Turf Fertilizer – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

March is right around the corner and there are a few things we need to do to get our lawns ready for spring. As our temperatures raise turf grass root activity increases. This is the time to fertilize our lawns and shrubs in order to give them the nutrients they need for proper plant growth. Weeds are also a major problem this time of year and there are several factors you need to know to make a proper application. I would like to go over a few pointers that will help you grow a great stand of turf grass and beautiful flowering plants.

Picking out the correct fertilizer for your lawn and ornamentals is critical to producing healthy growth. Florikan fertilizers are one of the most well known varieties and many of their products contain staged nutrient release formulations (SNR) which after applied to our lawns and ornamentals, slowly release their nutrients so the plants can pick them up over a period of time. SRN products are very important because if you put out a quick release product, you have the possibility of burning your lawn or ornamentals. Florikan also produces the “Dynamite” fertilizer many of you have used on your ornamental plants. Both of these products contain differing amounts of micro-nutrients which your lawn and plants need in small quantities. Florikan fertilizers are available at the Big Earth Landscape Supply company and garden centers.

Lawns require specific nutrients this time of year. Nitrogen, the first number on a bag of fertilizer is responsible for leaf and shoot growth. This is very important as we come into the warm months ahead because the lawn will need ample supplies of nitrogen to grow green blades. Look for the numbers on a fertilizer bag such as a 14 -0-10 or a 16- 0-8. Depending on the size of your lawn you will need to purchase at least a 50 pound bag of fertilizer to cover a 5000 square foot lawn. Again, make sure you get a bag of quality fertilizer which has slow release nitrogen.

You may have noticed that the fertilizers I listed above have a zero in the middle of the analysis. This number represents phosphorus. Phosphorus is in the process of being banned in the State of Florida. This is due to the concerns of leeching of phosphorus and algae blooms. The good news is that phosphorus is really not needed in turf grass as phosphorus is responsible for flowers and fruit. Turf grass does not need to produce flowers and fruit so why not save some money and use products that do not contain this nutrient. The last number in the fertilizer analysis is potassium. Potassium is responsible for the uptake of nutrients, root growth, and disease protection of turf grass. This nutrient is very important to your lawn during the growing season.

Ornamental plants on the other hand need each of the nutrients described above to grow properly. Plants with heavy nutritional requirements like roses, gardenias, or annuals need to be fed light applications more frequently. Just like vegetable gardens, ornamentals will need each of these nutrients to produce their leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots. Unfortunately, the nutrient balance of fertilizers for ornamental plants is different from turf grass so you will need a different blend of fertilizer. Ornamental plants need a fertilizer analysis of an 8-10-10 or 8-10-12. Fertilizers like the Dynamite I described above do wonders for ornamental plants.

You will need to apply Dynamite fertilizer at least three times per year at the rate of 5 pounds per every 100 square feet. Do not apply fertilizer to your plants by hand as you will tend to throw fertilizer in a confined area. You should use a hand held fertilizer spreader available at any garden center. Hand held fertilizer spreaders hold about 5 pounds of fertilizer so just fill it up to the top and measure off a hundred square feet and go! Be sure to fertilize on both sides of your plants as their roots go out in all directions and many people forget to put some fertilizer behind their plants.

Ornamental plants and turf grass will show deficiencies at certain times of the year. Yellow veins on the leaves or patches of yellow in your turf a few weeks after you fertilize is common and this is not due to misapplication of fertilizers but rather because of pH imbalances throughout your yard and garden. Florida is known for high pH and when this happens there is little you can do to correct the soil problem. Most of our native soils have a pH of around 7.5 to 8.5. At pH’s this high Iron is unavailable to the plant and that is why you see these problem areas occur. Sometimes, if you wait a few weeks this imbalance may be corrected naturally. I like to correct this problem myself.

When you are at the garden center you should pick up a chelated iron spray. Chelated iron sprayed on the plants foliage can correct these yellow areas by feeding the plant through the leaves bypassing the root system. When the pH is too high, the roots can not take up iron so when you spray it on the lawn or leaves of the plant, the leaves will absorb the chelated iron and correct these iron related problems. The same can be done for the lawn by applying the chelated iron spray to the yellow areas of turf grass. Normally, lawns will respond in about 7-10 days after application.  

Weeds in turf grass or flowers beds can be tough to control even for the professional. Be sure to select the proper weed control product for your turf grass as Bahia and St. Augustine Grass requires different herbicides. Read the label and select a liquid herbicide and apply this directly to the weeds rather than applying to the entire lawn. Some hard to control weeds need to have a spreader sticker like Dawn dishwater soap added to the mix to help the herbicide stick to the surface of some weeds. Oxalis and Dollar weeds are examples of weeds that need to have this added to the mix. You only need to add a teaspoonful to a gallon of herbicide and keep shaking the container as you apply.

I hope you enjoyed this section on fertilizing lawns and ornamentals. This is the time to get busy and get your lawns and gardens growing. I have already started! Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!

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