Lawn fertilizers are formulated with salts that help in restoring depleted nutrients in the soil necessary for healthy growth of grass. However, incorrect use of fertilizers can cause more harm than good. Applying excess fertilizer on your lawn than required by the grass will always cause fertilize burn.
Plants are usually unable to process fertilizer when supplied in excess. This creates salt build up in the soil, which draws water away from plant tissues. The drought like effect on plants makes them to turn yellow, brown or completely die due to the inability to absorb water.
In lawn, fertilizer burn is characterized by brown or drying grass in spots, scorched stripes or completely bald spots once the grass wilt and dies. Fortunately, you can reverse lawn fertilizer burn if you immediately take appropriate action. But first of all, let’s look at why lawn fertilizer burns happens.
Lawn Fertilizer Burn Causes
Various mistakes during lawn nourishment can lead to fertilizer burns in your turn. They include the following:
- Applying more than the recommended amount – When fertilizing a lawn, never think that more is better. Excess fertilizer is more harmful than even none. This is one mistake that can cost your lawn
- Miscalculating the size of a lawn – Usually, lawn fertilizer is applied based on the size of the yard. If you miscalculated the size of your lawn, you may end up providing excess or less fertilizer for your plants.
- Fertilizing a lawn in a wrong weather – Surface runoff or speeding winds may concentrate fertilizer in certain spots in a lawn and this will typically lead to fertilizer burns.
- Nourishing stressed grass – Excess heat or drought conditions are main stressors of grass and other plants. Stressed plants won’t be able to process and absorb fertilizer. This may increase its concentration in the soil.
- Inappropriate fertilizer products – Grass needs fertilizer in a given N-P-K ratio based on the stage of growth. Using unbalanced fertilizer especially on new grass will result to fertilizer burns.
- Filling a spreader on the lawn – Some granules of fertilizer may accidentally spill on your grass if you decide to fill your spreader right on your lawn. The same can happen if you forgot to close the hopper.
- Failure to read label instructions – Reading and following what fertilizer manufacturer recommends can help you avoid many mistakes.
How to Reverse Lawn Fertilizer Burn
Lawn fertilizer burn can be reversed if you act faster. Usually, the yellow or brown streaks can recover with the right care. Unfortunately when crunchy and dead, the grass cannot be revived and you’ll need to consider replanting.
Thoroughly water your lawn if you spots yellow or brown patches a few days after fertilizing. Water helps in diluting the concentrated mineral salts which prevents further damages. On the first day, deeply water until the ground is fully soaked. Then water every day in the morning for the next seven days.
If the grass wasn’t killed by the fertilizer, it should start recovering in as less than 2 weeks. If there is no any change, then it’s likely the grass is dead and you should plan to replant.
Replanting of grass should be done at the right time to increase its survival rate. Overseed thin spots or sod in fall for cool-season grasses and spring for warm-season grasses. Be sure to remove any thick layer of dead grass before planting your grass.
How to Prevent Lawn Fertilizer Burn
You can avoid lawn fertilizer burn through the following tips:
1. Choose and use lawn fertilizer correctly
Lawn fertilizers come in various forms and strengths applicable at various stages of plant growth. Understand if you are dealing with concentrated liquid fertilizers or granules. Know which one to use when your grass still young and when it has established. All the information is available on product label.
2. Always read and follow label instructions
There is always instructions labeled on fertilizer packaging which you should not ignore at all. The instructions usually guide on the quantity of fertilizer to use, when to apply and its nutritional value to the plants. Reading label instructions also help in exercising safe fertilizer use as a way of protecting your pets, children and other family members.
3. Remove any excess fertilizer and water the area
Remove as much fertilizer as you can from the grass if you realize that you applied excess or accidentally spill it. Then water the area heavily to neutralize the salts before they damage your grass.
4. Avoid fertilizing stressed grass
Do not fertilize grass that is stressed by drought, extremely hot weather or diseases. This is to avoid accumulation of fertilizer mineral salts in the soil as a result of not being fully absorbed by the stressed plants.
5. Fertilize a lawn after rains
The best time to fertilize a lawn is a day or so after heavy rain. By this time, the weather is calm, there is no pools of water in the lawn and the soil is moist but not soaked. This prevents the possibility of fertilizer clogging or concentrating in specific areas of the lawn.
6. Only apply the recommended amount of fertilizer
You should take your lawn measurements and use the data when ordering for a lawn fertilizer. Never think that more is good when it comes to gardening products.
7. Correctly use a fertilizer spreader
Avoid filling your fertilizer spreader while on your lawn to avoid accidental spills. When using your spreader, only make uniform passes as you apply the fertilizer.
There is no doubt that fertilizing a lawn keeps the grass healthy, prevents weeds and makes a lawn to establish quickly. This can only be achieved if you use the right type of fertilizer for your grass, in the right amount at the right time. Otherwise, incorrect use of fertilize can damage you lawn, pollute the environment and waste your resources.
- University of California: Fertilizer Burn
- University of Illinois Extension: Choosing Fertilizers for Home Lawns
- Michigan State University: Benefits of using lawn fertilizers containing slow release nitrogen