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Evaluating a Fertilizer Program

One of the most confusing aspects of owning a home is deciding on a fertilizer program. Should you have it done or do it yourself? Lots of people sell fertilizer programs, which one is the best? Many people offer advice, but what does the lawn really need? 

Fertilizer 101: The Science Overview

First, you must learn what the numbers on a fertilizer bag stand for. The first number represents the element Nitrogen (N), second is Phosphorus (P) and the last is Potassium (K). All fertilizers are stated in this order: N, P and K. Each number tells you how much of each element is present as a percent by weight. For example, if you see this fertilizer, 10-5-14, then you know it is 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus and 14% potassium. One hundred pounds of this fertilizer contains 10 pounds of actual nitrogen, 5 pounds of actual phosphorus and 14 pounds of potassium. Being able to calculate how much actual N, P and K is in any given fertilizer is important. The rest of the fertilizer is inert ingredients.

Next, you need to know some basic information. Rates in applying fertilizer are expressed in pounds of fertilizer applied per 1000 square feet. Actual amounts of each element are expressed the same way. For example, if you applied 10 pounds of 10-5-14 per 1000 square feet, you have applied 1 lb. of actual N, .5 lbs. of actual P, and 1.4 lbs. of actual K. Professionals always talk about a program in actual pounds applied. So if someone says they have applied 1 lb. of K, they mean they have applied 1 lb. per 1000 square feet of actual potassium.

Ok, so what does grass actually need in a year? The big rule of thumb, accepted by everyone, is to start out with about 4 # (# is short for pounds) of N, 1# of P and 2# of K per year. This 4-1-2 recommendation has been around for long time, but an "adjusted" rule for our area might be 4.1-1-2.8 or so. All programs will need some adjustment due to soil type, desired appearance, and the fact that Mother Nature has the final word. Adjustments are usually changes in amounts, timing and kinds of fertilizer applied. Let’s evaluate a sample program:
This is close to the 4-1-2, being under for N and over for P and K.

Need to calculate your lawn area? Go to Area Calculator

Rules of Fertilization

1.    Don’t apply more than 1 lb. of N at a time, and if you do put 1# on, wait at least 4      
       weeks before applying any more. Think very carefully before you consider putting 
       on more than 4.5# of N per year, because while over fertilized lawns are greener, they 
       are more prone to problems such as excessive thatch and lawn disease.

2.    September 1st is the most important application of the year, and November 1 is the     
​       second. Don't miss these.

3.    All fertilizer programs are maintenance programs. This means that P and K are       
​       present in the soil at medium or high levels. The only way to determine what the soil's 
       P and K level is to take a soil test and send it to a soil lab for analysis. A lab soil test 
       will measure P and K levels and then a plan can be made to correct any P and K 
       deficiencies. The lab will also test the soil pH. Soils in the Northeast usually have low  
       pH, so lime should be applied annually. Soil tests do not check nitrogen levels because 
       N is not stored in the soil and must always be a part of an application plan. If you have  
       very high expectations for your lawn, I suggest you have a soil test performed every   
       three years or so.

4.    You will likely need to make adjustments in any program to fit your desires. To have     
       the kind of grass you want, you may need to shorten the intervals between
       fertilizations, and go to 5 applications. Your soil type has a big influence. Sandy 
       or added topsoil have less nutrient-holding capacity than a clay soil or one with three
       or more inches of topsoil.

5.    Potassium plays a vital role in a grass plant's appearance, and many soils, particularly 
       sandy types, have low potassium levels. Grass growing on soils with adequate     
       disease potassium levels are deeper rooted, has more drought, heat and cold program 
       hardiness, better and insect resistance, and better color. If a person uses the very 
       popular and described above, collects his clippings and is on sandy soil, he can expect 
​       a K deficiency predict the lawn will look poor.

6.    Over applications of fertilizer will also cause problems.

7.    There are many different fertilizers. If you are low in K, 0-0-60 is a good one. If the of 
       fertilizer program you like does not apply enough K, you can make an additional  with 
       application 0-0-60. Don't apply more than 1.2# actual at one time, and don't mix  
​       potassium another fertilizer; make separate applications.
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Always Green, Inc. is a locally owned and operated hydro seeding company servicing all of Rhode Island. Since 2004 we have been providing hydro- seeding and erosion control services for residential and commercial properties. We specialize in planting quality home lawns for a fraction of the cost of sod. 

In addition to our hydro seed and erosion control products, we continue to add additional services for all your landscape and lawn care needs. Explore our site to learn more about our products and services.

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Coventry, RI 02816

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