilizers labeled "organic" without the other parts of the program for it to be successful. Be very careful using any pesticides which can alter the natural balance of your soil.