Keeping your lawn looking fresh and pristine takes a lot of work. Those crisp-looking grass you see in photos and movies are almost never achievable by watering alone. They’re likely maintained by professionals who specialize in lawn care and fertilization.
While professional maintenance may seem essential for Florida homes where lawns can be fertilized year-round, it can get expensive. It’s worth a try to do it yourself if it’s doable, and this guide will show you that it is.
With our weather here in Florida, we care for lawns differently than other places where lawns go through the full seasonal cycle — experiencing both the full bloom in spring and full dormancy in the winter. In this post, we’ll get into that and every other important information that you need to know about lawn fertilization for your Florida home.
What is Lawn Fertilization and Why Is It Important?
Lawn fertilization is like a routine feeding for your grass to make it look more lush and healthier. Fertilization is essentially done during growing season that begins in the spring through the fall season. It gives additional nutrients that aids the grass and the roots in their respective growth seasons. It makes the grass have a better texture through better water retention, and for the roots to grow deeper into the ground.
Lawns don’t get as green as you want it to be with only the natural nutrients stored in the roots and the soil, especially after the dormant months. It’s not enough, especially for the types of grass that have been conditioned to look like lush synthetic grass.
To understand fertilization, you have to understand the natural cycle of plants. In the spring, the nutrients in the soil aid the growth of plants. This is when fertilization usually starts because it provides the nutrients the soil is lacking to make grass as green as possible.
In the fall, the nutrients that the grass acquire from the sun is then sent down to the roots and the soil, where it is stored through the dormant months. This is what the soil uses for the next growing season.
Here in Florida, we have a warmer weather all throughout the year. Some parts, especially the south, can do with year-long fertilization. However, in the north where the weather gets colder during the fall and winter months, fertilization needs to take a pause and then picked up again during spring.
Aside from helping grass grow, fertilization also makes the landscape healthier in general. It improves the grass, the roots, and the soil itself. This makes your lawn less prone to diseases and insect attacks, and endure stress droughts.
Aside from the obvious aesthetic improvement, fertilization also increases the value of your property. Landscaping takes up a large part of your home, and you reap the benefits when it’s well-maintained.
What is a Lawn Fertilizer?
Lawn fertilizers are nutrients that are either packed in granules or turned into liquid form to be spread and released all over the grass and into the soil. These nutrients make up for what the soil may be lacking to support the growth of grass during the blooming season, which is spring.
Fertilizer is what makes the grass as green as they are in movies. It’s the only way to achieve the kind of lush vegetation that you see in golf clubs, as soils may not be enough to achieve the same results.
Not all fertilizers are created equal. Their nutrient content will have to depend on a number of factors:
- Type of grass
- Time of year
- Watering needs
It depends largely on the first one, which is why you should know what you grass is before deciding on the fertilizer or the application to use. Nutrients can also vary at different times of the year. In Florida, though we have a generally warmer weather, it can still get colder during the winter months. Lawns in North Florida are not recommended to be fertilized starting around mid- to late September, while those in other parts, especially the South, some lawns can be fertilized year-round.
What to Look For in a Lawn Fertilizer?
Most lawn fertilizers will have 3 major components: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Nitrogen is for the grass to have a leafy, vivid green growth. It also protects against disease and insect attacks.
The last two promote better root growth. More specifically, potassium is responsible for the plants ability to deal with the water it receives and any stress that might affect its growth.
If you apply this knowledge to our experience with the Florida weather during growing season, the irregular rains and thunderstorms might require lawns to have more potassium to deal with the possibility of overwatering.
On fertilizer labels, you’ll find 3 numbers like 10-5-20. This is called the fertilizer grade. This represents the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium content in it and always in that order.
The rest is just filler to ensure there’s an even spread and less chance of overdoing it in one area. These numbers aren’t always the same, so take note of these when you buy your fertilizer. Get what is appropriate for your lawn’s needs.
Types of Fertilizer
Just as there are different fertilizer grades, there are also different types of fertilizers. Don’t skip this part when choosing the right one because it might affect the grass growth.
Slow release fertilizers
Slow release fertilizers are often found in granules. This means the nutrients are broken down over a long period of time instead of a one-time feeding. This setup prevents your lawn to be damaged if you ever spread too much in one go. Watering also allows to reverse mistakes by diluting the excess nutrients, and preventing the grass from dying.
This is recommended for beginners who haven’t tried fertilizing their own lawns. Or you could continue using this as a preventive measure for the less risky application.
Quick release fertilizers
Just the opposite of slow release fertilizers, quick release fertilizers immediately discharge the nutrients to your lawn. These can be found in various forms, but mostly liquid.
This is often included in long-term treatments wherein nutrients are immediately released to the soil at the beginning of the growth season to boost the process. Then, it’s reapplied a couple of weeks later to resolve the areas that didn’t quite grow as much as other areas. Think spot treatments for your lawn to make the entire vegetation grow at the same rate.
Mostly, it’s the professionals who use this as part of the plans they offer. It’s also more complicated for homeowners because this might take a couple of re-application to achieve the desired results. Better to leave this to the experts!
Granular fertilizer is a grain or sand-like fertilizer that is applied with a spreader. The nutrients inside it are released when there’s moisture. This is one of those fertilizers that require watering after application.
Granular fertilizer is easier to apply evenly, especially with a regular-sized broadcast spreader. It’s best for beginners who are trying to fertilize their lawns by themselves. You can also easily wash down the fertilizer if you happen to overdo it and fertilizer burn won’t occur.
Liquid fertilizer is often applied as a quick release fertilizer because it immediately spreads out the nutrients to the vegetation and the soil once it touches the ground. This is used in massive applications, especially during the early days of the growth season.
There’s a higher risk for fertilizer burn, which I’ll explain more later, when using this fertilizer. This also coats mostly the vegetation and might not be the most effective to reach the nutrients deep into the soil. It takes careful consideration of the timing and the external elements to perfect the application process.
For these reasons, this is not recommended for DIY fertilization. This is what most lawn care companies and businesses would use, but they are professionals who have the right gear and tools for even application. They also are already familiar with measuring the wind in your area and how to work with that to avoid any mishaps.
The good thing with this is you can use water to dilute the fertilizer over a period of at least a week if it’s too strong for your lawn and it was overdone.
Organic fertilizer simply means their nutrients are found in natural sources and using natural products. This can be animal manure or carcass, kelp, and cottonseed. Those are just a few examples.
Organic fertilizer can be bought in granular form, but you can easily use them if they’re readily available to you. Results from this type of fertilizer is seen mostly after a certain period of time. It’s more like a slow release fertilizer in that it takes a while to allow the nutrients to get absorbed into the soil.
Organic fertilizers allow you to slowly build the health of your soil. It results in having a richer soil, which enhances growth for future seasons.
Chemical fertilizers are simply made from synthetic materials or ingredients. They’re created from chemical and is a unique mixture to cater to the specific needs that your lawn requires.
These chemical nutrients are injected into sand or soil-like materials, so it’s easier to spread out evenly. Chemical fertilizers were deemed dangerous and were not recommended to use. It used to be required not to go near vegetation that had been sprayed with it for a time. Nowadays, chemical fertilizers are made more secure to use around people and pets.
Homemade alternatives are called “lawn food” made from organic, synthetic but safe ingredients, or a mixture of both. Lawn foods target the soil and aim to make it fertile ground. There are so many lists of DIY lawn fertilizer alternatives online that use things you may already have in your bathroom or kitchen.
Seasonal fertilizers are a unique mixture of nutrients that cater to a certain type of lawn’s needs depending on the season or the time of the year. This type is usually found in a granular form. It targets specific needs, like growth of vegetation during springtime or root growth during fall.
Seasonal fertilizers are best used in conjunction with one another. That’s why lawn care companies are usually the ones who utilize this as part of their treatment plans that go through a whole year. Using it this way makes you see the benefits better. This is especially useful for Florida lawns except in the north, because our lawns here could be fertilized throughout the year.
Anti-weed fertilizers are an additional feature in typical fertilizers to specifically target the growth of weed. This is typically added to spring or summer seasonal fertilizers because that’s the time when you should watch out more for growth of weeds after months of lawn dormancy.
How to Apply Fertilizer On Your Own: Tools You Need
You can use your own hands to spread out lawn fertilizers if they’re in granules. Otherwise, these are the different types of tools that’s available for DIY fertilization.
A broadcast spreader is probably the most common because it’s the safest choice for those who DIY their lawn fertilization process. This type of spreader discharges granules on a wide span to prevent leaving any area unfertilized if you happen to not overlap the rows as you go through the grass.
This can come in handheld versions so you can use it over narrow areas with grass like pathways. In general, broadcast spreaders are cheaper than other types. It doesn’t leave a hole in your wallet, which is good reason to try fertilizing your own lawn at least once. With the ease and convenience of this, you’ll likely stick to it.
A drop spreader discharges fertilizer on a smaller area. It usually literally only drops it on the area directly below it. This would be a good option if you can be accurate with how you go by rows through your lawn.
It prevents overspreading fertilizer by covering only small areas one at a time. This one is an alternative to the broadcast spreader, but not really recommended for absolute beginners. Watch this comparison video to get an idea of their differences more:
An ATV spreader can also be called a 4-wheeler liquid fertilizer spreader. It’s either a push spreader that you maneuver around your lawn or an automatic device that can go through your lawn in rows to spray liquid fertilizer.
For DIY fertilization, it’s best to use granular fertilizer, so this is not a necessary tool. This is mostly used by lawn care professionals as part of their treatment process. It may be used during spring when it’s the start of the growing season, or for occasional touch-ups weeks later just to fix up any spots or areas in your lawn that need more support in growing green and healthy grass.
Once you get a hold of your own fertilization process using broadcast spreader, you may invest in this, so you can make a better fertilization routine. They can be quite expensive, but it’s an investment if you know what you’re doing.
A backpack sprayer is also used to spread quick release liquid fertilizer. It’s exactly as it sounds because it’s composed of a backpack where fertilizer is stored and a long thin tubular hose that you use to point toward a specific grassy area.
This is a cheaper alternative to ATV if you want a more homeowner-friendly tool to use with liquid fertilizer. If you’re not yet used to spreading fertilizer evenly or with the right amount, consider getting used to granular fertilizer first, then only start incorporating liquid fertilizer once you’ve mastered that already.
When Should You Fertilize?
In spring, soil temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenehit. This is perfect temperature for plant growth, which is why mid to late April is when you should start fertilizing. Usually, if you’re hiring a lawn company, this would be the time they use liquid fertilizer on your lawn. It boosts the growth of your grass and immediately makes them vibrant green, which can’t be achieved naturally.
Scheduling & Feeding Intervals
The schedule of fertilization starts in April during the start of the spring season. Other places that experience the typical 4 seasons usually stop fertilization in September or October in time for the dormant months.
In Florida, we don’t usually stop any time of the year, with the exception of north Florida. Though it doesn’t experience the typical fall or winter, fertilization needs to be halted by September.
After the first fertilization, the next one should be 4 weeks later. The interval between feeding after the second one is 4 to 6 weeks, depending on how often you water the grass and what type of grass it is.
By the third time, you could already switch up the fertilizer with something natural like manure or any other organic alternative.
Winter Lawn Care in Florida
Despite having a warmer weather than almost all of the US, the weather during winter months in Florida still is not a time for further growth. Though I say some can put fertilizer on their grass during this time, it’s not always recommended.
The further you go south in Florida, the more likely it is that you can do this. Seasonal fertilizer is best to use to make sure you’re not damaging the grass. In other areas like north and central Florida, it’s better to stick to the normal fertilization cycle which is from April to September.
Even if grass in Florida isn’t covered in thick snow during the winter, it’s still best that you don’t bother it too much with fertilizer. Make sure you’re not neglecting watering too. Scale back on it, but still water your lawn when it needs. That’s usually if the soil went through a freeze. The hard soil could need defrosting when they freeze up. This also helps the plants to get the moisture and nutrients they need to keep up shape through the winter.
Some fertilizers would require watering the grass before or after application. With granules, you typically have to water after because they may need moisture to help break down and release the nutrients.
You can’t do the same with liquid fertilizer because you might wash it off the grass or dilute the fertilizer. However, it might require your lawn to be wet before application for better absorption.
If you use a scheduled sprinkler system, add more time in between feedings (1-2 weeks more than usual). Watering more means less less frequent fertilization.
What is Fertilizer Burn
Fertilizer burn is the effect on grass when you put too much fertilizer on a specific area. It turns to brown or the vegetation dies completely down to the root. Other ways this could happen is if the fertilizer didn’t get to properly be absorbed into the soil, if the fertilizer don’t work for the type of grass you have, or if the wrong fertilizer was used for a specific season.
Too much fertilization and lack of knowledge may be worst than not fertilizing at all. Make sure to research thoroughly, especially about the type of grass, before deciding on the fertilizer. When it comes time to apply it, don’t overdo it.
How to Prevent or Reverse Fertilizer Burn
The best way to prevent fertilizer burn from happening is to water your grass after fertilizing it. You’ll notice signs of fertilizer burn if the grass starts to turn brown a few days after application. When this happens, continue watering the grass for a week to encourage further release and absorption of nutrients into the soil. If you act upon it accordingly, you can turn what would otherwise be a loss into healthier grass and richer soil.
Lawn Fertilization Tips
When it comes to DIY-ing lawn fertilization, it’s best to be overeducated. The slightest mistake can make your grass wilt more than grow. Here are little tips and tricks to prevent from having those beginner mistakes.
- Know the type of grass you have and determine the health of your soil. Your soil may be nutrient deficient and need to be enriched with nutrients before being able to support growth of your grass.
- Research the right fertilizer or fertilizer grade for the type of grass you have.
- Test the fertilizer on a small portion of grass first.
- The goal is to get the grass as green as possible without speeding up growth in the process. You want to minimize the mowing during growing season.
- Depending on the type of grass, you might have to feed it more fertilizer if you also water more.
- When you mow, keep the cut grass on the lawn. It becomes additional organic fertilizer as it decomposes and adds promotes growth in the next blooming season. This is called grasscycling.
- When the rains get less frequent, water when the grass is showing signs of stress.
- Use sensors that keep track of the level of moisture in your soil. Minimize watering, especially when it rains often. Otherwise, opt for minimized watering.
- Watering early in the morning prevents evaporation without encouraging the development of mold through the night.
- During colder months, water very minimally. Only about half an inch of water for the soil would be enough as there would be moisture in the humid air. Water a bit more when the grass starts turning brown, which is a sign of slight water deprivation.
- Make sure that water gets absorbed deep into the soil to feed the deep roots. Don’t make water easily accessible only on the surface of the soil.
Lawn fertilization makes a huge difference when it comes to your landscaping. It can give you peace of mind having a rich and healthy vegetation every time you go out. It also gives your neighbors a nice view of your home.
Lawn fertilization may be intimidating to beginners. Let me tell you, that’s just in the beginning. It’s worth a try, but I warn you, seeing great results makes it easier and more motivating to do.