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Nitrogen: Friend or Foe?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Nitrogen -- without it your lawn's growth slows, its color fades, it thins and withers. But with too much of it, the story is just as bad: your lawn burns, turns brown, and dies. When it comes to nitrogen as part of your lawn maintenance routine, how can you make sure to get it just right?

The nitrogen in fertilizer packs a nutrient punch your lawn needs. The nitrogen in dog urine packs a nutrient punch that kills your lawn. Hm, tough balance. Here are a few tips for making sure you give your lawn just the right amount of nitrogen to ensure that nitrogen and your lawn are good friends, not bitter foes.

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Test Your Soil

Don't apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your lawn until you know if your lawn actually needs it. All lawns need nitrogen -- it's a lawn maintenance must -- but the nitrogen levels they require vary. The best way to know how much nitrogen your lawn needs is to have your soil tested. You can buy an at-home testing kit. You can hire a lawn care company to test it for you. Or you can go to your county agricultural extension office and have them run the test. However you run the test, let the results be your guide in choosing a fertilizer.

Watch for Weather

Even if you're applying a fertilizer with nitrogen levels appropriate for your lawn, if you apply it in the middle of a heat wave, your lawn is likely to shrivel, not thrive. Spreading fertilizer in the morning is better than midday, and if your lawn has experienced any kind of drought damage wait until it has recovered before adding any type of nitrogen.

Water Works

If your nitrogen-related lawn maintenance woes include dog urine burns or fertilizer burns, the best solution is watering the damaged areas. You'll flush the nitrogen and help the area to recover faster.

Keep your lawn and nitrogen nice and friendly, and you'll reap all the thick, green benefits.



About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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