Fall Lawn Fertilizing

By Shila Patel

For many gardeners across the country, fertilizing the lawn each fall has become a deeply ingrained ritual. While it's true for gardeners in many regions, it's not the best practice for gardeners with warm-season lawns of Bermuda grass, centipede grass, and St. Augustine grass growing in regions from zone 7 and warmer.

Consider for instance Purdue University of turf specialist, Zac Reicher's explanation of why Fall fertilization is important:

"Nitrogen stimulates increased photosynthesis and the extra energy derived from this goes directly into growth, respiration to maintain the plant (similar to humans), or into storage. In early November, the temperature is still adequate for photosynthesis, but cool enough to minimize respiration demands and too cold for significant growth. Therefore, most of the extra energy derived from a November application of nitrogen is stored by the plant. Next spring, these storage products are used to green-up the plant and more importantly, for root growth. According to some of our earlier research, it is important for the plant to take up the nitrogen quickly in the fall and store the energy for maximum root growth next spring with a minimum of shoot growth. Though one might think that nitrogen applied early next spring would do the equivalent of November-applied nitrogen, just the opposite occurs and shoot growth is stimulated dramatically with early spring-applied nitrogen. A spring application of nitrogen will never compensate for a missed application in November."

Got that? If you want more of Zac's info, go to the Purdue web site. If you don't find answers to your questions there, visit one of these four other web sites.

How to be a lawn expert

* The Lawn Institute, a nonprofit industry organization, sponsors an online newsletter and informative brochures that can be downloaded. The site provides an excellent introduction to lawn care.

* Ohio State Factsheet Database, with horticultural information from 46 colleges, universities, and government institutions across the U.S. and Canada, is a great starting point. You can search nationwide by keyword, or choose one of the seven North American regions listed.

To find lawn care information best suited to your region, visit the Web site of the closest cooperative extension office or land grant university. These two sites offer excellent regional lawn care information:

* Lawns in Georgia, by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension Service, provides a comprehensive picture of lawn care and fertilizing for the southeastern region.

* Plant Talk Colorado, sponsored by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, contains information specific to the bluegrass lawns traditionally planted in the state.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association.

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