Getting Great Results from Spring Fertilizing

spring fertilizingThere’s more to applying fertilizer than just grabbing a bag from your local home improvement store and sprinkling it on your lawn. These tips will help you pick the right fertilizer mix and apply it correctly to get the best results.

Fertilizer Nutrients

There are plenty of fertilizer blends aimed at different needs from spring planting to winter hibernation, but nothing will get you better results than basing your choices on a soil test. The sooner you submit one to your local extension office, the sooner you’ll be able to lay down fertilizer and amendments to get the right balance of soil nutrients to support your lawn.

Plant nutrients can be broken down into three main groups: N-P-K, secondary nutrients, and trace nutrients. “N-P-K” stands for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The amounts of these nutrients are written as three percentages separated by dashes. If the label on a 100 lb. bag has “20-5-10” printed on it, that bag contains 20 lbs. of nitrogen, 5 lbs. of phosphorus and 10 lbs. of potassium.

Secondary nutrients include calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. These nutrients help build cell membranes, chlorophyll, and proteins. While not needed in high amounts, they’re important to plant growth.

Plants also need trace amounts of zinc, boron, copper and other micronutrients. Having too much of these nutrients won’t hurt plants, so they’re sold together as a micronutrient amendment or fertilizer blend. Micronutrients are readily available in most soil types outside of coastal areas.

Soil pH

Even the richest soil won’t be able to feed plants if it’s too acidic or alkaline. For most plants, the soil pH needs to be between 6.0 and 7.0. Lime and wood ash raises pH, while sulfur or aluminum sulfate will lower it. These amendments can be applied separately from fertilizer, or you can buy fertilizers that have them built in so you can balance the pH and feed plants with one application. Either way, they should be applied to freshly aerated lawns to help them reach deep into the soil.

Aluminum sulfate is high in nitrogen, so it’s used in fertilizer blends to both feed plants and reduce soil alkalinity. If you only need to add a small amount of nitrogen, look for a blend or amendment based on sulfur. Lime is available in three forms: regular lime only adjusts pH, calcitic lime also adds calcium to the soil, and dolomitic lime adds magnesium to the soil.

Like fertilizer, these amendments can harm your lawn if too much is used. Wood ash can leave behind lye and salt, while excessive aluminum sulfate will bleach grass.

Weed and Feed, or just Feed?

“Weed and feed” fertilizers contain herbicides to feed your lawn and stop common weeds with a single application. However, these chemicals can also inhibit the growth of new grass. If you plan on overseeding your lawn, use a standard fertilizer or wait a few weeks before planting new grass.

Fertilizer Application Types

Fertilizers are available in organic and synthetic formulas and may be granular or liquid. Each version has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Organic fertilizers release slower than synthetic fertilizers. As a result, synthetic formulas produce results faster, but organic formulas are less likely to cause fertilizer burn.

Granular fertilizer can be spread by a broadcast seed spreader, while liquid fertilizer must be spread with a sprayer. Moss requires its own specialized spreader that chops up clumps and distributes them on the lawn. High-speed equipment including mower attachments and stand-alone motorized units are almost always designed for liquid application. Liquid fertilizers allow foliar absorption. By drawing the liquid nutrients through the leaves, the fertilizer can act up to 20 times faster than ground applications.

Tips for Laying Down Fertilizer

Whether you use a drop or broadcast spreader, it should be calibrated to ensure even application. Each opening on a drop spreader or nozzle on a liquid broadcast spreader should have a spray pattern that reaches the center of the adjoining opening or sprayer.

When applying, use half the recommended drop rate and make two passes perpendicular to each other. This provides even coverage that reduces fertilizer burn and untreated spots that can lead to a discolored lawn.

When You Need Equipment and Parts, Talk to the Experts at Shank’s

Shank’s Lawn Equipment carries a wide range of lawn care equipment including Exmark ZTR broadcast spreaders and JRCO sprayer attachments for professional landscapers as well as Shindaiwa and Echo backpack sprayers for pros and homeowners. If you’re looking for new equipment or need service and parts for your current lawn care tools, visit our shop at 4900 Molly Pitcher Highway, Chambersburg, PA. That’s one mile East of I81 from Exit 10/Marion.

We also ship OEM parts and accessories across the U.S. and Canada. To order, visit

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