To transform your patchy brown lawn into a lush, thick, and vibrant green one, you must fertilize it at the right time.
The best part?
Fertilizing your lawn in Michigan is not a difficult task.
Along with some tips for a lush lawn this season, I will also share some fertilizer recommendations.
So, when to fertilize lawn in Michigan?
Your first spring application (March-April) will take place when the soil temperature exceeds 32°F. This will be followed by a second spring application on Memorial Day.
Keep reading to know more!
When to Fertilize Lawn in Michigan?
How often you fertilize your lawn depends on multiple factors. For example:
- Soil health
- Grass type
- Type of fertilizer
So, let’s dive straight into this topic with this step-by-step guide.
The first (spring) application is between March 15 and 25 (mid-March). However, you may have to wait till early April (Southern Michigan) or later toward the North. The second spring application is around mid-May (May 10 to May 20). The summer application is divided into two parts (July and August). You will complete the Fall application in September (after lawn aeration and overseeding) and mid-October.
Let me explain this in detail.
Growth Curve for Cool-Season Grasses:
First, I want you to take a look at the growth pattern for cool-season grasses:
What do you notice?
Correct! Cool-season grasses in Michigan show the most growth in spring and Fall.
So, we must fertilize them properly at these stages for a lush green lawn. Here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: Spring Application (Mid-March)
Here in Southern Michigan, my first fertilizer application takes place between March 15 to March 25.
Now the question is, how do I know that my lawn is ready for this application?
The question is valid, as fertilizing frozen soil wastes time (and money).
For that, we are going to take the soil temperature.
You can perform your first fertilizer application if your soil temperature exceeds 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
A tip is to check the forecast for the next two weeks for soil temperatures. This is also a good sign if temperatures fluctuate between the 40 and 50s (morning).
We will use a soil thermometer to check the soil temperature.
Insert the soil thermometer 3-4 inches into the ground (to let it enter the root zone). Then let it sit for 2 minutes.
In this way, you can check your soil temperature. You should always check the temperature at 2-3 different spots on your lawn.
Note: Be patient! You may have to wait till early April (Southern Michigan) or later towards the North. You have to let the ground warm up.
Now the question is, what fertilizer to use?
What Fertilizer To Use?
At this stage, you should go with slow-release nitrogen.
This slow-release nitrogen will ensure you are NOT forcing your lawn to wake up. So, your lawn “wakes up” at a nice pace.
It’s very hard to recommend a fertilizer that would work for all soils. This is because all soils are different.
My soil is always high in phosphorus. So, I use a fertilizer that contains less phosphorus.
I recommend a soil test to determine the best fertilizer for your lawn. It will help you identify what nutrients your soil needs.
Without a soil test, a starter fertilizer is what you can go for.
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With that being said, let’s move on to the second stage.
Step 2: Eliminating the Weeds
This stage is essential before our next dose of fertilizer.
This process takes place between April 5 to April 15. Here’s what you need to know.
When the soil temperature hits 55 degrees, the weeds (seeds) germinate.
If you have a thinner lawn, more crabgrass seeds will germinate. This is because more light penetrates the soil.
So, what should you do to control crabgrass?
Here’s when the pre-emergent comes into action.
The pre-emergent acts as a barrier and prevents the weed seeds from growing.
So if your soil temperature is around 55 degrees, you are ready to add the pre-emergent. This will prevent the crabgrass from growing and pushing into your roots through the turf.
Note that crabgrass begins germination before May.
With this, let’s move on to the third step.
Step 3: Second Spring Application
This is the time for our second spring application.
It takes place around mid-May (May 10 to May 20). Some people like to do this on the memorial day as well.
The lawn is growing actively at this stage. This application will give your lawn the strength it needs for summer.
The moderate nitrogen in the fertilizer will help you sustain the lush green color of your lawn.
This takes us straight to the next step.
Step 4: Summer Application
First, I want you to recall the growth calendar for cool-season lawns (above).
What do you notice?
Notice how the grass likes to chill a little in the summer. This is why growth slows, and the grass turns straw-colored brown (dormancy).
This is the time when our summer fertilizer application will come into action.
You should add a small dose of fertilizer between July 1 to July 10. I like to do this on exactly July 4.
A quick tip is to divide this application into two parts:
- Half (1/2) between July 1 – July 10
- Half (1/2) between August 1 – August 10
This will ensure that you are not pushing your heat-stressed lawn.
Now you might be wondering, what fertilizer to use?
Potassium is an essential nutrient for your lawn at this stage, as you do not want to push the top growth too much.
Potassium helps the lawn during heat stress as it strengthens the plant overall.
But phosphorus is something that your lawn does not need at the moment. This is because phosphorus is related to root growth.
What’s the case with nitrogen?
Nitrogen is fine to have as well. But this should be in a low to moderate dose.
You should know that adding too much nitrogen or cutting it completely may not be the best approach.
Instead, spoon-feeding Nitrogen (according to the schedule shared earlier) will do the job.
So organic slow-release nitrogen works best at this stage.
With this, it is time to talk about the Fall applications (my favorite time of the year).
Stage 5: Fall Application
After the summer heat, the lawn is ready to grow again in the Fall.
This fertilizer application will be around September 1 to September 15.
This is the time when I aerate and overseed my lawn as well. Therefore, a starter fertilizer works best at this stage (slow-release nitrogen).
This is because we do not want to “force” the growth. The phosphorus in the fertilizer will boost the root growth (that’s exactly what we want after overseeding).
Our last dose of the season will go around mid-October.
Over here, I want you to know this.
Around this time, your lawn is starting to slow down a bit.
So, I use organic fertilizer (Milorganite) at this stage to prepare my lawn for winter.
The best part?
In the upcoming spring, your lawn will use this application’s remaining nutrients and be the first to green up.
Remember that you should NOT fertilize on frozen ground.
The table below summarises all this:
|When to Fertilize
|1. Spring Application (Mid-March)
|You may have to wait till early April (Southern Michigan) or later towards the North. The soil temperature should be above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
|2. Second Spring Application
|This goes around mid-May (May 10 to May 20). Some people carry it out on “memorial day.”
|3. Summer Application
|Divide this into two parts (half in July and the other half in August).
|4. Fall Application
|After lawn aeration, carry this out between September 1 to September 15. The last dose of the year will go around mid-October.
Now, let’s talk about fertilizing some popular cool-season grasses in Michigan.
Cool-season grasses for Michigan include tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and fine fescue.
Let’s take a look at each of them.
This non-spreading variety germinates quickly from seed, and its soft feel and fine texture make it popular in Michigan.
This grass type flourishes in areas with moderate summers and cool winters. The best part is that it is one of the darkest cool-season grass.
At first, it grows with a bright green color that darkens over time.
One thing I like about the perennial ryegrass is its whitish cast on top of the grass blades after mowing.
This is why you can get beautiful stripes with this grass type (due to its shiny leaf blades).
The perennial ryegrass tolerates low to medium height of cut. Generally, it performs best at a mowing height of 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
However, this can vary as well. In the warmer season, you can let it grow taller.
Plus, it can tolerate some foot traffic and shade and grows well in various soils.
If I talk about its cons, it does NOT have a good tolerance for drought and cold. It performs well with irrigation.
The other thing is that ryegrass can be vulnerable to fungus issues. So, you must be careful about that.
If I talk about fertilizing perennial ryegrass, you should use the above schedule.
Generally, 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet during the (active) growth period is required.
Now let’s talk about Kentucky Bluegrass.
This fine-textured grass is self-spreading and sod-forming.
What I like about the Kentucky bluegrass is its true green color. Plus, it has narrow, fine leaves that stripe well.
This grass can self-repair and recovers quickly from the dormant period with rainfall or irrigation.
This is because it turns brown during hot weather.
Regarding some drawbacks of the Kentucky Bluegrass, it does not tolerate shade well. It will quickly go dormant during a hot, dry summer.
You should remember that this grass type requires patience to grow. It germinates more slowly than other cool-season grasses.
For a healthy green lawn, you must fertilize the Kentucky bluegrass with four to six pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet (a year).
You can divide these applications using the yearly plan I shared earlier.
Now, let’s talk about Tall Fescue.
Their deep root system allows them to tolerate drought and heat well. As the name suggests, this grass type is ideal for a four-inch yard.
You should know that this root system is why people in Michigan keep their lawns green for a longer time (comparatively).
The Tall fescue is an option if you are looking for a grass type that tolerates some shade and has a good color.
If I talk about its drawbacks, the humidity in Michigan can make it prone to fungus and brown patches.
Now you might be wondering when to fertilize tall fescue.
The tall fescue needs around 3-5 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet (a year). You should follow the fertilizing schedule shared earlier.
You should use a slow-release fertilizer (whenever possible).
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Here’s a table summarizing all this:
|– True green color
– Great ability to self-repair
|– Medium tolerance for cold and heat
– It does not tolerate shade well
|– It germinates quickly from seed
– Dark green color
– High tolerance for stress
|– Drought tolerance
– Fungus issues
|– Drought tolerance
– Good tolerance to stress
– It tolerates some shade
|– Texture is not as fine as ryegrass or bluegrass
This takes us straight to the next topic.
Related Questions About Michigan Lawn:
Let’s look at some FAQs related to fertilizing lawns in Michigan.
Can I fertilize my lawn in November in Michigan?
Yes! You can fertilize your lawn in November.
You will complete this application before your ground freezes (between November 10 – November 20).
I like to call this the bonus application. You should preferably use organic fertilizer and spread it at a half rate.
This way, your lawn will have something to work on during winter. In the upcoming spring, your lawn will green up quickly.
When to aerate lawn in Michigan?
Fall is the best time to bring your cool-season lawn back to life.
This is because of the cooler temperatures. So, this usually happens between September 1-15.
Now the question is, why does aeration matter at this time?
It will help you eliminate compact soil, allowing air, water, and nutrients to reach the roots.
Lawn aeration in Fall will also reduce pest problems and improve soil drainage.
So, let me summarize what you will do in Fall.
1. Lawn aeration
2. Overseeding the lawn
3. Throwing down some starter fertilizer
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. So if you want a lush green lawn in Michigan, you must fertilize it at the right time.
So, when to fertilize lawn in Michigan?
Fertilize in spring (March or April) as the ground temperature increases. Then fertilize in May to provide essential nutrients to the lawn.
The summer application should be divided into two parts (half between July 1 – July 10 and the other half between August 1 – August 10).
In Fall, fertilize after lawn aeration in September and then in October.
Remember to stick to this lawn maintenance schedule for a beautiful green lawn. Stay tuned for more.
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