On Page 2 we finished looking at some preliminary concerns. Now it is time to get to the nitty-gritty: lawn weed control and grass fertilizer application. Ideally, thanks to your fertilization and other maintenance efforts, you'll get to a point where your grass is so healthy that it crowds out most weeds.
As I stated earlier, the secret of having a green lawn lies in providing sufficient nutrients (lawn fertilizers), practicing effective lawn weed control and following the proper mowing regimen. Since it is sometimes possible to apply fertilizers and practice weed control simultaneously, I'll deal with these two tips first, on the present page. On Page 4, we'll take a look at mowing strategies and the reasons behind them.
Lawn Weed Control and Lawn Fertilizers
We know we have to fertilize the tomato plants in our gardens, or the houseplants on our window sills. But it's easy to overlook the necessity of spreading fertilizers over our grass. Perhaps it is because the individual grass plants toil in anonymity, forming, en masse, an entity we know as "the lawn." We tend to take the grass in our yards for granted, as if it's just supposed to be there -- an outdoor carpet that just gets a trim every once in awhile. But it would be more accurate to think in terms of millions of individual plants craving periodic feedings.
So what's the best answer? Satisfying their cravings with "slow-release" fertilizers, which are readily available at home improvement chains. With slow-release fertilizers, you're extending the feeding period (and you're also less likely to burn your grass). That means less time spent fertilizing the lawn on your part.
Happily for those of us who like to work as efficiently as possible, the use of lawn fertilizers can dovetail nicely with lawn weed control. As your grass takes in those nutrients, its root system will expand and begin to cover any bare spots. Weed seeds count on those bare spots: they're hotbeds of germination activity. When you remove those spots, you're hitting weeds where it really hurts.
Here's some more great news on the efficiency front. There are lawn fertilizers that not only feed your grass, but also promote common lawn weed control at the same time. These are the so-called "weed and feed" products. It's a combination that makes a lot sense, when you think about it. Effective lawn weed control should, after all, go hand-in-hand with the application of grass fertilizers; because if the weeds suck up some of the nutrients that you're supplying, those are nutrients being wasted, as they are not going to your grass.
The Scotts company recommends applying lawn fertilizers in four stages. The exact dates will, of course, vary from region to region; another factor is the kind of grass you grow. So always read the package labels carefully before applying. I live in New England and grow a mix of cool-season grasses, so I'll use my own case as an example.
If I were to follow the recommended fertilizing schedule, I would begin by feeding the grass in May with a product that also contains a preemergent to suppress crabgrass. I would follow that up in June with another lawn fertilizer that "kills two birds with one stone." In this case, that other "bird" I'm after is broad-leaved weeds, so I need a product that contains a postemergent herbicide designed to kill them. I explain the difference between preemergent and postemergent herbicides in my article on killing crabgrass.
In mid-summer, bugs and drought are two of the greatest enemies of your grass. Scotts puts out a lawn fertilizer called "SummerGuard" to address these issues. It's designed to fight chinch bugs and many others, including the deer ticks that carry Lyme Disease (note, however, that to kill ticks in brushy areas of your landscaping, you'll have to spray with other products). According to the company, it also improves the ability of your grass "to absorb water and nutrients."
Last but not least, when you winterize your yard in autumn, don't forget your grass. It's not difficult to remember which fertilizers to shop for at this time, because they will often contain "winterizer" in their names. These products are designed to help your grass build a deeper root system to weather the winter.
Take heed, however, to study the label of a winterizer bag before buying, so that you can determine the NPK content. In The Myth of "Winterizer" Fertilizer, Robert Cox, Cooperative Extension Agent for Colorado State University, warns that such lawn fertilizers will fail to enhance the winter hardiness of your grass unless they are sufficiently high in nitrogen. Suggesting the use of a 25-5-5 or thereabouts, Cox goes so far as to state, "Nitrogen applied in the fall is the most important lawn fertilization of the year."
For those who prefer to landscape organically, applications of compost will be the answer (or at least a big part of it). If you keep your grass well-fed with compost, it has a better chance of crowding weeds out (and avoiding pest invasions, too). To practice organic lawn-weed control on the weeds that do emerge, you'll have to resort to good old-fashioned hand pulling, which you can expedite by watering first (weeds come out of wet soil more easily than out of dry ground).
If you're not already landscaping organically but are interested in doing so, your next step will be to learn how to make compost.
But there's still one prominent component of growing greener lawns to cover. On Page 4, we'll see how your mowing regimen affects the health of your grass....