Get a Soil Analysis before Applying Lawn Fertilizer

Submitted by Krista Harding, KState Southwind Extension

September is here and that means it is prime time to fertilize your fescue lawns. Even if you faithfully fertilize in the spring, by September, fescue plants are literally starving to death.

Fescue is entering into its fall growth cycle as days shorten and temperatures moderate. Fall is the time that cool-season grasses naturally thicken up by tillering. Tillering is the term used to describe how the plant forms new shoots at the base of existing plants. Plants also build their root system for the following year in the fall. An application of fertilizer in September is put to immediate use by the plants.

However, before applying any fertilizer, I recommend that you have a soil test done. Lawn soils vary widely in pH, available phosphorus and potassium. It is very difficult to just “guess” about which nutrients are lacking and how much of each is needed. Soil testing can be done through the Extension office with a fee of $12 per sample. You will receive a detailed report that outlines your soil needs and how to fertilize accordingly. It is recommended to have a soil test every five years.

The procedure for soil testing is simple. Use a sharp shooter shovel and go straight down into the soil about four inches. Pull the soil clump up (grass and all) and knock the soil off into a bucket. Do this in about five to six locations in the lawn. In the bucket, mix the soil samples well and then randomly pull out about two cups of soil and place in a zip-lock bag and bring to one of our office locations in Erie, Iola or Fort Scott. For those living in or near Chanute, you can drop soil samples off at Breiner’s Feed Store for pick-up.

If you have not had a soil test, here is a general fescue lawn fertilizer recommendation. With a fall application, it is best to use a “quick-release” source of nitrogen. Apply 1 to 1 ½ pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. If the fertilizer analysis is 10-10-10, it is declaring that it contains 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium. So, to get the 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet using a 10-10-10 blend, you would need to apply 10 pounds of the fertilizer.

Another application of fertilizer in November should be applied to help the plants build up their food reserves for use when the grass greens up in the spring. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can get the same results if you just waited and only fertilized in the spring. Spring-only fertilizing leads to fast growth, which means more mowing. This can also promote shallow root growth and possible summer die out.

Fall is the ideal time to renovate poor lawns. If you have an overabundance of weeds, crabgrass, etc., then you may want to consider reseeding. New lawns should also be planted in the fall.

If you would like more information on lawn fertilization, seeding or soil testing, please contact me at the Extension office.

Krista Harding is a K-State Research and Extension Agricultural agent assigned to Southwind District. She may be reached at or 620-244-3826.

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