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Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now goes a long way toward safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and to thrive come springtime.
Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn—about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time—it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection, one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)
Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.
Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.
You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to output precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.
Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.
• Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.
• For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.
• Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.