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Landscaping 7 killer lawn fertilizer mistakes to avoid

Published on April 3rd, 2014 | by Jeff Linderman


Seven killer lawn fertilizer mistakes

1.    Poisoning your lawn with the wrong fertilizer formula.

There’s no universal fertilizer, as grass type, soil type, yard conditions and climate conditions vary greatly. Purchasing the wrong fertilizer can very easily kill your grass, trees, shrubbery, flowers and other vegetation in your yard. A little homework is required to determine the correct fertilizer for your lawn.

How to find the right fertilizer for your lawn:

Purchase a soil test kit from a hardware store or garden center (usually under 10 dollars).  Measure your yard’s soil nitrogen, potassium and pH levels. Then share these results with a professional at a garden center or local university’s horticulture department. Grass type, soil condition, foot traffic, presence of sunlight and shade, regional climate and vulnerability to weed and pest infestations are also important factors that must be considered in order to select the correct fertilizer formula for your lawn.

2.    The whatever’s-on-sale mindset.

Who doesn’t like a good sale? But when it comes to fertilizers this time of the year, the lesser-known, low-priced brands may have more filler content and far fewer nutrients than the more well-known brands. You could end up purchasing more of the on-sale brand to match the nutrient content of the more established brands. Often, the reliability of a higher-quality formula is worth the extra dollars. That’s why it’s so important to read the labels.

3.    Picking a highly-concentrated formula.

A fertilizer formula with a high concentration of nutrients is more likely to make your lawn greener and plusher, faster. However, its high concentration risks lawn burning that may not be visible until a few days following the application. Consider slow-release formulas that provide longer-term results.

4.    Using a weed-control formula when you’re growing new grass.

If you’re using grass seed to fill in bare patches or dead spots, avoid weed-control fertilizer, as it will stop the seeds from germinating.

5.    Failing to dethatch before applying the fertilizer.

Thatch is a layer of dead grass that forms over lawns. This is especially problematic in early spring because snow mold and winter debris thickens thatch. Before applying fertilizer, dethatch by raking with a simple lawn rake. This will make fertilizer application significantly more effective. It’s also a good idea to aerate the lawn before fertilizing.

6.    Over watering, post application.

While you may be tempted to soak your freshly-fertilized lawn, over watering the lawn too soon after fertilizer application can wash away the fertilizer, causing your lawn to be uneven in health and appearance. Follow the fertilizer package or label for application instructions.

7.    Fertilizing too often.

For most yards, it’s best to fertilize just twice per year – in the spring and fall seasons. The best time of the year to fertilize is fall; it will repair summer damage and strengthen the root systems for the winter months.

If you have pets, avoid this type of fertilizer:

Safety note: Organic fertilizer formulas that use ground bone meal, blood meal and fish meal are nitrogen rich and often touted as a more environmentally-responsible alternative to other formulas. However, unfortunately, the taste and smell makes it an appetizing treat for some pets. Sadly, when ingested, this type of fertilizer can cause significant, even fatal, health complications for pets. If you have a pet or if your neighbors’ pets spend time in your yard, I recommend avoiding this type.


Preparing your yard for spring includes outdoor power equipment maintenance

The easiest way to  get your lawn mower, string trimmer, chainsaw and other small engines working efficiently is to purchase engine tune-up kits, packed with the tune-up essentials for your particular model(s).



Related information

What your lawn is trying to tell you about your mower
When is the best time of the day to mow a lawn?
Seven quick, easy and cheap fixes for common lawn problems
Eight simple ways to earn a healthy lawn
Lawn mower repair help
Lawn mower maintenance tips

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About the Author

Jeff Linderman is’s in-house outdoor power equipment and landscaping expert. For 25 years, Jeff owned and operated a successful commercial and residential landscaping business. He couldn’t afford the extensive downtime that came when he brought his equipment to be repaired at overloaded small engine repair shops. Instead, Jeff learned how to complete the repairs on his own. This interest in outdoor power equipment grew as Jeff completed extensive manufacturer training. Today, Jeff is a Briggs & Stratton® Master Service Technician, Kohler® Engines Expert Technician and a Kawasaki® Service Technician for Engines and Power Products. He has a B.A. in criminal justice from Michigan State University. Jeff worked for 25 years as a sergeant in the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department while he operated his landscaping business. He’s an avid fisherman and lives in the metro-Detroit area.

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