Lawn Care That is Good
for Your Lawn, Your Family and the Environment!
by Kathy Hoppe
Ah spring, the birds are returning, the flowers are starting to bloom and
the grass is greening up. But wait, how do we keep that grass green all
Despite popular belief, turf experts say that spring is NOT the time to
fertilize northern New England lawns, if you are going to fertilize at all.
Rather, late summer is the best time to feed lawns, if they need it, with a
nitrogen fertilizer. In late summer and early fall grasses are busy growing roots
and storing energy for next season.
Fertilizing in the spring actually can be harmful to a HEALTHY lawn. That's
right. Spring fertilization encourages both the weeds and grass to grow.
So if you fertilize in the spring you will be encouraging the weeds as much
as the grass. If you wait until fall, your efforts will go into encouraging
the grasses, not the weeds.
If you are going to use fertilizer, apply one pound of nitrogen for every
1000 square feet of lawn. Use a fertilizer that includes some slow or
timed-release nitrogen and little or no phosphorus. The bag will explain
how to figure out how much you need to feed without over loading your lawn
with nutrients it doesn't need (and wasting your money). To get the right
fertilizer, be sure to read the bag. Fertilizer is labeled with the amount
of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash (always in that order) that it contains.
For example 15-0-10 is 15% nitrogen, 0% phosphorous and 10% potash. When
you read the bag, you may be surprised. Did you know that weed-n-feed
products contain pesticides to kill those dandelions? Research at Purdue
University has shown that dogs exposed to lawns treated with pesticides have
a higher incidence of bladder cancer. Just imagine what those chemicals may
be doing to your children or grandchildren!
Contrary to popular belief, leaving the grass clippings on your lawn does
not contribute significantly to thatch. The grass clippings provide your
lawn's free lunch. Put your lawn on the fast track to a healthy green by
mowing high (3 inches is ideal) and always leaving the clippings behind.
Proper mowing and a steady diet of succulent clippings make for a healthy
lawn that may not need any added fertilizer. Think of the time and $$$ you
Another key to keeping grass green is water. Too much water and disease
will set in; too little and the lawn will turn brown and go dormant. To
keep it green, water deeply (1 - 1 1/2 inches) once a week if we haven't had
So this spring as you enjoy the greening of your lawn, think about its
health (and yours) and wait to fertilize between Labor Day and Columbus Day,
avoid using pesticides, mow high (not less than 3 inches), and let the
About the author Kathy Hoppe is an Environmental Specialist with the Maine DEP's
Bureau of Land and Water Quality.
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