Green, healthy, well-maintained turf contributes to the curb appeal of many different property types. Proper nutrition is vital to achieving the uniform color, density and growth associated with good health in turf plants. Fertilizer’s role is to provide sufficient nutrient elements for healthy plant growth and appearance. The fertilizer you choose and the manner in which you apply it can mean the difference between cultivating a lush green exterior and just spending money. The best choice for your lot depends on a number of factors.
Three elements essential to plant growth, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, can be obtained directly from air and water. Others are absorbed from the soil by the turf plant’s root system. Some of these nutrients occur naturally in sufficient quantity, while others must be supplemented at regular intervals. There are three main nutrients used in relatively large quantities by turfgrasses: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — often referred to by their chemical symbols N, P and K. The three numbers commonly found on fertilizer containers refer to the relative amounts of N, P and K, in that order. For example, a 16-4-8 fertilizer would contain 16 percent nitrogen, 4 percent phosphate (phosphorus), and 8 percent potash (potassium). A fertilizer containing all three of these nutrients is said to be “complete”.
Turfgrasses use nitrogen for the formation of chlorophyll. As a nutrient, nitrogen promotes foliage growth and healthy, green color. Nitrogen deficiency is characterized by a color change from deep green to pale green or even yellow. Too much nitrogen causes excessive growth and can also weaken the plant, making it less tolerant to heat, drought and disease. High quantities of nitrogen, especially in liquid form, can burn the grass.
Phosphorus promotes root development. Young turf plants, called seedlings, respond well to phosphorus. Deficiencies rarely occur in established turf. Phosphorus is also important for healthy fruit and seed formation, which is why it is more prominent in some garden fertilizers.
Potassium promotes vigorous growth and makes turfgrasses more resistant to environmental stress and disease. Winterizer fertilizers tend to be higher in potassium because it promotes cold tolerance. Plants readily absorb potassium, so excessive potassium is characterized by deficiencies in other nutrients, such as calcium.
Fertilizer is traditionally sold in two forms, granular and liquid, and there are pros and cons to each. Contrary to popular misconception, both liquid and granular fertilizer products are available in slow release and quick-release types. Quick-release fertilizers will elicit a faster response, but must be applied more often and more carefully. Slow release products need not be applied as often, but the initial green-up may take longer. This is why different types may be desirable at different times of year.
Liquid fertilizers can be rapidly absorbed and, therefore, fast acting, but can also cause burning if over applied. Granular products tend to offer more control of release rates and have greater residual properties, but can cost more and take longer to apply. Pesticides blended with liquid fertilizers can be applied at the same time and may have greater efficacy via adhesion to plant surfaces, but the pesticides will be applied to the entire lawn, instead of only where needed.
Fertilizing on-site landscaping is vital to ensuring its continued health and curb appeal. Plants require nutrients for survival, and fertilization is the best method for providing nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable. Just take care to choose the fertilizer knowledgeably, know its chemical composition, be aware of how it behaves, and apply it properly. Following these procedures will lead you to the best fertilizer for your turf areas and proper application will help maximize their curb appeal.