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Fall Lawn Fertilizing Recommendation - October 9, 2016

A lush green lawn is a status symbol to some, while others, could not care less.  Depending on location and personal preference, lawns are a must, while others consider them an inconvenience.  A green lawn, also called turf, can be the cheapest ground cover to put in, but also the most expensive to take care of. Turf can absorb nutrients, pollutants, and reduce sediment erosion. In general, it has a cooling effect, is aesthetically pleasing, provides safety, and produces a lot of oxygen.  So no matter what you think about turf grasses, the main point is, do not over fertilize! Save money, save time, and protect Maryland’s Coastal Bays. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Water pollution is a critical problem in the Coastal Bays. Excess nutrients in the water promote algal blooms which shade submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and deplete the local environment of oxygen. SAV is important for bay health; it provides nursery habitat for game fish, blue crabs, and many other critters. Algal blooms can also be toxic, leading to fish kills. Over fertilization is considered a non-point source of pollution, which can be a significant threat to our Coastal Bays. If your soil is sandy, as it is in many places in the Coastal Bays watershed, excess nutrients can pass through the sand into our groundwater and eventually end up in the bays.

The type of grass that grows best in Maryland’s coastal region is tall fescue.  The best time to fertilize a tall fescue lawn is in the fall. Healthy lawns established for ten or more years only need one fertilizer application per year. Think about how many times you fertilize your lawn, and how much money you could save by being smarter about it. Fertilizing in the fall allows your grass to sequester the nutrients you put down and store them in the root system. These stored nutrients will still be present the following spring, making additional fertilization unnecessary. Fertilizer applied in the spring will go straight to creating leaf material and not into the roots. This is not ideal, and just makes for more mowing. But, before you fertilize, test your soil. Getting your soil tested is helpful to determine which nutrients your lawn needs.

Fertilizers are classified by a set of numbers in this format: 27-0-5. These three numbers represent the percent of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium by weight contained in the contents. A bag of fertilizer will also include the area it will cover in square feet.  A single fertilizer application may contain no more than 0.7 LB/1000 sq. ft. of soluble nitrogen and no more than 0.9 LB/1000 sq. ft. of total nitrogen. Luckily, fertilizers sold in Maryland are labeled to ensure that these rules are followed. Just follow the directions on the package and you will succeed. Be wary of the recommended amount of applications on the bag. Check out this website for fertilization timing recommendations: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/plants/fertilizing-lawns

Proper mowing height of 2.5-3 inches is important. If the grass is too short, the sun will cook its roots. Also taller grass can shade out certain weed species. When you cut your grass, there is no need to collect the clippings and send them to a landfill. Grass clippings contain the key nutrients your lawn needs, and grasscycling reduces the amount of fertilizer you need by 25%! Water your lawn slowly to a depth of 4 to 6 inches early in the morning. Watering in the evening or light, frequent watering will damage your lawn. You should always use a spreader when fertilizing and do not fertilize within 15 feet of water.

The University of Maryland Extension (UME) is the best provider of lawn care information that is scientifically based and accurate. UME works with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to disperse information about best lawn practices. Maryland’s Lawn Fertilization Law was put into effect to protect the Chesapeake Bay; luckily for us it has also protected Maryland’s Coastal Bays. You might ask if fertilizing in the fall is sufficient, then why do some lawn care companies fertilize 4-6 times over the summer season? If the lawn “must be fertilized” once a month for the entire warm season, the company is able to charge that many times for its services. The truth is, fertilizing a cool season grass like tall fescue throughout the summer actually makes your grass more susceptible to disease.

To avoid contributing to water quality decline, be smart, fertilize wisely, and follow University of Maryland Extension guidelines. Following these guidelines will help protect you from over-spending, will decrease the amount of work and time you put into your lawn, and you might even find you have a more beautiful lawn and healthier bays to enjoy. For more information, contact Ginny Rosenkranz, UME Faculty Extension Assistant, at 410-749-6141 ext. 106 or rosnkrnz@umd.edu.

 

Poskaitis is the Watershed Program Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 



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