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How to Fertilize the Lawn

Discover how easy it is to feed your turf with fertilizer. For best results, start with an easy and inexpensive soil test, which tells you how much fertilizer to apply and what formulation to use. (A good choice is a fertilizer that has 50 percent or more of the nitrogen in a slow-release form from brands such as Scotts or Vigoro. These formulas are less likely to leach into groundwater.)

Follow the directions on the fertilizer bag; most fertilizers are formulated to supply about 1/2 to one pound of nitrogen per feeding.

Skill Level: Beginner
  1. Step 1 Determining Fertilizer Type

    Determining Fertilizer Type

    Lawn fertilizers are distinguished by the N-P-K numbers on the front of the bag. These letters stand for Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) and represent the percentage by weight of each of those nutrients in the fertilizer. Nitrogen helps plants grow and green up, Phosphorus stimulates deep root development and Potassium provides all around health and disease/drought resistance. Choosing the right combination depends on a number of variables including sunlight exposure and climate.

  2. Step 2 Measure Out Fertilizer

    Measure Out Fertilizer

    Follow the directions on the bag carefully. Determine the size of your yard then measure out the right amount of fertilizer. Depending on the measurement, using the whole bag may mean you're applying too much or too little. Never apply more fertilizer than the soil test or fertilizer label instructs. Even distribution is key. A great way to do this is to use a quality spreader, which ensures that the nutrient particles are evenly over the lawn, which will keep the health and colour consistent throughout.

  3. Step 3 Fill the Spreader

    Fill the Spreader

    Fill the spreader while standing on pavement so you can clean up any spills. Sweep any fertilizer that lands on your walk, driveway or patio back onto the grass. Remember: 100 percent of any fertilizer that remains on a hard surface will end up in the storm drain or in streams and rivers.

  4. Step 4 Apply the Fertilizer

    Apply the Fertilizer

    Begin fertilizing with your spreader at one end of your yard. This will provide a convenient starting and stopping point for each pass. Pay attention to how much you're overlapping each pass to avoid double-dosing the grass.

    If your lawn is oddly shaped, make header strips (an already mowed piece of grass where a lawn mower can be easily turned around) around its entire perimeter. Leave a 20-foot safety zone around wells and streams where no fertilizer is applied.

  5. Step 5 Spread Evenly

    Spread Evenly

    Once the header strips are down, walk back and forth between them, spreading the fertilizer. Begin walking before you open the chute and close it just before you reach the far header to avoid leaving piles of fertilizer at your starting and stopping points. Shut off the spreader if you must travel over pavement.

    Walk at a steady pace. Your speed affects the rate at which the fertilizer is applied. A moderate speed is best. Watch for dips in the ground, which can cause fertilizer to spill out. Walk in a straight line so the wheel tracks from the first pass will give you a guideline to follow on the next one.

  6. Step 6 Water


    Unless you're using a combination fertilizer, water after you fertilize so it moves down to the roots. To see if watering is needed (and how often), check the label instructions. 

  7. Step 7 Maintenance


    You should typically fertilize your lawn every 6-8 weeks, as when it grows and gets cut, the nutrients in the soil deplete and need to be replenished. Typically you’d feed your lawn once in early spring, once in late spring, once in late summer and finally in the fall, just before the snow comes. This will encourage a thick healthy lawn and crowd out weeds naturally.

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