The lawn needs ‘love’ gardening expert says

You get a better bang for the buck if you fertilize your lawn in the fall.

That’s the message from Ricky Kemery, local gardening expert and Purdue Horticulture Extension Educator, retired, who says the best way to have a healthy lawn in the spring is a 2-step fertilization process starting right now.

“The lawn responds better,” Kemery said. “It’s used up nutrients over the summer and the lawn is actively growing now.”

Then wait until mid-October to early November for a second fertilization.

“It doesn’t matter the brand really,” Kemery advised. “Fertilizer is pretty much the same.”

It’s the numbers you’ll want to pay attention to – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

In September, look for equal numbers – 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, says Kemery, who recommends a different sort of number pattern for the second fertilization. Something like 18-10-10 which indicates a higher nitrogen number.

“Research done by universities says that the fertilization you do with the higher nitrogen, the lawn takes that and sort of holds on to it. That helps grass grow better in the spring even if you applied that in the fall,” Kemery said.

The big issue is fertilizer cost. Prices have nearly doubled compared to spring prices, due to supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine.

Factories in Ukraine’s Donbas region produce a lot of the fertilizer used here and that supply is shut off, Kemery said.

An alternative to conventional fertilizer is organic fertilizer that relies on compost, peat moss and other materials. Without recommending any particular brand, the number for phosphorus is very low on the organic compounds while nitrogen is higher in the online brands.

Kemery said organic fertilization appears to appeal to people 45 and younger.

“They’re not so keen on using conventional fertilizer and pesticides,” Kemery said.

In fact, it seems to go farther than that. “Many are not so keen on maintaining their lawn. They tend to shy away from those conventional fertilizer treatments because of the expense and they’re not as good for the environment.”

Kemery said a healthy lawn has less weeds. “If you have a lawn, you can’t just ignore it because the lawn needs love also. If you do nothing, then it’s not going to be as healthy and you will have weeds and other issues.”

There needs to be a balance between doing nothing and overmanaging the lawn “so you don’t have a weedy mess. You can’t just let it go,” he said.

Some homeowners are trying to make the switch to gardens in the front yard rather than all grass, but those take management, too. One Fort Wayne homeowner he’s seen planted flowers, herbs and fruit trees.

“Some people are trying to emulate that. Neighbors are getting kind of used to the idea. Others try to do that and they look horrible,” Kemery said.

As goes with lawns, so goes with trees, shrubs and perennials. September is not only a good time to fertilize, it’s a good time to plant.

“You want to give enough time for the roots to get developed so when the winter hits, they’ve already got a head start,” Kemery said. Plants don’t grow well in the heat of summer, but if you plant them now, “then they have the whole spring” to get ready for the summer.

October and early November are good times to prune.

“Don’t prune before because you encourage growth that will get zapped by the winter. Whenever you prune something, it sends a signal to the plant to start growing again and you don’t want to have all that tender growth to get zapped by the winter,” Kemery said.

The advice doesn’t apply to flowering trees that need to be pruned after they flower, Kemery said.