Lawns: Give that cool-season lawn what it needs

— Written By Dustin Adcock and last updated by
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LawnGrowing a beautiful lawn in the South can be a frustrating task, especially with cool-season grasses (such as tall fescue, kentucky bluegrass, and ryegrass). Summer heat and drought can be a major stressor on cool-season grasses. However, a lush lawn is definitely possible. How do we accomplish this? With careful and sufficient nutrient applications in the active growing season.

Calculated and timely fertilization during the active growing season can improve the lawn the rest of the year. Fertilizing correctly helps the plant produce deep, healthy roots and dense foliage that can use deeper water reserves and cool the plant in extreme heat. As the soil becomes saturated and cooler in the fall, these grasses have their best opportunity to develop a deep and effective root mass. Also, these plants are at their greatest point of growth for the year, so their nutrient uptake is maximized.

For a gradual release of nutrients to the grass as it is growing, make three applications of fertilizer annually. Work with your local Extension agent to get a soil test and develop a plan to improve the fertility of your soil based on the test results. I recommend remembering three dates for fertilizing cool-season grasses: Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day. First, apply a starter fertilizer at reseeding/sowing. A second application of a nitrogen-rich fertilizer is made near Thanksgiving. Finally, an application of nitrogen-only fertilizer should be made in the month of February.

Be careful not to make the final application too late in the spring, which can cause an increase in disease pressure. Use your soil test results to determine the type and amount of fertilizer to apply. The rate of fertilizing a lawn is based on the nitrogen needs of turfgrass and should not exceed 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. For more information, visit the “Lawns” chapter in the NC Extension Gardener Handbook.
— Dustin Adcock

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