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Save the fertilizer for fall, not spring

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Don’t rush out to fertilize your lawn yet. I know the horticultural products are on display at the garden center, but the swimsuits are also on the racks at the mall. Are you buying those? Probably not — because in Indiana it’s too early.

Instead I recommend you visit the “Lawn & Turf” section of Purdue’s Education Store online. You’ll quickly realize that fall is the No. 1 time for applying fertilizer. The second most important time is after the last mowing of the year, but while the grass is still green.

To be specific, your lawn will benefit most when you apply the majority of nitrogen fertilizer from late summer through fall. So I’m not saying that spring fertilizer application is bad. It just shouldn’t be high on the priority list. When you apply nitrogen fertilizer during the spring, use slow-release fertilizers to minimize excess growth. Applying too much quick-release fertilizer will cause a flush of growth and keep you extra busy mowing all summer.

The importance of periodic fertilization for an established lawn can be seen through the reduced need for insect, weed and disease control. Healthy grass saves you money since you won’t have to buy as many pesticides. Applying fertilizer too early in the year can be a waste of time and money anyway. Not to mention that you could harm the grass if winter decides to come back and damage the newly stimulated growth.

Since we did have a very snow-covered winter, lawns could be affected by snow mold. If some circular patches of your lawn don’t green up like the rest, use a leaf rake to allow more air flow. If the area does not improve, consider re-seeding.

As grass plants shake off winter dormancy, keep in mind that some weeds may be lurking as well, either perennials or annuals. If the weeds went to seed in your yard last year, then they are going to be soon germinating.

Depending on the weed species you have, spring isn’t always the optimum time for weed control, but it’s not bad. You can mechanically pull weeds out or apply herbicides. Good results can come from applying herbicides to young plants prior to flowering.

Reading the label is key for the safety of all living things. Be careful not to get herbicides near ornamentals, trees, flowers and vegetable gardens. Herbicides that say “for lawns” shouldn’t kill grass.

Your overall lawn goal should be to perform maintenance at the correct time so the grass is dense and vigorous enough to outcompete most weeds.

Sarah Hanson is the agricultural natural resources extension educator through the Johnson County Purdue Extension. She has a master’s degree in animals and public policy from Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Purdue University. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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