Using A Better Fertilizer

I used to just use the Scott's 4 step annual program. I was going try out the 4 step annual program at my local Menards (which is like a Home Depot) or Stein's (local nursery) here in MI to see how that works. The fertilizer company wants to charge me $50 per application.

Do you aerate at the end of the year? I used to use a manual one it is a lot of work, I look silly using it, and it takes forever. I have a pretty small yard.

I would add a few points.

  • 1) consider getting your supplies from Lesco/John deere. It is what most professionals will use if there is one in the area.
  • 2) part of what you get with a lawn service is their guarantee, most will come out and retreat weeds till the problem is corrected and you are satisfied. It may take a few calls.
  • 3) most everything is negotiable. Most lawncare services are competing for business. Price a couple out. I had it to the point where the lawn service cost was about what I was paying for Lesco products.

Then it just comes down to preference.

Still keep in mind there is a difference between fertilizer and weed control.

Menards claims to have a 4-5 step yearly program for your lawn. The problem is that only step 2 actually claims to treat broadleaf weeds, and that is with a granular product.

Weeds need to be treated during steps 2, 3, and 4-5. The thing to understand is that weeds grow back all year long even after you treat them and will never stop growing back until your lawn is thick enough to prevent them on its own. Weeds will never be effectively treated with granular. If you truly want results, you have to use liquid.

The other problem is that Scotts, Menards, etc are selling a packaged product with pretty labeling all over the country. Scotts will sell the same thing in Wisconsin, Texas, California, and North Carolina. Each of those areas have different grass types, different soil, and different climate/weather conditions.

This is incredibly important to how you treat your lawn.

I know you want a quick fix to your lawn. If you want to do it yourself, go ahead and buy Scotts, Menards, or from Steins.

The fertilizer product will probably be ok. BUT if you want to kill weeds, you NEED to get a liquid product and go spray your weeds. Preen is a very common product home owners use.

2-4D is fine as well, just make sure you read the label to apply correctly without frying your lawn.

A five step program for you would be:

  1. A pre-emergent in the spring before April 15. Menard's Step 1.
  2. A weed and feed application application in mid to late May. Spray weeds now. Menard's Step 3. (Skip Menard's Step 2 because they say they have Trimec in it which I believe is totally ineffective, but we don't want to take chances and burn the lawn if you are spraying weeds yourself. Too much herbicide can be harmful to the lawn.)
  3. A weed and feed application in late June-early July. Spray any visible weeds again. Menard's Step 3.
  4. A weed and feed application in mid August – early September. Spray any visible weeds. Depending on your climate and weather conditions, this spray application and the next one in Step 5 are the most effective time of year to kill off weeds. Menard's Step 3 again.
  5. A winterizer application high in Nitrogen and Potassium before November 1st. Just as in #4, if you still have visible weeds this is a fantastic time to spray and kill them off for next year. Menard's Step 4.

When you work with a professional lawn care company, they are going to be putting down a different kind of fertilizer at each visit through out the year.

Different times of year require different blends of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (the 3 main active ingredients in fertilizer). However, you will be ok to use the same Mendard's Step 3 product as long as you are consistent with it.

I know it is a lot but if you want a nice yard all year around it is worth it

A Healthy Lawn

I'd like to have a healthy consistent lawn. If you really want to fix your lawn up, you want consistent grass types, and few to little weeds. There's a lot of info I could give you but it depends on what you want for a lawn. What are your lawn goals? But it also comes down to how much time and money do you want to devote to your lawn.

Things you need to do first:

  • Try to identify your grass types. Take some samples and do some research here and here.
  • Try to identify your weed types. I don't know of an all-in-one weed identifier but you can check your local extension office for a list of probable weeds or just start google image searching and checking "lists of weeds" based on your area.
  • Invest in a hand-can; a gallon pump sprayer that you will use to apply weed killer(s) selectively. They run about $10-$50 depending on what you get. Home Depot or Lowes or Amazon.
  • If you don't have a bag for your mower, get one because you will need it occasionally if your grass gets too tall before you can cut it. You don't want tons of clippings laying around. A normal amount mulched up is fine.

Once you ID your weeds and grasses, you can start applying grass-safe weed (only) killer selectively (only where needed, not all over the lawn). 24-D is the most common broad spectrum weed killer ingredient found in most plain weed killers. Some tough weeds may need a different herbicide but you won't know till you ID them.

Bagging is best when you are cutting thick, overgrown grass since it will not mulch properly and lay on top of the lawn rather than getting mixed in.
This can introduce the perfect habitat for fungus or other disease issues. Yes, you will reduce weed seeds when bagging but that's not the real point.

Effective weed control is what reduces weeds and weed seeds in the first place.

Again, you should bag if you are cutting a lot of thick grass at once but also try not to go more than 1/3 of the blade. So if you were on vacation and missed a mowing, make two passes, lowering the height between and bag at least the first go round. The other time to bag is before you aerate / overseed. You don't need to add to the thatch layer (in fact you might want / need to de-thatch prior to aeration and overseeding).

What you should do:

  • Get a soil sample tested so you know your soil makeup. Or at least do some digging and determine if you have clay, loamy or sandy soil. My guess is clay unless you're near the coast.
  • Aerate your lawn if it appears compacted (rock hard).
  • Overseed your lawn based on what type of grass you already have. That is, if you are happy with that type. If you are looking to start fresh there's a different method / mentality involved.
  • Apply some milorganite (organic nitrogen fertilizer). Read the bag for application rates. Normally 15lbs per 1000 square feet. So about one 36lb bag for a little over 2000 sq feet. You can go a little heavy since it's an organic, it won't burn your lawn.
  • Irrigate by hand or with sprinklers and aim for 1" of water/rain per week. Deep infrequent > quick frequent waterings. A rain gauge helps with this.

That's enough to get you started. The basic idea is kill the weeds you don't want. Nurture the grass you do want so it takes over. Keep it healthy with fertilizer and mow regularly not taking more than 1/3 of the blade off at one time.

Lawn Care Products

It almost always comes down to costs. Application equipment (proper, not a cheap-o spreader) and Herbicides is where the consumer loses. And it is why a lot of yards suffer.

A Lesco spreader costs about $450. Not a $40-50 one, that you buy every year. One that will last, as long as you maintain it.

Chemicals. Cost of it sucks for one lawn. But it can last forever. Look at Certainty. Awesome product. Two or three little scoops and you are set. The minus is that it is $93, and you have about a whole container left.

Next is 2,4-D. Awesome product. But use too much and your yard is toast. And there are so many variants of potency, it can really mess with your head.

That's not even touching pre-emergants.

But back to your question…

If I were to DIY or pay? I'd research it, but pay for somebody to it if I wasn't willing to put the money into the yard, a serivice, while not cheap will be cheaper than the upfront costs of DIY.

Why? Time and money. Sure, it might take a guy 15-30 minutes to treat your yard. But how long will it take you to get the chemicals, fert, equipment, and maintenance for it all? Not worth my time.

You can use the Scott's program if you want, I was under the impression that you were not satisfied with Scott's.

What I am saying is that there are two things that need to happen for your lawn: fertilize it and kill the weeds. Scott's and Menards are trying to sell you a granular product that will "control your weeds". The problem is that granular products have a very low success rate at killing weeds. Granular products are great as fertilizer though. To kill your weeds you want to use a liquid product like Preen or 2-4D.

The reason I say skip Step 2 on the Menard's program is that if you use too much weed control it can be harmful to the lawn. Menard's Step 3 does not appear to have any agents that try to kill weeds, the website claimed that it was only fertilizer.

If you are only laying down a fertilizer, you still need to do something for the weeds, which should be done in liquid form.

So to recap: The easiest way to take control of your lawn is to fertilize it 4-5 times per year with a granular based product like Scott's, Menard's, or from a nursery like Steins. For 3 of those events you fertilize it, you should go around and spray any weeds you see with something like 2-4D.

You can technically spray weeds whenever you see them. But it is easiest to remember to spray the weeds whenever you are fertilizing.

If it's just in the landscape beds, use RoundUp which you can get at Walmart or any lawn and garden store.

Be very careful about overspray or drifting so that you don't spray any of those roses or the grass on accident. RoundUp will kill anything it touches.

A more permanent solution would be to cover up the dirt with thick mulch. 2-3" deep would do the trick to keep those weeds out. Bare open soil is a goldmine for weeds. Anywhere that there is exposed soil with no grass filled in or some kind of material covering it (weed mats, mulch, river rock, etc) you will have weeds. You can spray RoundUp on those weeds all year long, but new ones will always grow back unless you cover up the soil. Weeds need soil to germinate.

Cover the soil, no germination.

Renting An Aerator vs The Hiring Pros

The aerator that the HD near me had was a bitch to operate and easily consumed more than 4 hours to finish. It's hard to do. Very. I've since learned there are much better aerators out there, which are not up for rent that I have seen. A landscaping company recently quoted me $125 to aerate my whole lawn.

One nextdoor neighbor has professional landscapers cutting their grass every Monday, so I figure they're out. And they take care of it for him. I am a bit of a DIY sort of person.

But there is so much that goes into the whole process, like getting your soil ready for aeration and over-seeding.

This needs to done.

No use in running it over hard ground.

Get all the leaves up off the property. Have the soil soft enough for the cores or spikes to penetrate. Basically water it to where you can stick a knife into it. But not soaking wet.

And don't forget to water the seed in. 3/4 of the people forget that step.

A bad person/company will not tell you anything, and do it on rock hard turf in the middle of the summer. Little and big companies do this, but not all.

Oh, and moss growing there already? Seed isn't going to grow there.

Not sure on the price of the service will be, but what's a couple of phone calls. Also call your local mega-lawn care companies like Scotts and TruGreen (not vouching for any particular companies work ethic).

Sometimes I really hate DIY because of the clean-up aspect. Sure you may have saved some money, but how much time did it save you? Not saying not to do it though.