When spring rolls around, many folks recognize that their lawn could use a jump-start after the winter rest. A complete fertilizer will give it just the boost it needs to create a lush, green carpet across the yard.

Hand fertilizer spreader

The hand-crank fertilizer spreader is inexpensive and easy-to-use.

Photo Credit: Daniel Overcash

Fertilizer spreader

Try a pull-behind fertilizer spreader for large lawns.

Photo Credit: Daniel Overcash

The first question that comes to mind, might be, “How much fertilizer do I need?” The most accurate way to determine the nutrient needs of your yard from year to year is to send a soil sample to your State Department of Agriculture or Extension Service for nutrient analysis. (Call your local county agent’s office and ask for a soil sample kit.) For lawn care, samples should be sent in fall.

But many people don’t think about soil sampling until spring, and by then, the soil lab may be backed up, and it may take weeks to get the results…and you’ll want to fertilize by then! So if you failed to get your sample in fall, don’t feel bad. Here are some general recommendations you can still follow when it comes to fertilizing your lawn, starting in spring:

For both cool-season grasses (like fescues and Kentucky bluegrass) and warm-season grasses (such as Bermuda grass and zoysia grass), use ½-1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application. Okay, now don’t panic: I don’t expect you to grid off your lawn and tediously spread fertilizer to accomplish this recommended rate. There’s an easier way you can do this.

To figure out how much fertilizer you need to apply in order to get that 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet requires a little math. Start by dividing 100 by the first number on the bag (the first number on the bag is the percent of nitrogen in that formulation). For example, if you’re using a bag of 18-9-9, divide 100 by 18. The result – 5.55 pounds – is the amount of that fertilizer needed to get 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Lawn fertilizer applications depend on the climate and the type of grass. In the Southeast, for example, the first application for cool-season grass should be made between the end of February through March. A second and third application at the same rate should be made in September and November. Warm-season grasses should receive the first application in April, then additional applications should be made every other month through September. (It’s a good idea to mark the calendar so you don’t forget when to fertilize.)

There’s an easy technique that’ll assist in even application across your lawn. First, spread half the amount needed going back and forth, east to west. Then apply the second half in a north-to-south pattern, covering the entire lawn. Missed spots cause streaks of dark green growth and streaks of light green growth, but an inexpensive hand-crank spreader can help distribute the fertilizer evenly.

When establishing a lawn, use a fertilizer with moderate nitrogen and higher phosphorus and potassium, like a 10-20-20. For an established lawn, the spring application should use a fertilizer high in nitrogen and low in phosphorus and potassium, such as a 22-3-4. Then in fall, use an analysis high in nitrogen, low in phosphorus and moderate in potassium, like a 22-3-11.

It may seem like a lot of work, but depending on the size of your yard, each application will only take a short amount of time. And really, it’s all worth it. I won’t deny that you may have to mow more often, but most folks are willing to make the trade-off for that healthy, green, inviting lawn.