child playing croquet on lush, healthy lawn
Photo: Keller + Keller
Stop overfeeding
Fertilizer is too often seen as a quick fix for straggly turf. But bagged lawn fertilizer is far from a cure-all. It's packed with nitrogen—listed first in numbered formulas such as 4:1:2 or 3:1:2, which describe the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—to spur lots of fresh top growth. Tender new leaves are more susceptible to physical damage and more attractive to pests. Even worse, they're produced at the expense of the plant's developing roots. Most turf varieties only need 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet annually, half applied in spring and the other half in early fall, when the grass is actively growing. Fast-release chemical fertilizers offer quick results, but slow-release options are less likely to burn foliage, and the nutrients break down more gradually, making them easier for plants to absorb.

Spreading fertilizer isn't the only way to green up a lawn, however. Overseeding traditional turf with recently developed "microclover" will keep a lawn looking lush year-round, thanks to its evergreen foliage and its ability to deliver atmospheric nitrogen to the roots of neighboring plants. This fine-textured clover ($30 per pound; hancockseed.com) was specifically bred to blend well with turfgrasses and spread evenly, avoiding a patchy look.

Last, don't waste time bagging grass clippings. Allowing them to remain on the lawn after mowing can supply up to 25 percent of a lawn's annual nitrogen requirement, which saves you from buying as much store-bought fertilizer.
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