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DYI Guide to Lawn Fertilization: Pros and Cons, New Lawns and Timely Considerations

Becoming a lawn fanatic may not save you as much money as you think, but you may enjoy taking pride in the process.

When it comes to lawn care, do you want to DIY or hire someone?

If fertilizing your lawn is a chore, you may want to hire a professional. Though you will save some money if you decide to go it alone, it won't be as much as you think, and you may get some of the process wrong. On the other hand, if you get satisfaction out of your beautiful lawn and job well done, and if you possess a genuine interest in the process, the professionals will have a hard time keeping up with a weekend warrior DYI lawn fanatic.

Professionals visit your lawn every six or seven weeks. You get to see it every day. If you decide to go that route, here are some questions for you to consider.

Is the grass always greener on the other side?

Yes it is! It is because grass seen at a distance always appears greener than grass up close.

Is your pre-emergent crab grass killer in place? It should be. The rule of thumb for New Jersey is around April 15. A bio indicator to applying is by the time the forsythia blossoms fall. There are no great post-emergent crabgrass killers. Some work under some conditions. Your fertilizer and broadleaf weed controls are appropriate now, but not so date-dependent. Seeding is best done in late summer, early fall.

Do you know we are in the start of a drought? Where are our April showers? When watering, early in the day is better than at night, because nighttime watering can promote fungus diseases.

Did you know New Jersey now has what some people call the toughest turf fertilizer law in the country. The new law is aimed at reducing surface nutrient runoff into our bodies of water.  If you have a lawn in New Jersey and fertilize it, this new law affects you.

Every company that applies fertilizer to turf must now have at least one New Jersey "certified fertilizer applicator," and anyone else who works for that company applying fertilizer must at least be a "trained fertilizer applicator." Rutgers has a website where you can check to see if your fertilizer applicator is registered. Commercial applicating companies, golf courses, and farms don't have the same rules as homeowners.

For the do-it-yourself homeowner, some important new rules follow. To understand the new law, homeowners must understand the three numbers on the fertilizer bag. For example, a bag of fertilizer with a 10-10-10 number on it means there is 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium, or 100 pounds will contain 10 pounds of each of these plant nutrients.

1. Never apply more than 0.7 pounds of water-soluble nitrogen per 1,000 sq. feet of turf.  Never apply more than 0.9 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 sq. feet of turf. There is a yearly maximum of 3.2 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 sq. feet of turf.

2. No phosphorus may be applied unless you are establishing new turf, or repairing damaged turf, or have a Rutgers soil test saying you are deficient in phosphorus. Organic fertilizers are exempt from these regulations.

3. You may not apply fertilizers when heavy rain is imminent, or to frozen or waterlogged soil, or between the dates of  Nov. 15 and March 1.

4. If your property is next to any body of water, you cannot apply nitrogen or phosphorus within 25 feet of the water unless you are using a rotary spreader with a deflector, a drop spreader, or a liquid spray. When these methods are used the buffer zone can be reduced to 10 feet.

I know this all sounds complicated and technical, but don't be discouraged. With a little thought and some effort, you can still have a green and healthy lawn, and a cleaner environment!

Xavier April 17, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Why is Phosphorous banned when we always read about Nitrogen being the culprit in algae blooms? Is there a cheap/effective way to test the pH of my soil?
bunny April 17, 2012 at 06:15 PM
You can get a soil test kit from the Rutger Agricultural Extension on Whitesville Rd in Toms River. Here is the form and some info about how to do it http://ocean.njaes.rutgers.edu/garden/documents/SoilpHTest.fillable.pdf You can get test kits at places like Home Depot but they are more expensive.
Xavier April 17, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Thank you bunny!
mike April 22, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Just wanted to say I own a fertilization company you are partially correct the old tech pre emergents like pendimethalin had to be down before crabgrass germinated, newer tech like dithipyr aka dimension had pre emergent and tiller post emergent control. You are very wrong on post emergent crabgrass control Acclaim smokes crabgrass at all stages, it looks like you hit the crabgrass with roundup mixed with gasoline.

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