Some of my neighbors do not water their lawns, but I have been watering my lawn regularly. It is still not looking very good after all the hot weather we have had this summer. Would fertilizer help improve its appearance?
There is no doubt that fertilizer applied now would help improve the appearance of your lawn. Your neighbors who have not watered their lawns should wait until fall rains have started the greening process to apply fertilizer.
Fall fertilization has some long-term benefits as well. Fall is the time when grass makes a lot of new growth under the ground. New roots and crowns cause turf to thicken. Food produced by the leaves is stored for the winter and next spring. Research has shown that nitrogen is taken up by grass roots and used to make amino acids, which are stored in grass crowns and roots. These amino acids are available for immediate use in winter when soil is too cold for roots to take up nitrogen. The result is a greener lawn all winter and next spring.
Most brands of lawn fertilizer have developed formulas for fall fertilization. They generally contain more potassium, which makes grass more resistant to winter weather. However, I have found that almost any lawn fertilizer works well in the fall. I prefer a 3-0-2 ratio of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium. Somewhere between 21-0-14 and 15-0-10 would be appropriate. Read the “guaranteed analysis” label to make sure lawn fertilizer contains iron. Iron causes grass to turn dark green, sometimes almost overnight. Check to see if some of the nitrogen has been poly coated. Coated nitrogen is released slowly over a three-month period. If the temperature is over 80 degrees, irrigate right after applying fertilizer.
This is also a good time to get rid of broadleaf weeds in your lawn. If you have only a few weeds, dig them individually with a trowel or forked weeding tool, or spray them with a liquid lawn-weed killer. If you have a lot of broadleaf weeds, use a combination granular weed and feed formula. Weed and feed is best applied when the lawn is wet from dew or a brief irrigation. This causes the granules to stick to the weeds. Do not irrigate after applying weed and feed. Apply when the temperature will be less than 80 degrees.
Fall is also an excellent time to apply lime to lawns. I like to apply lime every two to three years to reduce soil acidity. Apply about 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Wait until November to fertilize trees and shrubs. By then, top growth has become dormant, but roots can continue to take up fertilizer. Stimulating new growth now will make some of our more sensitive plants more susceptible to winter damage. Use a general-purpose fertilizer such as 16-16-16 for trees and shrubs.