A rolling green lawn sets off the home landscape like nothing else. Keeping the lawn in a pristine state is an annual chore and some of the maintenance is repair. Several grass diseases can leave holes in the lawn and pets and children can really do a number on the grass and leave bare patches. The cheapest way to fill in holes or lay a brand new lawn is with grass seed. Site preparation and fertilizing are the key to quick and even grass growth.
Fertilizer at Sowing
There are several schools of thought on whether to add fertilizer when you sow seed. Some people say not to fertilize, as the heavy nitrogen and urea can burn new blades. Others think it gives the germinating seed an extra boost and the lawn will take off quickly. The University of Minnesota advises incorporating fertilizer at the same time that you sow the seed. Grass needs tremendous amounts of nitrogen and most soils are deficient in this mineral. A soil test will tell you what your nutrient balance is and whether you should incorporate fertilizer with the seed.
Even the best seed and starter mix will not produce great results without proper site preparation. The soil should be tilled to a depth of 4 to 6 inches and then raked smooth. The area needs to be graded so there are no dips or irregularities. Roots and rocks need to be removed. A top dressing of compost or topsoil will ensure a good growing surface. Planting seed should be done in fall, but you can prepare the grass seed bed at any time.
Seed and Fertilizer
There are numerous products on the market that contain the seed and fertilizer all in one. The products usually include a mulch too, so you just have to spread the mixture, water it and let it grow. You can also make your own mixture by purchasing the right seed for your climate and soil composition and mixing in a starter granular fertilizer. The products are marketed for the ease of application and speed of establishment. Starter fertilizers contain low amounts of nutrients so they won't burn the plants. They give just enough nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for a good start.
To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize
Not all soil is created equal. You should perform a soil test before you opt to fertilize at sowing. Your soil may have all the nutrients the grass needs and fertilizing will create a toxic level of some of the minerals. This can do more harm than good and result in chlorosis and other plant problems. Seedlings need optimum soil conditions to thrive. A soil test is the only foolproof way to discern what the soil needs.
A lawn needs three macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is most important on established lawns because it is a catalyst for green, leafy plant growth. However, high rates will have you mowing constantly. Potassium is the main macronutrient in most starter fertilizers. It helps plants form healthy root systems and is helpful on plants that have just been planted or are starting out. Potassium is not as important to grasses but it does increase the general health and resistance of a plant.