The first, toughest rule of life is nobody’s perfect. Even the 1985 Chicago Bears lost once. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, has misfired on over 4,000 of his nearly 12,000 career passing attempts. In Major League Baseball’s vast 147-year history, only 23 pitchers have thrown a perfect game and those pitchers were only perfect for 27 outs. Only 1 in 12,500 golfers will make a hole in one during their lifetime.
When it comes to prepping your lawn for the long, cold Iowa winter ahead, it’s easy to make mistakes (nobody made the cover of Better Homes & Gardens on their first take or try).
While most homeowners know it’s important to fertilize a lawn, few do it correctly.
To better prep your grass for the unknown weather wraths of winter, you need to know the Most Common Fall Fertilizing Mistakes.
A Fertilizing Full Stop
It’s fall. It’s football season, not fertilizing season, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Don’t bury your fertilizer on your garage or basement shelf just yet.
Even though grass grows more slowly in the fall, it’s still growing. Iowa grass is focusing its energy on growing roots, not blades. Northern cool-season grasses like Fescue does most of its growing in the spring and fall.
The rule here is simple: Never Stop Fertilizing. Iowa State University advises fertilizing northern lawns once in early fall to help grass recover from summer stress, and once in late fall to promote spring growth.
Skipping the Soil Test
No one, well, perhaps no one outside of our Creekside Turf crew, wants to spend a minute more than they have to when performing the unglamorous chore of fertilizing their lawn. But skipping the all-important soil test before fertilizing is costly time saved.
Don’t blinding pour fertilizer on your lawn before fully researching your soil and the fertilizer that best suits its winter needs. Heck, you could very well be pouring the equivalent of kitty litter on your lawn if you weren’t paying close attention to which fertilizer you grabbed at the hardware store.
Applying the wrong fertilizer or applying too much fertilizer can do more harm than good. And the correct fertilizer can be ineffective if applied too sparingly or at the wrong time of the year.
On a hardware shelf near you is a home soil test kit that will tell you how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is in your soil (this will be listed as NPK on fertilizer bags). Your local agricultural extension office can provide a thorough analysis of your soil.
Letting Your Fertilizer Be a Stranger
Remember, don’t trust your lawn’s health to just anyone, and especially not Fertilizer X. Here are the three most common types of lawn fertilizer.
- Fast-Release Fertilizer enables your grass to grow at Flash speed. But if applied unevenly, it can make your lawn look patchy and damage your grass.
- Controlled (Slow-Release) Fertilizer is easy to apply and unlikely to burn your grass, it’s also more expensive and takes longer to deliver results.
- Compost delivers both nutrients and organic matter to your soil for its lawn-term health. While not the best smelling of fertilizers, it’s easy to add to your lawn. Apply compost by cutting your grass to an inch and raking half an inch over the grass as a top dressing.
Never Stop Killing Weeds
Remember, with or without fertilizer, your lawn needs a Weed Terminator in the fall. Don’t sleep on troublesome weeds that may be trying to lay the groundwork for a big spring weed fiesta. A hard Iowa frost will kill them soon, but during fall, perennial broadleaf weeds like dandelions are shooting sugars down to their roots to store for next spring.
This is the best time to eliminate them. Pulling them offers great exercise. Spot treating individual plants is a smart option rather than blasting herbicides over a wide area. Wide-spray weed killers can accidentally poison your lawn, plants, pets, wildlife, and even helpful bees who are pollinating your fall flowers.
Fertilize Now and Wisely
If you are only going to fertilize your lawn once a year, do it now and do it wisely to lay the foundation for a healthy, full and beautiful lawn when spring returns on the other side of the potentially harsh Iowa winter fast approaching.
Just as grass roots need water to last the winter, they also benefit from a shot of the plant sugars that protect roots from freezing and give the entire plant the energy to bounce back in the spring.