Because most soils fail to supply enough nutrients to meet the needs of a healthy lawn, people use fertilizers to help supplement their lawn's nutritional needs. The problem is, a lot of us don't follow the directions on the package, over-fertilize our lawns, and end up killing the grass in the process.
What Causes Fertilizer Burns?
Fertilizers are made up of different chemicals and minerals. Mineral salts in particular are what causes the fertilizer burns in grass. When you over-fertilize, the salt builds up and dries up the soil eventually killing the grass. An easy way to remember this is: just as too much salt is bad for our bodies, so is too much salt for our grass.
Signs that You've Over-Fertilized Your Lawn
Fertilizers are like food for the plant. And when a plant is over-fed, there are telltale signs. For example, when you over-fertilize, you'll see grass discoloration, especially if the discoloration is in a stripe pattern, most likely caused by the overlapping spreader rows.
Can My Lawn Be Saved?
It depends. Over-fertilization is not necessarily a death sentence for your lawn. A lot of it has to do with how much fertilizer and what type of fertilizer you used. Also, the condition of the lawn before you began fertilizing also plays a big part. Was the lawn already in really bad condition? Was the soil dry? If you answered "no" to both questions, then it's more likely that you'll be able to save the grass.
What To Do When You've Applied Too Much Fertilizer
If you know right away that you've spread too much fertilizer on your lawn, you should try to remove it as soon as possible. With the granular type of fertilizer, you can try scooping it up with a broom or sucking it up with a wet/dry vac. Then, it's water, water, water. Because too much fertilizer dries out the soil, you need to give your grass a good amount of water to keep it from drying up and die. Soak your lawn on the first day and then continue to water everyday for about a week to undo the effects of over-fertilization. After that it's just a matter of waiting it out and see if your lawn recovers.
How to Prevent Fertilizer Burns in the Future
The most obvious answer is to FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS! Too many of us just want to put the fertilizer in the spreader and start. Resist the urge to skip over the package instructions if you really care for your lawn. Another way to prevent fertilizer burns is to use organic fertilizers that are much less likely to cause fertilizer burn in grass. And finally, if your lawn is already in bad shape, treat it very carefully. You don't want to make it worse by over-applying it with fertilizer that it can't handle.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to lawn care. When we fail to follow proper fertilization techniques, we do more damage to the grass than if we had just left it alone. But still, don't worry so much that you do nothing. Some lawns are so nutrient-poor that without fertilizers, it cannot become healthy and thrive. Just as our bodies need vitamins to supplement our regular meals, so should your lawn. As long as you follow the directions on the package closely, you should have no problems.