Avoiding Fertilizer Burn – Know Your Nitrogen

Fertilizers designed for turf grass
provide the nutrients that your lawn needs to thrive.
The three main nutrients that make up a typical complete fertilizer include
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, commonly referred to as N, P & K.
Nitrogen is perhaps the most notable of the three as it aids in stem and leaf
development and can quickly make turf look healthy and green. But not all
nitrogen products are the same. There’s essentially two categories; quick release
and slow release. Quick release nitrogen, as the name implies, makes the nitrogen
content immediately available to the plant once it’s watered in. However, if
not applied properly, there are a few possible drawbacks. The most visible
problem is burn. Most fertilizers, especially ones with quick release
nitrogen, are salts which, can draw water away from plant roots and tissues. What
you’re left with is yellow or brown turf that may eventually die. Another
potential problem is that nitrogen in the nitrate form can be washed out of
the root zone through water runoff or leaching. Instead of feeding the plant,
these nitrates make their way into waterways and reservoirs where they can
contaminate the water and harm wildlife. Finally, the nitrogen in fast-acting
fertilizers only last for about a month and require more frequent applications. This can lead to excessive top growth which weakens the plant making it more
susceptible to damage from insects and diseases. Because of these concerns,
manufacturers have developed a variety of fertilizers containing slow release
nitrogen. These can be coated urea, stabilized urea, or organic fertilizers
that gradually break down and release the nitrogen over longer periods of time.
While slow release products may cost more than fertilizer with quick release
nitrogen, fewer applications are required. Other benefits include more uniform
growth and the nitrogen is less likely to leach out or burn the lawn. The
drawbacks of slowly releasing the nitrogen, is that the turf doesn’t get
the initial nutrient boost that it might need. To offer up the benefits of both
quick and slow release options, manufacturers have created many blends
that give the turf the immediate attention that it needs as well as
continued nutrient release over the long haul. Keep in mind that it’s always a
good idea to perform a soil test in advance of fertilizing turf grass. You
should only feed your lawn the nutrients the soil is lacking. So, if you’d like to
maintain a healthier and better-looking stand a turf, be sure to follow these
rules when fertilizing. Understand the fertilizer being applied and the sources
of nitrogen in it. Apply the product correctly by following the application
instructions on the label. Never apply more than one pound of quick-release
nitrogen per thousand square feet. Calibrate your spreader in advance to
ensure proper application rates. Choose a fertilizer with slow release nitrogen
when possible, and water your lawn thoroughly after fertilizing. If you’d
like to learn more about turf maintenance and other landscape and
irrigation topics, sign up for one of our live seminars. Class schedules can be
found on our education page at


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