Author: Beth Hyatt Presley


With the start of September comes one of the most popular seasons of all: fall.

Earlier this month, we talked about the upcoming arrival of fall and gave a few tips on how to divide perennials and get your customer’s lawn ready for the season change.

Now, let’s take a look at a mandatory practice that will not only benefit your customer’s yard today, but also give it lasting benefits throughout the season: fertilizing. While fertilization can be done year-round, experts say that the best time to start is in the fall.

Why the fall?

“From a horticultural standpoint, it’s the best time to feed your lawn and make sure the nutrient levels are at their optimum growing conditions,” says Chuck Whealton, region manager with Ruppert Landscape’s landscape management division. “It’s also the best time to do lawn renovation. So, if you’re doing some overseeding of those areas, the best time to get germination of new grass is in the fall as well.”

Whealton explains that with cool-season grasses, fall is an especially important time to fertilize for the following reasons:

  • Soil temperatures are relatively warm
  • Air temperatures are beginning to cool down
  • Typically, precipitation is better and more common in the fall
  • It gives grass the opportunity to use the nutrients it’s stored to grow root systems better
  • Increases cold hardiness
  • Helps grass store energy reserves in the way of carbohydrates

Why fall fertilization is important

Fall fertilization is one of the most important aspects of good lawn health, but many customers may be tempted to opt out of it to save a little bit of cash.

According to Whealton, this could end up costing customers more than it would have to do the initial fertilizing.

“A good offense is better and usually less expensive than defense,” Whealton says. “Something is going to grow there, and we’d rather it be what we want, the desirable turf, than weeds. Once you have weeds, then you have to kill the weeds. We would rather play offense and create a healthy, good standing turf than to have to constantly be battling with herbicides and weed control.”

Even though customers may think they can easily save money by skipping fertilizing this fall, remind them that in the end it could cost them more to repair damage done by weeds than it would to start the season off strong.

Whealton also recommends encouraging good cultural approaches to lawn care, such as establishing good mowing heights and frequencies, introducing new varieties of seed or turf, aerating, monitoring pH levels, optimizing nutrient levels and adding in organic materials from time to time. By putting these offensive strategies into action, Whealton says your customer’s lawn will not only be healthy, but also look healthy.

Liquid versus granular  

When it comes to the debate of liquid versus granular fertilizers, Whealton says that both play a significant role in the landscape, but each has their preferred time and place.

“It’s a combination,” he says. “I think there’s appropriate places for different products. If we’re doing lawn renovation services, for instance, it’ll usually be a grain or starter fertilizer that’ll have a different NPK ratio than if it’s just for lawn improvement.”

Whealton says it also depends on whether or not something else will be added to the fertilizer, such as a broadleaf treatment.

“In the case of in the early fall, you may be doing a broadleaf treatment,” he says. “In which case, it’s more advantageous to use a liquid fertilizer with a liquid broadleaf weed control.”

Will it require more than one trip?

You may find some customers wondering whether this fertilization can be done in one fell swoop or if it will require more than one visit. The short answer is: yes.

Whealton explains that the fertilization frequency really depends on the products you use, what the goals of the jobsite are and at what period of time you are putting it down.

“Some products are quicker release and others have a slower release point depending on their formulation,” Whealton says. “A longer release product may give you timed release over a period of time. There are some newer formulations that will take you year round. They tend to be more expensive. The biggest cost in fertilizing your lawn is really not in the product itself but in the labor to do it.”

Whealton says that it all comes down to using products strategically. For example, he says that if you were to begin fertilizing in the early fall, a slow release formula is not necessarily desired or required. This is because you want to be sure and get all of the benefits of the fertilizer in the fall when it can do the most good.

Early fall fertilizers, he says, also tend to have a shorter window of activity, so it’s best to strike while the iron is hot.

For fertilization taking place in the late spring, it might be more beneficial to use a slow release product to elongate the exposure throughout the summer. Whealton also suggests that in properties with irrigation systems, an application of slow release products might be the most prudent, as irrigation systems have a tendency to leach those nutrients out of the soil.

In summary, Whealton said his overall advice for landscapers talking to their customers about the importance of fall fertilization could be boiled down into a few easy to remember points.

“Feeding your lawn is important, making sure your nutrient levels are optimal, fall is the best time to do that and you’re in a much better position, from a cost standpoint and from a health and appearance standpoint, to play offense instead of defense,” he says.

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