Fertilizer is an important element in maintaining a healthy, green lawn. By supplying the roots with healthy nutrients, fertilizer ensures that the roots of your grass grow deep and strong, and the blades of grass are green and lush. You can have too much of a good thing, though, and when it comes to fertilizer, too much will have the opposite of the desired effect. In fact, going overboard with grass food can actually kill your lawn, or at the very least, severely damage it.
How Overfertilization Happens
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for homeowners to overfertilize their lawns. Overfertilization can happen for a number of reasons. The most common cause is simply using too much fertilizer. Commercial fertilizers are designed to withstand some variation in application, but if you dump heaps of fertilizer on your lawn thinking that more is better, you will be disappointed in the results. This is especially common with slow-release fertilizers. You might expect instant results, but it takes time for grass to absorb nutrients and grow stronger – and adding more fertilizer won’t make it work faster.
Poor drainage can also lead to lawn overfertilization. When the soil doesn’t drain properly, fertilizer can build up instead of being absorbed, causing root burn. The fertilizer adds too much salt to the soil which draws water away from the necessary salts away from the grass roots, effectively starving the roots of water. Ultimately, the effect is similar to a drought, and your lawn is suddenly dry or dead.
Signs You’ve Gone Too Far
The most telltale sign that you’ve overfertilized your lawn is the grass becomes dry and discolored, and looks scorched, soon after the application of fertilizer. The brown areas might appear all over the entire lawn, or they might be limited to places where the fertilizer spilled. It’s also common for fertilizer burn to show up in stripes across the lawn. This occurs when you overlap fertilized areas during application, effectively giving small areas a double dose of food.
Scorched grass is the most obvious sign over overfertilization, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes, fertilizer burn is less severe, and only appears as yellow or brown tips on the blades of grass. Overfertilization may also appear as limp or dead roots; you can check this by lifting up a small section of grass to inspect the roots.
Fixing the Damage
Overfertilizing isn’t an automatic death sentence for your lawn. Depending on the severity of the damage and when it occurred, you may be able to limit the damage and nurse your grass back to health. Try some of these lawn care tips if you see signs of fertilizer burn in your yard:
- Physically remove some of the fertilizer. If you can see clumps of fertilizer in the grass, or if there are obvious areas of overapplication, remove as much as you can. Do not cover the fertilizer with more soil. Use a broom or wet/dry shop vac to remove large areas of fertilizer.
- Watering your grass – to the point where it appears you’re overwatering – will help flush the fertilizer and harmful salts out of the soil. Start by watering the grass to the point where it cannot absorb any more water. Then water every morning until the grass begins to recover.
- Be patient. The only way to determine whether the fertilizer killed the grass or not is to be wait and see. If you removed excess fertilizer and adequately watered before the grass burned too much, it’s likely to recover. For more serious burns, the damage may be terminal and you’ll need to reseed the lawn.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with fertilizer burn is to keep it from happening in the first place. Hiring a professional lawn service with experience in fertilizing lawns is a good idea if you have never fertilized before and want to avoid damage. Using organic fertilizers reduces the chances of fertilizer burn as well, as does following the package instructions to the letter. Finally, using a light hand, especially on grass that is already stressed or damaged, will ensure that the fertilizer actually helps the grass grow healthy, and doesn’t hurt it even more. When you follow these steps, you’re less likely to have trouble and more likely to have a beautiful, green lawn.