From the Red Hen Turf Farm “Frequently Asked Question” File – “Is it REALLY TIME to WINTERIZE my LAWN?”

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RED HEN FAQ – “Is it REALLY TIME to WINTERIZE my LAWN?”

RED HEN’s RESPONSE:  This time of year, we hear a lot about applying a “winterizer” fertilizer on our lawns over the fall months.

The term “winterizer” has been coined to market various lawn fertilizer products for some 30 years, typically used to sell all sorts of fertilizer blends for applications timed from early late August through late November.

According to claims, a winterizer will enhance winter hardiness of your grass and will encourage thick and rapid growth and rooting in the spring. BUT IS THIS REALLY TRUE? 

MAYBE, but only if the fertilizer is high in nitrogen, and to know whether your fertilizer is high in nitrogen, you can read the N-P-K percentages (Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium percentages) on a bag of fertilizer.  To find out more about how to read the numbers on a fertilizer bag and tips for applying fertilizer, check out our previous blog post by clicking here.  Naturally, you’ll always want to follow the directions on the fertilizer bag.

To find out more about how to read the numbers on a fertilizer bag and tips for applying fertilizer, check out our previous blog post by clicking here. N-P-K - What are they for?

THE “N” in N-P-K

With the types of cool-season grasses most commonly used in lawns throughout northwestern Indiana, the most important nutrient for fall fertilization, as with earlier-season applications, is NITROGEN. You should be using a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as Red Hen Turf Farm’s 25-0-10 or something with a similar formula. Don’t worry whether your bag of fertilizer is or isn’t labeled specifically as a “winterizer” … your grass won’t be able to tell the difference.

THE “P” in N-P-K

Does your lawn need a boost of PHOSPHORUS?  Maybe, but you’d need to have a soil test done to know for sure. The amount of Phosphorus needed by the grass plant is significantly less than Nitrogen or Potassium. YES – Phosphorus has positive effects on new grass establishment, rooting, and root branching, and it plays an important role during the early grass seedling growth and development stages.  Unless a soil test indicates a need, Phosphorus in fertilizer should NOT be applied to established turf.  Red Hen Turf Farm’s 25-0-10 fertilizer is a perfect Zero-Phosphorus choice.

CLICK HERE for Red Hen's information on how to obtain a soil test kit

THE “K” in N-P-K

The second-most important nutrient for fall fertilization is POTASSIUM (K).  Winterizing fertilizers are also often high in potassium, and can be applied in spring as well as in the fall. Potassium is used all year by your lawn, and helps with heat and cold tolerance, disease resistance, and other stress tolerances.  To our lawns, the need for Potassium is like our need for Calcium.  We can get away without it to some extent, but to be truly healthy, people need Calcium and lawn grass needs Potassium.  

LIME

Have you heard that you should apply lime to your lawn annually?  A lot of “experts” recommend lime (especially in the fall) as a way of adjusting the pH of your soil to make it less acidic.  The idea behind liming your lawn is that you are trying to raise the soil pH near neutral to increase the availability of most plant nutrients.  

While proper soil pH is necessary to achieve a healthy, attractive lawn, most Indiana soils under turfgrass do not need liming.  Red Hen Turf Farm does NOT recommend that you blindly follow this annual ritual unless you have done a recent soil test that indicates you need to adjust your soil pH.   

So WHEN should you “winterize” your lawn?

According to Purdue Turf Tips, “The late-fall or November application timing should be near or after the last mowing of the year, but while lawn is still green. Typically, there may be a month or more between your last mowing and the time the grass turns brown or goes under snow cover. Generally the first few weeks of November are when to apply.”

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

While your other fertilizer applications are best applied when the grass roots are actively growing, a winterizer is geared toward taking advantage of the the time period when your grass is NOT actively growing. If you’re curious about some of the more technical aspects of why winterizing in late-fall or November is recommended, check out Zac Reicher, Purdue University Professor/Turfgrass Extension Specialist’s brief Turf Tips article, “Turf 101: Why does a November application of fertilizer work?

Not sure where to start?  (HINT:  START with finding out how healthy your particular soil is and what nutrients your soil may be lacking by having a certified lab do a SOIL TEST, with Red Hen’s help on interpreting the results and making recommendations for your yard with your goals and concerns in mind.  Here’s the Link to our 2020 Soil Test instructions and pricing … We’d love to tell you more about this – just give us a call at 574-232-6811!)

Having issues with your lawn that you’re not sure how to deal with?

Are you ready to take a more informed approach to your lawn care?

Contact Red Hen Turf Farm at 574-232-6811, and we’ll be happy to chat with you.  Our current hours are POSTED HERE.

LEARN MORE

Links Updated 08/15/20

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Late-Spring/Early Summer Lawn Care Tips for a Beautiful Lawn All Summer Long – Part 2 of 3

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Tip #2 (of 3)

– The Best Time to FERTILIZE Your SOIL is

When your GRASS ROOTS are ACTIVELY GROWING –

“If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it’s because they take better care of it.” – Cecil Selig

  NPK RatingsLend Mother Nature a Hand – Mother Nature has her ways of naturally fertilizing your lawn’s soil.  For example, did you know that during lightning storms, nitrogen atoms are released which are then absorbed by the rain, and when the rain hits your lawn, the nitrogen goes into the soil and your lawn is fertilized? There are at least 17 essential nutrients required for plant growth.  Plants get these nutrients from the air, soil and water.

Typically, even with Mother Nature’s best efforts to REPLENISH these nutrients, your lawn still needs help from you to be lush and green.  Commercial fertilizers contains many of the nutrients that nourish your grass as it grows, including the 3 nutrients at are most crucial to plant growth:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K) 

On bags of store-bought Fertilizer, you always see 3 Numbers that represent the N-P-K Rating.  If you want to learn more about these N-P-K numbers, check out this Wikipedia article.  Basically, each number is the percentage of N-P-K in the fertilizer.

For example, a 50 pound bag of 25-0-10 fertilizer is made up of:

  • 25% Nitrogen (N) … so 12.5 pounds of the bag’s contents is Nitrogen
  • 0% Phosphorus (P)
  • 10% Potassium (K) … so 5 pounds of the bag’s contents is Potassium
  • 65% other materials like fillers, carriers, etc. that help improve the flowability of the fertilizer, make the nutrient analysis possible, or condition the fertilizer to have special traits …
Cool Season Grasses vs. Warm Season Grasses –

There are a multitude of grass varieties, but did you know that they basically fit into 2 categories of grass types … Cool Season type Grasses and Warm Season type Grasses? Each grass type is better suited for either warmer or cooler climates, and is sensitive to factors like air temperature, soil temperature, moisture, and soil type.

Q: What type of Grasses are best suited for the climate here in Indiana?  A: If you guessed Cool Season Grasses, you are CORRECT.

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

Image Source: http://www.american-lawns.com/grasses/grasses.html

Again, grass (like any plant) needs Nitrogen and other essential nutrients, especially during times of active root growth.  If you fertilize your grass when it’s naturally dormant, you’re wasting fertilizer (and money!) The healthier and more vigorous your lawn is, the better it can hold up to stress from heat, drought, traffic, and pets. Grasses also grow best with a REGULARLY SUPPLIED application of nitrogen and other nutrients, so if you space your fertilizer applications too far apart, then your grass will grow fine for a while, then slow way down, and then speed up again with the next application. An irregular supply of fertilizer leads to uneven growth spurts and actually puts stress on your grass, giving it little competitive ability against weeds and disease. cool v warm season grasses

Fertilizing with Step Programs … Uninformed Customers = Big Money for Lawn Fertilizer Companies  –

Lawn Fertilizer Companies stand to make a lot of money from prescribing 4-Step and 5-Step fertilizer programs that do NOT take into account YOUR GOALS for how “perfect” you want your lawn to look or the UNIQUE NUTRITIONAL NEEDS of your lawn.

Q:  Since every lawn has its own unique history of maintenance, use, and abuse, HOW can you possibly know what nutrients your lawn’s soil is lacking (or has too much of)? A:  Have your soil tested by a certified lab.  At Red Hen Turf Farm, we recommend that you do a soil test for every 10,000 sq. ft. of lawn, every 3 years.  We regularly use A&L Great Lakes Laboratories for our farm fields’ soil testing, and feel confident about recommending them to our customers.  The current cost is $8.35 per each soil sample, plus the cost of shipping the soil test bags to the lab. If you use our Soil Testing Procedures (available by CLICKING HERE), the results are sent to us and we will translate them into layman’s terms and work with you to make recommendations for fertilizing your lawn based on its particular nutritional needs.

So, WHAT are your GOALS for your Lawn this year?  Generally, the more pristine you want your lawn to look, the more “steps” or applications of fertilizer you’ll need plan on doing.

Fertilizer burn on a Kentucky bluegrass lawn   - Image Source: Purdue Turf Tips Website

Fertilizer burn on a Kentucky bluegrass lawn – Image Source: Purdue Turf Tips Website

First, it is important to know that if you apply too much Nitrogen at once, you will probably end up burning your grass. To avoid the chemical burn from too much Nitrogen, you’ll want to apply no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet with each application. Also (and please read this sentence ONE MORE TIME): It is very important to read the label on the fertilizer bag. 

My Goal is a Picture-Perfect Lawn (Highest Maintenance – 3 to 5 Steps): 
  • Fertilize your lawn once every 6-8 weeks during its active-growth periods.
  • Generally, this means that each year, you’ll want to apply 3 to 4 pounds of Nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
  • For regular, even feeding of your lawn, break up the yearly requirement of Nitrogen into the appropriate number of applications … For instance, for Cool Season Grasses plan on 1-2 fertilizer applications in the Spring and 2-3 applications in the Fall.

 

My Goal is a Pretty, But Not-Quite-Perfect Lawn (Lower Maintenance – 2 Steps): 
  • Fertilize once in Spring and once in Fall for Cool Season Grasses and you will still have a pretty nice lawn.
  • A lower-maintenance lawn typically requires 1 to 2 pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year so, again, break up the yearly requirement of Nitrogen between these 2 applications.

 

My Goal is to Fertilize as Little as Possible and Still Have a Decent-Looking Lawn (Lowest Maintenance – 1 Step): 
  • Fertilize Cool Season Grasses once a year in the Fall, but remember to apply no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Whichever way you go, here are some tips from Purdue Extension for how to apply your fertilizer, although here at Red Hen Turf Farm, we recommend using a high-quality, properly calibrated Broadcast Spreader (aka Rotary Spreader) rather than hand-held Drop Spreaders (aka Gravity Spreaders) because Drop Spreaders generally take a lot more time to use, and they tend to give you a more consistent spread pattern.

Red Hen Turf Farm … Yep, We Sell Fertilizer, But We Want to Help You Make Informed Decisions Even if You Don’t Buy From Us

So, here we are.  It’s northwestern Indiana in mid-June, and for the majority of homes have Cool Season Grasses to tend to, and you still have time to nourish your lawn with your second (or even your first) late-Spring round of fertilizer.

  • If you’re dealing with dandelions and other broadleaf weeds, you could go with our phosphorus-free 22-0-5 + Trimec Fertilizer (a combination fertilizer / broadleaf week killer + Iron).
  • If you’re looking for a good all-around fertilizer without any weed or pest-control, our 25-0-10 Fertilizer is a good (also phosphorus-free) choice that has an extra boost of Potassium (K).  Potassium helps plants by increasing disease resistance, strengthening cell walls, increasing winter hardiness and drought resistance
  • If you’d prefer a more organic approach, something like Suståne’s Natural Lawn & Landscape Fertilizer might be the way to go.

Not sure where to start?  Having issues with your lawn that you’re not sure how to deal with? Are you ready to take a more informed approach to your lawn care? Contact Red Hen Turf Farm at 574-232-6811, and we’ll be happy to chat with you.  Our current hours are Monday – Friday 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM EST, and Saturday from 7:30 AM – 11:30 AM EST.  

In case you missed Part 1 in this series, check out

“How to Know if You REALLY Have a White Grub Problem (and Chances are, You DON’T)”

…and… COMING SOON

PART 3 OF 3 (sort of) 

The Window for a Fall Grass Seed Planting Will Be Here and Gone Before You Know It! 

 

 

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Low potassium fertilizers, bad for lawns, good for profits.

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In 2007, when the price of fertilizers went through the roof, fertilizer manufacturers sought a way to maintain profits in a way that did not cause sticker shock to consumers.  They did this by totally removing phosphorus and drastically reducing the amount of potassium.  Removing phosphorus was good because most soils in Michiana naturally contain enough for lawns, as well as being the responsible environmental thing to do.  Reduced amounts of potassium in fertilizers kept profits up for manufacturers, but has resulted in lawns that range from looking okay at times to lawns having poor color, poor draught tolerance, poor disease resistance, slow recovery from insect damage, and poor spring green up.

Nitrogen, the first number on a bag of fertilizer gets the most attention, because it is the most abundant ingredient and has the quickest, most noticeable response.  Phosphorus is the second number on a bag and is a “0” most often.  Potassium, the last number, is the silent workhorse in a grass plant.  Just as good assistants make the boss look good, soils with enough potassium make a lawn look good.

Experts say the amount of potassium that should be applied varies between one third and one half of the amount of nitrogen depending on soil type.  This means the last number on a bag should be between one third and one half of the first number.  If the first number is about 30, then the last number should be between 10 and 15.  If you look at a bag of the most common, popular fertilizers, the last number is around 3, which means the fertilizer contains only about one third of what the plant needs!  Is it any wonder that some lawns look worse and worse each year as the turf uses up the potassium in the soil?

What can you do?  If you are really fussy about your lawn, have your soil tested to determine potassium levels.  Send it off to a lab because quick strip tests are not accurate.  Red Hen Turf Farm will send a soil testing kit to you upon request.  If the results show low potassium levels, a supplement fertilizer, 0-0-60, can be added to raise levels.  Then make changes in your yearly program by either changing brands or regularly adding the supplement.  Read this article to learn How to Evaluate A Fertilizer Program.

If you like your current fertilizer but it needs more potassium, you can apply a supplement.  0-0-60 fertilizer can usually be bought at garden stores or Red Hen  and should be applied spring and fall in addition to your other fertilizer at the rate of 1 lb. per thousand sq. ft.

If you don’t want the work of making extra applications, you can buy fertilizer that has the recommended amount of potassium.  It is unlikely it will be a popular brand at a box store.  You can try your local garden center or come to Red Hen Turf Farm.  Our fertilizer programs are specially designed to meet the potassium needs of turfgrass.

For more details about potassium and fertilizing, see our links section and Google “potassium for turfgrass.”  Look for articles that discuss the grass species you have, as they will be more appropriate.

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