What Is Nitrogen Used For In Lawns
Nitrogen is one of the most important major nutrients for lawns, and many an avid gardener is aware of this. Nitrogen is the nutrient responsible for greening the leaf of the grass, and when we apply a nutrient rich fertilizer to our lawns we can be well pleased with the greener lawn we see as a result.
This instant greening effect can become a both a habit and a problem, for when the lawn starts receiving too much Nitrogen too often, the lawn and the soil which supports it can become sick.
Problems Caused By Too Much Nitrogen
The main issue with applying excessive amounts of Nitrogen to lawns is the fact that we are not providing a balanced diet to the lawn. Lawns and plants in general still need the other two main nutrients of Potassium and Phosphorous, as well as all the minor nutrients often referred to as Trace Elements.
When a Nitrogen rich fertilizer is constantly applied to turf we are doing nothing to aid in it’s long term health whatsoever. Eventually the lawn will suffer very badly because of this neglect and lack of other vital nutrients.
Another cause of concern is that an abundance of Nitrogen will burn the lawn. In the same way that a dog’s urine burns spots in the lawn due to condensed Nitrogen being applied. Over a few applications or even a single heavy application of Nitrogen rich fertilizer – the entire lawn can become literally burnt.
The final problem is that when all this excess Nitrogen is applied it can have devastating impacts on beneficial soil organisms, microbial soil life, worms and many other friendly insects and bugs which live in the soil. The soil supports our lawn, without it – we have no lawn, so we need to look after it as a first priority.
Choosing A Fertilizer
Ferilizers should always be as balanced as possible. The N:P:K rating – those number on the front of the fertilizer bag indicate the major nutrient in the fertilizer. The first number is Nitrogen, the second is Phosphorous and the last number is Potassium.
When choosing a lawn fertilizer, we want to keep these close to being even. It’s OK for the Nitrogen to be a little higher than Phosphorous and Potassium but we don’t want huge disparities. An NPK like 40 : 2 : 10 would be very bad – whereas something more balanced like 10 : 5 : 5 is excellent – or even 20 : 10 : 10, you get the idea!
Liquid Lawn Fertilizers
Liquid Lawn Fertilizers are a lawn fertilizer product which is in a liquid form, most of these products are sold in a container which can be easily attached to a garden hose, The water from the hose then mixes with the concentrated liquid lawn fertilizer, dilutes it and the spray is released from the exit point on the container, and directed onto the lawn by the person applying the product.
Liquid lawn fertilizer is a very quick and easy method of applying fertilizer to a lawn, it’s effects are almost immediate due to the way the fertilizer is taken up by the lawn. Once applied, the liquid fertilizer is left to sit on the leaf of the lawn and is then absorbed very quickly through the leaf, with an equally quick effect on promoting the lawn’s health.
Many of these spray on fertilizers also contain a weeding product which can help in controlling weeds. It is important to remember that the herbicide being used in these products will be very weak and have limited impact on controlling weeds on a long term or efficient basis. These products which contain the herbicide are often not suitable for use on Saint Augustine lawns, so always check the product label before purchase and before use.
This method of lawn fertilizing may seem like a very good idea, and in many cases it can be, but there are some downsides to this method.
Usually the fertilizer being used is weaker than what would be found when using a granular fertilizer, this weakening of the fertilizer is done on purpose in order to make it a safer product for the homeowner to use. This is because if a high level of Nitrogen were left to sit on the leaf of the lawn for a long period of time, and on a hot day, the the Nitrogen would burn the lawn leaf and possibly cause great damage or death to the lawn.
Also, due to the weak nutrient makeup of liquid lawn fertilizers, and combined with the use of the product which is supposed to sit on the lawn leaf, a problem can occur if it rains. The end result is that the ferilizer you’ve just paid for gets washed away, the lawn gets no nutrients, and the nutrients which were washed away by the rain now end up in our drains and our water ways adding to the damage which continues to harm our environment.
Fertilizing Cool Season Grasses
Fertilizing Cool Season Lawns requires a slightly different routine than fertilizing Warm Season Grasses, this is mainly due to the fact that the Cool Season Grasses are often subject to extremes of cold, snow and possibly ice during their Winter period. So fertilizing these lawns must be done at the optimum time when the lawn can best use the nutrients to gain the greatest benefit for their long term health, survival and most importantly, to use these nutrients in order to flourish and makes our lawns look their best.
As mentioned in other lawn care articles, Cool Season Grasses include lawn types such as Kentucky Blue Grass, Tall Fescues, Fine Fescues, Rye Grass, Titan and Thermal.
Lawn fertilizers for Cool Season Grasses really aren’t that specialized when compared to other lawn fertilizers, however to make things easier, you will find that the gardening stores in your local area will stock fertilizers which are best suited for use on lawn types in their given area, and this makes the choice of lawn fertilizers so much easier for us.
The best times to fertilize Cool Season Grasses is during their periods of active growth and optimum health which is in the Spring and Fall seasons. Fertilizing should begin at the beginning of both of these seasons. Applications of fertilizers should be on the minimum side of manufacturers recommendations and applied either two months apart when using recommended dosages, or one month apart if using a lower dosage such as half manufacturers recommended levels.
The other great advantage to using this system is that we are preparing the lawn to be in optimum health for both the heat of Summer and the cold of Winter, giving the lawn the greatest chance of survival for both seasons, and allows the lawn to be in it’s best level of health possible to fend off weed infestations during the Summer.
Fertilizing Cool Season Turfgrasses in the Summer is not necessary, and is most often detrimental to lawns during the heat. This is because most Cool Season lawns will be under a high amount of stress as the weather heats up because they are just not suited to withstanding hot weather. Any application of fertilizers during this time will have no effect, or may even damage the turfgrass by applying an excess of nutrient which the lawn cannot use, so it is often left sitting in the thatch layer or in the topsoil which can possibly allow the Nitrogen to burn the leaves and roots of the lawn in the heat.
If your region doesn’t put your Cool Season lawn into heat stress in the Summer, and the lawn continues to prosper in a milder region, then fertilizing lawns can be continued throughout the Summer as well. In this case simply spread the fertilizer applications evenly throughout the seasons of Spring to Summer to Fall, ensuring a good application prior to the onset of cold which can boost the resistance of the lawn to the coming Winter.
Fertilizing Warm Season Grasses
Fertilizing Warm Season Grasses can be continued throughout the year and through all seasons in many areas of the United States. This allows us to more easily manage the nutrients which go onto our lawns to achieve the greatest results for our lawns in all seasons of the year.
Warm Season Grasses include lawn types such as Bermuda Grass, Centipede Grass, Zoysia Grass and Saint Augustine, all these grasses are most easily recognizable by the runners (stolons) which intertwine with each other to form the lawn and allow it to re-grow, repair itself and spread.
A good fertilizing regime for Warm Season Turfgrasses should begin at the beginning of Spring using a high quality granular lawn fertilizer, from that first application, further applications of lawn fertilizer should be applied every two months throughout the growing seasons of Spring, Summer and Fall.
The last application of Lawn Fertilizer which is due in the Fall should be a Winter style of fertilizer which will enable the lawn to best prepare itself for the colder weather of Winter. This same Winter style fertilizer can continue to be applied throughout the Winter months if Winters are mild in your area. We simply apply it like regular fertilizer, still following the same two monthly application routine. A Winter style lawn fertilizer is much the same as regular lawn fertilizers, with a slightly different nutrient make-up, and the addition of the most important nutrient for Winter Lawn Care which is Iron.
If applying a Winter Fertilizer which contains Iron, it is highly important to wash down any pathways surrounding the lawn which may have had some stray fertilizer granules land on it. If not washed off, the Iron content can break down on the pathways and permanently stain them with rust.
The application which is due in the middle of Summer can often be considered optional, the rule of thumb of fertilizing a Warm Season Lawn for the Summer application is if the lawn is already flourishing and doing very well at this time, then there is often no need to fertilize, so this application can be ignored. However, if the lawn is not doing so well or is lacking health or vitality at this time, and enough water is being applied for the lawn to be actively coping with the heat, then by all means… put an application of fertilizer down at this time, and being careful not to apply fertilizer on days of extreme heat over 100 degrees F, Also ensure that the lawn can be watered immediately after this application so the fertilizer can be dissolved into the soil as quickly as possible.
Any fertilizer residue left on the leaves of the lawn in temperatures of extreme heat can burn, damage or even kill areas of turf. The Nitrogen in fertilizer is responsible for this which is the reason for the importance of watering the fertilzer into the soil as fast as possible after application.
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