It's time to fertilize the yard

June 07, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

The end of May, around Memorial Day, is a good time to apply your first application of fertilizer for the year. This follows a conservative approach to lawn care. Research has shown that three applications of fertilizer per year are quite adequate to maintain a healthy lawn.

Before you purchase your fertilizer, you need to know how many square feet of lawn you have. Don't go by your lot size, because on your lot you have a house, driveway, flower beds, etc. So it is best to measure your lawn carefully so you can figure your yard's area, at least to the nearest 1,000 square feet.

Most turf fertilizers will be sold on the basis of 5,000-square-feet increments. Your goal is to provide 1 1/2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Fertilizer is labeled in terms of its percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. Use the first number to find out how many pounds of nitrogen are in the bag.


Most lawn fertilizers will have approximately 30 percent nitrogen. So you'll apply five pounds of the fertilizer per 1,000 square foot of lawn.

But if you have used crabgrass preventative that had fertilizer in it, or if you used a weed treatment mixed with fertilizer, then you have already partially fertilized your lawn. So you need to reduce what you apply now to prevent overfertilizing.

The late-May fertilizer treatment should get your lawn through the summer. Your next fertilizer application should come in early September.

Fall gardening

The gardening industry has seen a very busy spring season. Look at seed racks in stores, and you'll see most vegetable seeds are gone. With the high price of fuel and the rising prices of food, people have turned back to gardening in their yard to raise some of their own food.

With the wet weather this spring, you may not have gotten to plant all of your seeds. Or maybe you did not even get to buy seeds before they were gone. Consider doing some fall gardening for your cool season crops, which will grow about as well in fall as they grow in spring.

It might seem a little early to discuss fall gardening. But if you want to plant a cool-weather crop like peas, find seeds so you will have them to plant in July.

You also can get seeds for vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, cabbage and other cool season crops. Don't garden only in the spring. Use the fall season, too, and include a row cover to protect your plants from light frosts. This way, you can raise your own food into November.

If you don't have leftover seeds, or if your seed supplier is sold out, you can still raise cool-season crops this fall. Keep looking for seeds or order seeds from a catalog. Peas should be seeded in July and your transplants of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in late July to early August. Most of your other cool-season crops can be planted in August.

'Green' yard

The National Gardening Association recently did a study to see if people were using environmentally friendly practices in their yards. They asked a list of twelve different practices. The results showed that a majority of homeowners were only doing two out of 12 environmentally friendly lawn and garden practices:

· They only watered their plants or lawn when they needed it, and they used their water wisely.

· They kept their yard safe, clean and well maintained to add beauty to their home and neighborhood.

Some of the practices that were not done by 50 percent or more of homeowners suggest we still need to educate people more on proper ways to take care of their yards.

Fewer than half of the people said they read and followed the label carefully when using pesticides and fertilizers. This is a really important issue because products we have to select from for use in our yards have changed a lot in the last couple of years.

Labels are extremely important to read, so you know that the product you bought will do what you want. For instance, fungicides will not control insects, yet people try this all the time. It is important to read the label.

Some other results:

· Less than half of homeowners kept fertilizer, pesticides and pet waste out of water sources.

· 44 percent of homeowners leave grass clippings in place in the yard.

· 31 percent of homeowners compost.

· 20 percent of homeowners educate themselves about the best way to care for their lawn, plants and wildlife in their yard.

The study points out we all have a lot we can do to adopt practices that are more environmentally friendly in our yards and garden. Most of all, we need to read the label and follow the directions..

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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