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When Should You Start Fertilizing This Spring?

by Allyn Hane 14 Apr 2020

Hey Y’all, hope your week is off to a successful start and lawn care is a part of it!

Last weekend I posted an important video talking all about spring fertilizer and how much to throw down and when.

If you have not seen that video, I highly recommend you view it starting here:

Another important part of that video is that I took some fertilizer and showed you how to apply it with confidence.

That is important because too many times this year I’ve had people contact me saying “I put the entire bag of fert in my hopper and it was all gone when I was only half done applying!”

So this video (time-stamped to the exact spot) shows you how to apply starting in a small area to make sure your spreader matches the suggested spreader settings on the bag.

Key word there is that the spreader settings are suggestions!

Now, onto a big question I have been getting lately - mostly related to cool season turf but I think all of you can benefit from the read…

Question:
“I read online that with cool season turf you are not supposed to push any nitrogen early in spring, what do you think?”

I get variations of this question all the time and it usually comes from folks with cool season turf. (Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Fescue)

Sometimes I also see it come in like “I was told not to fertilize the lawn until after May 1.”

Context is Key:
First realize, YOU my Lawn Care Nut friend, are not the average homeowner.

The fact that you took time to subscribe to this newsletter and open this email and read it sets you apart from 99% of homeowners across the US and Canada. I am not kidding.

Most people don’t like their lawns and hacking them down on Saturday afternoon is a chore, an annoyance, and once their kids turn age 12 they force them to do it. That’s reality.

Even the guys who take time to run a Scotts 4-Step don’t always necessarily enjoy lawn work - they do commit more to it, but that is just because they don’t want a crappy lawn - not because they actually love it and have passion for domination like we do.

Kudos to them BTW, but they ain’t us. (although many of them become us, eventually lol)

So when you are trying to get advice from multiple sources and you are new to lawn care, you often will lose the context.

So let’s use an example here from a source I have extreme respect for, Purdue University located in Indiana.

Here is their cool season grass calendar.
https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ay/ay-27-w.pdf

Here is a more updated and specific recommendation:
https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AY/AY-22-W.pdf

Things to consider:

1. This is a generic calendar using months like “in April do this” and “in May do this.” That’s fine but I can tell you that southern Indiana lawns (border of Kentucky) are very different than NW Indiana lawns (bordering Chicago, IL) when it comes to timing.
That big lake up there in the north sure does change the climate. This is why my programs focus on soil temperature which is a more accurate and specific measurement on what to do and when. But following soil temperature requires you, the homeowner, to be more engaged.
2. They recommend an initial fertilizer application in May and recommend .75-1lb/N/1,000 sq ft. A good recommendation for regular people who are just interested in “maintaining” their lawn where it is.
But you don’t watch my videos just to stay where you are do you? Aren’t you looking to get a thicker, greener, more dominant lawn? If you are, then you go on a bulking cycle for your first one to two years to get things thick, like a bodybuilder.
And that is the key to context here: I teach you to train your lawn like a bodybuilder, not a couch potato. So if you want a couch potato lawn, wait until May, but if you want a bodybuilder lawn, start earlier with the bulk sessions.
3. On the second PDF I linked, their “highest maintenance” calendar allows up to 5 lbs/N/1,000 sq ft per year. My programs I recommend also stack up to be about 5 lbs/N/1,000 sq ft per year but I put more into the spring and less into the fall whereas they put more in fall and less in spring (their final app of the year is 1.5 lbs/N all by itself).
But here is one thing I know: Most of you are impatient and if you do not see results in the spring (which is why most of you start your lawn care journey), you will quit before fall. Now I know you will tell yourself that is not true, but it is. People these days need and want immediate gratification. If they don’t get it, they move onto something else.
That is not a negative thing - it’s just reality and I’ve watched it and lived it for 10 years online and also for 15 years while working for TruGreen. So I tailor my programs now to help you see results right away so you then gain confidence (and an endorphin rush) to continue onward!
If I can help you get results NOW, then you will still be around LATER when I can teach you other ways to have a nice lawn.
4. Never forget the mowing - I stress this more than anyone else online or offline - I coined the phrase “the more you mow, the healthier it will grow” for a reason and that is because when you do push early in the spring, you have to ensure you mow often to not cut off too much top growth in a single mowing.
Last week’s email and video I mentioned the 1/3rd rule and encouraged you this year to follow the 1/6th or even the 1/8th rule. Just shave off the top 1/8th of the grass blades in each cutting to cause minimal stress to the lawn and encourage more rooting.
I also know that mowing is therapy to many of you (and me) and giving you the excuse (permission) to be outside mowing more often during the week also has an extremely positive impact.
5. Back it down after a couple years. I probably don’t say this enough although I do talk about it in last week’s video and mention it in my cool season e-guide but the real way to go is to get to a level of spoon-feeding.
Once you bomb your lawn for 1-2 years and it’s thick and healthy, from there take on the challenge to lean it out. Sure it will stay thick and green but try doing that with the lowest amount of N you can.
This is why we have products like the 8-1-8 XGN where I set the bag rate to be 4 lbs/1,000 sq ft which equates to .32 lbs/N/1,000 sq ft. Every Purdue scientist would enjoy maintaining his lawn on just 1/3 lb/N every 4-6 weeks I’m sure.
Now, I am NOT bashing Purdue! I think they have the best turf science school in the nation. But remember, their recommendations are cookie cutter and generic for the masses.

They are not aimed at Lawn Care Nuts. It’s the context that matters and you have to understand that 99% of homeowners in America don’t even cut their lawns right. They barely notice them and consider them to be a necessary evil. Most homeowners seek “low maintenance landscapes.”

This is why I would just laugh every year when I worked for TruGreen and come right around May 1 we would get flooded (I mean FLOODED) with calls from people wanting all their dandelions killed right away.

These are people who grew up in NW Indiana and Illinois but for some reason, every May they just all of the sudden realized that dandelions look terrible in the lawn so they’d call us for that $29.95 intro application to kill them all.

Extremes like this were also heard: “If you can’t get out here tomorrow to spray these weeds, then I don’t want you here at all,” would come over the telephone lines on a Friday afternoon as some panicked homeowner realized she/he was having guests over on Sunday for a cookout.

I wish I’d recorded how many times I heard this, but for sure it was multiple times every season and just illustrates that most people don’t even look at their lawn until it screams back at them for help.

This is the perspective I have when it comes to most homeowners (not you guys) and how they look at lawn care and that is why Purdue recommends the program(s) they do.

You are elite and I write my programs for you - whereas Purdue writes theirs for the masses.

I have thousands of folks who send me pictures every month showing off how beautiful their lawns are on my program and I’ve been doing this for over 10 years online so it obviously works.

Here are a few from last week’s video showing just how awesome your lawn can look by putting in those early investments with fert right out of the gates:

As always, I hope this email has been helpful, and I’ll see you in the lawn!
-AL

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