Fertilize New Lawn

laevyboyMay 2, 2014

We put in sod last year in July. Should we be fertilizing in the spring? Any recommendations for type of fertilizer?

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"The Philes Phertilizer Lecture follows:

These new KBG lawns are hungry for fertilizer. Very much like, (and if you renovated, exactly like) a sod farm, those guys that start with bare ground, throw some seed around, and by late July of every year, they are selling product: a deeply rooted, dense intertwined dark green carpet of lush (no bare spots) Kentucky Bluegrass. Now how do they do that every year? (And, of course, the implied question "How come you and I can't do it also?")

They do it with frequent, rather than heavy, applications of fertilizer. Literally, every two weeks, a light application of fertilizer. At seeding time, they start with an 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10. Upon the grass reaching the 'first mow' stage, they add Milorganite, and then it's Milorganite every two weeks, as the weather gets warmer. Every two weeks would seem to you (and in the old days, to me) as 'excessive'. It's not. Not only is it not excessive, it may well be Required.

There's only one difference between the sod farm, with that lush green grass for sale every year, and the typical homeowner here (I'm leaving out the general public: the public is a 2 or a 3, as you know, and you guys and gals are a 6 or a 7. Twice as good. But I'm trying to get y'alls up to a 9, which is where the sod farm is), and that difference is Frequent Applications of Fertilizer.

Especially with KBG, more fertilizer than you are used to putting down is good. A typical homeowner would fertilize once in the fall. Not the first year, but every following year, on these newly renovated (or overseeded) KBG lawns, two full applications are required in the fall.

Spring? A lot of people don't like to fertilize in the spring. A KBG lawn requires an application of big-first-number fertilizer, in May. A newly renovated KBG lawn requires yet another application in mid June. That lawn needs the nitrogen, for all the growing, both above, below, and across the ground, that it's wanting to do, and will do, if you feed it. Density? It requires nitrogen. Color? Requires more nitrogen. Aggressiveness? You already know what it requires.

Even an old KBG lawn, the Merion sods of this world, needed more nitrogen than they received. As proof, drive through the subdivisions of ten or twenty years ago, and look at the lawns: those lawns were not exactly treated like a sod farm, were they? If you want your new lawn to turn out just like that, here's all you have to do: fertilize once in the fall, and once in the spring. That's it. The results are guaranteed.

By now, somebody is saying (and should be), "Is it possible to OVER fertilize a lawn?" Yes, it's possible. But not what you'd think. The 'typical' overfertilize stripes that we all seem to fear came from the old drop spreaders, when the rows were overlapped. That overlap caused a doubling of the fertilizer along that narrow, overlapped row, and it was all delivered in one day. What most people forget, while imagining the scorn of neighbors and children, is that those bands of over fertilization did not last until fall, they went away in less than a month. Repeat: the so called over fertilization went away, in less than a month. The homeowner had not created another Love Canal toxic zone, the homeowner had instead managed to put down more than the grass could handle all at once, but in fact the lawn handled it, and probably even needed it. The lawn just didn't need it all at once. Nor in summer's heat. Disaster? No. Bad delivery technique? Yes. It wasn't too much fertilizer, it was too much fertilizer all at once, and there's a difference, isn't there?

These days, with the rotary far-flinging spreaders, a more evenly spread application of fertilizer is the norm. Now that we want to emulate the sod farms (and their turf success), we know that there's no sin in putting down a half application, in one direction, and putting down the other half application, in the other direction a week later. Now that we want to emulate the sod farms, we will want to feed the lawn during summer, rather than letting it starve while it battles the hot summer sun. So Milorganite, or other organic fertilizer is required, rather than a big-first number fertilizer. At least once in summer, but if you've renovated, or over seeded, that new KBG needs two applications. It needs the food.

So there's my recommendation for the renovators and overseeders: two applications in the fall (not the first year, on the seedlings, they can't use the food yet, as they haven't grown enough yet) at least one application in the spring (two if you renovated or overseeded. That application we skipped last fall goes down the following spring), and you must feed the lawn in the summer: that new KBG needs the food.

So here we are, end of August. You know you are going to fertilize in the fall, probably twice, and perhaps didn't do enough during spring or summer. You can do a half application right now, of big first number fertilizer, or a full application of Milorganite. And still do the regular fertilizing when fall gets here. But your lawn likely needs the meal, and if you provide that light meal right now, before fall gets here, I think you'll love the visible results.

Good luck with it."

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 1:22AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Philes? Is that 'cranky Philes' who used to post in the Organic forum years ago?

I'll try to be more concise, but yes, fertilize in May. Many people watch golf and other sports shows on the weekend TV and get inundated with Scott's advertising. They wind up getting anxious and put fertilizer on dormant grass (a waste of money) or they put it on as soon as possible after the grass greens up. This causes the grass to go into overdrive growth which depletes the reserves of sugar in the roots. It is much better to wait until late spring (May). In fact I suggest waiting until Memorial Day unless you live in the deep south.

What kind? I'm an organic kind of guy and alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) are my current favorite. That's based on cost and protein content. Here is a picture showing the effectiveness of alfalfa pellets on a zoysia lawn.

The picture was taken by Gardenweb member, mrmumbles, in 2011. He fertilized in mid May and took the picture in mid June. Note the improved color, density, and growth. Organic ferts really do work. The application rate is normally 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. If you have not used organics in the past year, then start with 10 pounds per 1,000 to get your soil biology acclimated. These fertilizers take 3 full weeks to see improvement, so have a little patience. Clearly it will come to you. The improvement seems to come suddenly with nothing for 3 weeks and then, there it is. Organics can be used any day of the year, or every day of the year. These grain type fertilizers don't burn like chemical ferts can. Most of us by them at the feed store in 50-pound bags. Cost for alfalfa should be about $12.50 unless there is a shortage I haven't heard about or your shipping costs are higher.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 10:43AM
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I have been using Alfalfa cubes and tea to feed all of my garden plants for the last two years, and I am a believer..
I could not find pellets locally, but I will get some..
Can you explain the process to us newbies, ie, can you use a spreader and how to water in . Thanks, Debra

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 1:01PM
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Thanks for the advice. So you are saying to go with alfalfa rather than fertilizer like Scott's Turf Builder?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 4:17PM
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I can't say what personality traits Philes possessed. I believe he passed away before I found his lecture which I think is some of the best insight and advice on fertilizing that I've ever read. I do disagree that most sod farms regularly use Milorganite and I think he advises applying Milorganite a bit too early. Adding organics to a lawn care regiment has advantages, but it should be used as a supplement. I don't advise it as the sole source of fertilizer for a healthy thick premium cool season grass lawn.

This post was edited by yardtractor1 on Sun, May 4, 14 at 17:39

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 5:36PM
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