A lot goes into picking the right fertilizer for your needs: desired growth, greening results, amount and frequency of foot traffic, soil test results, turf condition, disease history, and drought and temperature stress. The wide variety available can make it slightly confusing, though. Sure, the labels give you a lot of information, but what does it mean?

There are usually three numbers on the bag, something like 20-5-10. This tells you what percentage of each basic nutrient is available in that bag. In our 20-5-10 example, it means 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphate and 10% potassium. That’s only 35% percent; the rest of the bag is filler that helps with more even application.

Now that you’ve got the basics, how do you know what’s right for your needs?

We’ve created a fertilizer cheat sheet just in time for the season!

High Nitrogen-to-Potassium Ratio of 2:1 or higher is right for:

• Turf that is in good condition.
• Consistent and/or accelerated top growth is your priority.
• You’re applying in the spring and the area wasn’t fertilized in the fall.

High Potassium-to-Nitrogen Ratio of 1:2 or higher is right for:

• Soil with low potassium levels as shown by soil tests.
• Areas subject to temporary stress from drought, heat, or traffic.
• The turf has a history of disease.

Balanced Nitrogen-to-Potassium Ratio of 1:1 is right for:

• Stress from drought, heat, or traffic is continuous.
• Top growth reduction is your goal.
• You’re doing general maintenance on turf that’s in good condition.

A final note on fertilizer labels: they give you an application rate. You can follow the rate provided on the bag, or start at 1/2 of their suggested rate. You avoid over-application with this method.

Walk the perimeter of your turf applying fertilizer as you go. Then fill in the middle, going tire track to tire track, in one direction. After that, do it again, but crossing the path you used the first time. Since you’re applying at half of the suggested rate, this pattern is equal to one full application and guarantees maximum coverage!