Northern Nevada Landscaping and Gardening: Oops, Burn the Fertilizer! | Carson City Nevada News

Most of us have done it, but usually only once. The “it” I’m talking about is burning a lawn with fertilizer. This happens in several ‘oops’ ways. One is to spill fertilizer while filling the spreader when parked on the lawn. Another is to tilt the spreader while pushing it back and forth.

A third can result from clearing a clogged spreader opening while the spreader is on the lawn and a mass of fertilizer has fallen. Then, of course, there is the case of putting too much in one or more spots, which can happen if you don’t close the spreader bucket when taking a ride on the lawn or have the spreader too open. Fertilizing too often can also burn the grass.

Finally, burns can occur when a lawn is fed in hot weather or if the fertilizer is not watered thoroughly. Sometimes the burning is not your fault, but rather that the soil is not draining properly, allowing salts to build up in the root zone.

Fertilizers are mineral salts. When too much salt is left on the grass, it dries it out and causes it to turn yellow to brown. Discoloration usually appears a day or two after applying the fertilizer. Sometimes this is fatal for the grass, but usually intensive irrigation will help wash the salts out of the soil. This should allow the grass to regrow within seven to 14 days. If the lawn dies, it will need to be removed, the soil dug up and seeds planted or sod installed.

If you have a while with fertilizer on your lawn, act immediately. Sweep up as much as you can. Then water the burnt area until the soil below is saturated. Apply an inch of water daily for the next seven days. The water will dilute the salts and remove them from the roots.

Fertilizer application rates and directions are listed on the package for a reason and should be followed. More is not better. It is also important to know your spreader and the amount applied through the openings at the bottom of the hopper. Perhaps switch to slow-release or organic fertilizers, which are very unlikely to burn. Do not fertilize a lawn stressed by drought. Weak grass is more likely to burn.

As it is already mid-June and temperatures are rising, now is not the time to fertilize with a traditional lawn fertilizer. If, like me, you forgot to fertilize earlier in the season, now only use an organic or slow release fertilizer. As with all chemicals, read and follow label directions.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor and Emeritus Extension Educator at the Cooperative Extension at the University of Nevada. She can be contacted at [email protected]


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Terri S. Tomasini