Lawn fertilizers are formulated with salts that help boost and restore important nutrients in the soil for plants. However, incorrect use of fertilizers can cause more harm than good. Applying excess fertilizer on your lawn than grass requires will always cause burns.
Plants are usually unable to process fertilizer when supplied in excess. This creates a salt build-up in the soil, which draws water away from plant tissues. The drought-like effect on plants makes them turn yellow, brown, or completely die due to the inability to absorb water.
In lawns, fertilizer burn is characterized by yellow grass tips, scorched stripes, or bare spots. It is possible to reverse lawn fertilizer burn if the grass is not dead. But most importantly, you need to understand why lawn fertilizer burn happens.
Lawn Fertilizer Burn Causes
Various mistakes during lawn nourishment can lead to fertilizer burns in your turf. They include the following:
- Applying more than the recommended amount – When fertilizing a lawn, never think that more is better. Excess fertilizer is more harmful than even none.
- Miscalculating the size of a lawn – Usually, lawn fertilizer is applied based on the size of the yard. If you miscalculate the size of your lawn, you may end up providing excess or less fertilizer for your plants.
- Fertilizing a lawn in bad weather – Surface runoff or speeding winds may concentrate fertilizer in certain lawn spots, typically leading to fertilizer burns.
- Nourishing stressed grass – Excess heat or drought conditions are the main stressors of grass and other plants. Stressed plants won’t be able to process and absorb the fertilizer. This may increase its concentration in the soil.
- Inappropriate fertilizer products – Grass needs fertilizer in a given N-P-K ratio based on the growth stage. Unbalanced fertilizer, especially on new grass, is likely to cause burns.
- Filling a spreader on the lawn – Some fertilizer granules may accidentally spill on your grass if you decide to fill your spreader right on your lawn. The same can happen if you forget to close the hopper.
- Failure to read label instructions – Reading and following what the fertilizer manufacturer recommends can help you avoid many mistakes.
How to Reverse Lawn Fertilizer Burn
Lawn fertilizer burn can be reversed if you act early enough. Usually, the yellow or brown streaks can recover with the right care. Unfortunately, the grass cannot be revived when crunchy and dead, and you’ll need to consider replanting.
The first thing to do to fix lawn fertilizer burn is to water your lawn thoroughly. Water helps dilute the concentrated mineral salts and stops them from scorching the grass.
On the first day, deeply water until the ground is fully soaked. Then water every day in the morning for the next seven days.
If the fertilizer didn’t kill the grass, it should start recovering in less than 2 weeks. If there is no change, the grass is likely dead, and you should plan to reseed your lawn.
Replanting of grass should be done at the right time to increase its survival rate. Overseed thin spots or sod in the fall for cool-season grasses and in spring for warm-season grasses. Be sure to remove dead grass from the lawn before planting a new one.
How to Prevent Lawn Fertilizer Burn
You can avoid lawn fertilizer burn through the following tips:
1. Choose and use lawn fertilizer correctly
Lawn fertilizers come in various forms and strengths applicable at various stages of plant growth. Liquid or granular fertilizer should be used at the right growth stage and in the right amount.
2. Always read and follow label instructions
There are always instructions labeled on fertilizer packaging, which you should not ignore. They inform on quantity, time spacing, and product safety.
3. Remove any excess fertilizer and water the area
Remove as much fertilizer as possible from the grass if you realize that you applied excess or accidentally spilled it. Then water the area heavily to neutralize the salts before they damage your grass.
4. Avoid fertilizing stressed grass
Do not fertilize grass that is stressed by drought, extremely hot weather, or diseases. In this state, the grass won’t be able to absorb the nutrients making them accumulate in the soil.
5. Fertilize a lawn after rains
The best time to fertilize a lawn is a day or so after heavy rain. By this time, the weather is calm, there are no pools of water in the lawn, and the soil is moist but not soaked. This prevents the possibility of fertilizer clogging or concentrating in specific areas of the lawn.
6. Only apply the recommended amount of fertilizer
You should take lawn measurements and use the data when ordering a lawn fertilizer. Never think that more is good when it comes to gardening products.
7. Correctly use a fertilizer spreader
Avoid filling your fertilizer spreader while on your lawn to avoid accidental spills. When using your spreader, only make uniform passes as you apply the fertilizer.
No doubt fertilizing a lawn keeps the grass healthy, prevents weeds, and establishes a lawn quickly. This can only be achieved if you use the right type of fertilizer for your grass, in the right amount, and at the right time. Incorrect fertilization can damage your lawn, pollute the environment, and waste resources.
- University of California: Fertilizer Burn
- University of Illinois Extension: Choosing Fertilizers for Home Lawns
- Michigan State University: Benefits of using lawn fertilizers containing slow-release nitrogen