Stop! Don’t feed the weeds this fall

Beautiful backyard with lush Fescue grass

Fertilizer is food for your grass, but sometimes feeding your lawn can actually be a bad idea. Fertilizing benefits your lawn most when the grass is actively growing. Applying fertilizer at the wrong time can set up new growth for failure and even help unwanted weeds to thrive.

Lawn fertilizer can be found at any home and garden store. The packages are marked with three numbers, such as 10-10-10, which refer to the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — always in that order. These three nutrients are vital for healthy grass, but different seasons call for different approaches.

Feeding Warm-Season Grass
Warm season grasses, like Bermuda, zoysia or centipede, go dormant and turn brown in the winter. Applying nitrogen-rich fertilizer to these grasses in fall, especially within six weeks of the first frost, would be largely wasted since growth slows down in the transition to dormancy. Also, tender new growth prompted by fall nitrogen is more susceptible to winter’s bite. 

Worst of all, when you add nitrogen to warm-season grass too late in the fall, you inadvertently feed the cool-season weeds that thrive while your lawn lies dormant. Don’t encourage the weeds! Wait until late spring and add a nitrogen rich fertilizer every four to six weeks through mid-summer when growth is most active.

Giving your lawn a boost of phosphorus and potassium before winter is a great idea, however. Potassium helps protect grass from winter’s chill, and phosphorus gives the grass what it needs to store energy for a beautiful spring green-up. Look for fertilizers with a lower first number, like 6-12-18 or 4-12-12.

Feeding Cool-Season Grass
Grasses that stay green year-round, like tall fescue, thrive during the cooler temperatures of fall and spring. October and November are great months to add nitrogen to a fescue lawn, supporting rapid growth with necessary nutrients. You can fertilize again in early spring, but avoid over-fertilizing in late spring and summer, when fescue growth slows.

If you’re preparing to fertilize a fescue lawn and you haven’t tested your soil in two years or more, send samples to your County Extension Service first. (Find your county office at You will receive a report letting you know exactly which nutrients need to be added to amend your soil. A pH reading will also include recommendations to help balance the acidity of your soil. Following the Extension Service guidelines will give your grass exactly what it needs to grow healthy and strong, helping ward off disease, pests and weeds.

If you have amended your soil recently, look for a general lawn fertilizer at your garden supply center that includes a balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. 

If you have questions about feeding your lawn, contact our Certified Turfgrass Professionals.

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