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Grass fertilizer: the secrets of N-P-K

by Karen Lawson, All About Lawns Columnist

The variety of grass fertilizer available can be confusing, but understanding how to read fertilizer labels is your first step toward choosing fertilizer matching your lawn's needs. Fertilizer labeling includes the percentages of three major chemicals, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), commonly used in plant fertilizers:

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  • N (nitrogen): Nitrogen produces "green and growth" in your lawn. This is the major ingredient in most grass fertilizers, but applying to much nitrogen can burn your lawn. Fertilizers containing slow-release nitrogen can prevent this hazard, but your lawn will take more time to "green up."
  • P (phosphorous/phosphate): This chemical builds strong roots and promotes disease resistance. This is helpful for lawns susceptible to diseases.
  • K (potassium/potash): Potassium promotes overall plant strength and promotes drought resistance.

Diagnose problems before fertilizing

Instant gratification may not be the best motivating factor for lawn care choices. Over-using fertilizers can kill your lawn and cause chemical run-off, creating environmental hazards. Aerating, thatching and allowing grass clippings (a good source of nitrogen) to remain on your lawn supports lawn health. Organic fertilizers and composted plant materials are good lawn care alternatives to chemical-based products.

Before applying any grass fertilizer, perform a soil test. Turf grass prefers a balanced pH, and soil testing can determine your soil's current pH and N-P-K levels. Check with your state's college and university cooperative extension service for identifying regional pests and diseases that could be causing damage to your lawn.

Although a green lawn is your goal, "going green" is also important. Always apply fertilizers according to label directions. You'll get better results while reducing negative impact on the environment. Still stumped? Contact a professional for help such as the pre-screened lawn care services you can find on this site.

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