The Importance of Spring Fertilization

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What Is Spring Fertilization?

Spring fertilization is an important part of any lawn care program. When done correctly and with proper product selection fertilizing in spring can set your lawn up to be beautiful and healthy throughout the entire growing season. However poor product selection and improper application methods can lead to unintended consequences that may not be noticeable until months later. 

Before moving into some of the common pitfalls of spring fertilization it’s important to note that, when done correctly, fertilizing the lawn in the spring has a lot of benefits. Turf is generally coming out of dormancy from overwintering and having available nitrogen will help with top growth and speed the process of spring green-up as well as help it recover from winter kill and vole damage. This is also the ideal time to apply pre-emergent for preventing crabgrass. At Nature’s Helper, we also apply Acelepryn for grub control at this time, which will also control common spring pests like sod webworms.

Spring Fertilization Benefits

Spring fertilization will reap benefits all season long when done correctly. At Nature’s Helper, we use the best available product on the market that combines Acelepryn for grub and surface feeder insect control, Dimension for long-lasting crabgrass control, and Duration fertilizers for season-long release of nitrogen into the soil. Crabgrass and grub control products are something most people are familiar with. However, Duration fertilizers aren’t on most homeowners’ radar, and they should be because these aren’t typical slow-release fertilizers and using duration fertilizers can help avoid the common problems that occur with heavy spring fertilization.

Typical slow-release fertilizers are designed to release 50% of the applied fertilizer immediately and the other 50% over a period of 6-8 weeks. That means that when applied at 1lb of nitrogen per 1000 square feet (a typical application rate for lawn companies) half a pound is available to the lawn as soon as the application is watered in and the other half is metered out over the coming weeks. This results in a sharp spike of soil fertility just from nitrogen that is applied through fertilization, but there is another spike of nitrogen that is released during this same time period from ground thaw.

What does this mean for the turf?

Cool-season grasses don’t produce very much root growth during the spring, most rooting occurs in the fall, as well as most spreading through rhizomes. In the spring most growth is directed into the leaf blades of the grass and in late spring reproduction. This is called spring flush growth and outside of having growth regulators applied to the lawn, there is very little that can be done to stop it. The vigorous top growth of grass plants is a normal part of the growing cycle. But there is a difference between vigorous top growth and excessive top growth.

Vigorous top growth is a sign of vitality and health and can usually be managed by keeping a regular schedule of weekly mowing. If there’s an unusually high amount of irrigation or natural rainfall you may need to mow after 5 days to avoid clumping and stressing the grass. The lawn is thick, green, and has minimal discoloration and disease.

How Often Should I Mow?

Excessive top growth is exactly that, excessive. Mowing is required every 3-4 days and if there is a lot of irrigation or rainfall you may still have issues with clumping and stressing grass plants. Turf can often turn an undesirable yellow/green color after mowing due to stress. Leaf Spot disease is very prevalent in lawns with excessive top growth and gives the lawn an orange or rust-colored tint. 

The effects of this excessive top growth don’t go away after the growth slows down either, they will affect the lawn for the entire season. The excessive top growth will cause the lawn to produce an excessive amount of seed heads in the later part of spring which will look very unattractive. Then the grass plant will enter the summer months in a depleted state which is very problematic because the summer months in the Omaha Nebraska area are absolutely brutal on cool-season turf.

By the time summer heat and humidity are upon us, most lawns that are being professionally serviced have had 3 heavy nitrogen applications. The vigorous growth has contributed to heavy thatch build-up, turf that’s been fighting (or is still fighting) leaf spot disease, and grass plants that are depleted of energy from excessive seed head production. Of course, we now have to fertilize these plants to maintain a desirable color so a 4th application is made at another heavy rate. The turf perks up for a bit, but then we start noticing some brown spots appearing in the lawn. The spots get worse as time goes on, generally progressing from discolored grass to straw-colored grass, to dead grass.

This is all due to destructive lawn diseases. Specifically brown patch and summer patch, which are the two most common destructive diseases in our area. These diseases live in the soil and become active when the heat and humidity ramp up. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most susceptible to damage from disease but Fescue can also be affected. The grass is vulnerable due to its depleted state, and to top it all off the disease is thriving because not only is the weather in its favor, but the disease also thrives in a high nitrogen environment. Remember that fertilizer application to perk the lawn up? It’s also feeding the disease that’s destroying the lawn.

What About Fall?

It’s fall now. The lawn has brown and dead spots all over. The only way to fix this is to aerate and overseed. I’m all for aeration and overseeding, it’s a good practice to maintain and improve turf. But the problem here is we aren’t really maintaining or improving the turf we’re repairing it and getting it back to the starting point. Why? So we can repeat the cycle again next year. And if you don’t change your lawn program believe me you will repeat this cycle year after year. I have been in lawn service for over 15 years and if there is one thing I can absolutely assure you of its that this cycle will continue in a downward spiral unless there is a change in the fertilization methods.

Nature’s Helper is that change. Our Premium Lawn Care Program avoids this cycle because our first application of fertilizer doesn’t create spike infertility. The duration of fertilizers that we use in the early spring last through the entire spring and summer. There is no large release of nitrogen to create the problem of excessive top growth. The lawn goes into summer in good health and is better able to fight off disease. We avoid creating an advantageous environment for disease because we don’t need to add nitrogen to the soil when weather conditions favor the disease. The fertilizer is already there and it’s being released into the soil in a controlled manner that gives even growth and color throughout the season.

When fall comes around we have a lawn that’s in much better condition and our aeration and overseeding efforts will improve and maintain the lawn instead of repairing it. The lawn is getting better instead of being returned to the starting point. Our Fall fertilizer application will further improve the lawn by giving it the fertility it needs to develop a robust root system. We follow that up with a late fall fertilizer to continue root development and allow the grass plants to store food for overwintering. 

Your Omaha Fertilization Experts

Nature’s Helper’s Premium Lawn Care Program is a major step in the right direction when it comes to balancing soil fertility. Our program avoids spikes and excessive top growth by using products that release fertilizer in an even and controlled manner. This results in healthier turf that maintains its color throughout the season and a lawn that will see improvements over the long term.

Looking to get your dream lawn? Contact us today to get started!