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Fertilizing Basics

With careful fertilizer use, you can help keep pollution from entering waterways and groundwater. Following are basics regarding fertilizer use. For more information or a soil test, contact the Sherburne County Extension Service.

Fertilizer graphic [12K]

Plants need 3 essential nutrients in large amounts: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). If you decide to fertilize, it is best to have your soil tested. Inexpensive kits are available at the Sherburne County Extension Office, and the test results will give you the quantities of each nutrient your lawn will need.

Nitrogen promotes vigorous growth of existing plants and makes plants green. It moves easily in the soil; therefore if applied incorrectly, can seep down directly into the groundwater (what many of us drink).

Phosphorous encourages new growth (including weeds and algae). It is naturally high in Sherburne County soils, and your lawn will probably not need any. Lawn clippings and leaves are also very high in phosphorous. This nutrient is tightly held by the soil, but if not mixed into the ground may become soluble and have considerable potential to pollute the lake.

Potassium helps plants provide disease resistance and winter survival; it is naturally low in our area.

Commercial fertilizers are graded with numbers that stand for the above nutrients, in the order of N-P-K. For instance, a 40 lb. bag of fertilizer labeled 20-0-10 would have 20% (8 lbs.) nitrogen (N), no phosphorous (P), and 10% (4 lbs.) potassium (K).

Fertilizer application: The amount and time of year you apply fertilizer is determined by the type of grass you have, your watering practices, and if you remove grass clippings. When fertilizing:

  • Stay away from the shoreline
  • Use slow-release nitrogen in spring, or apply low rates of nitrogen more often
  • Apply other fertilizer in the fall
  • Aerate with a coring machine before fertilizing
  • Don't fertilize before a heavy rain

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