Nitrogen Fertilizer for the Lawn, Not the Street

Nitrogen Fertilizer for the Lawn, Not the Street

Fertilizer spilled on concrete
Fertilizer spilled on concrete. Photo by Brad Jakubowski, Penn State University

Regular nitrogen applications to the lawn are an integral part of lawn care in Nebraska.  Why?  Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are “nitrogen hogs”, requiring small to moderate amounts applied at key times in the growing season.  The good news is that most Nebraska soils provide all of the other nutrients required by plants for healthy growth.  Keeping this in mind is important when managing the health of the turf and the health of the environment.

Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient, which means that every bit of the applied product cannot be absorbed within a short time after application.  In order to provide for the needs of the turf plants, without allowing the unabsorbed portion to be lost due to volatilization, downward percolation or offsite movement, 2 important considerations should be followed:

  1. Apply the product only to the turf, not the sidewalk, street or driveway.  When spreading fertilizer, watch the product distribution pattern carefully and take note of any granules that drift to non-turf areas.  Some fertilizer spreaders have a simple deflector attachment which helps with keeping the product on the lawn.  After fertilization, use a blower to move the particles from impervious surfaces back to the lawn.  Any product that remains on the sidewalk or street will eventually end up in a lake or stream and cause water pollution or algal blooms.
  2. Apply only what can be absorbed by the plant.  Since nitrogen is most readily absorbed when the lawn is actively growing, the following schedule will facilitate utilization and limit losses:


Cool Season Grasses (tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass) :

Timing                                 lbs. of Nitrogen/1000 sq. ft/year

April 15-25                           0.0 to 0.5 lb.

May 25 – June 5                0.5 to 0.75 lb.

August 25 – Sept. 5          0.5 to 0.75 lb.

Oct. 15 – Nov. 1                0.0 to 0.25 lb.

Warm Season Grasses (zoysiagrass, buffalograss) :

Timing                                   lbs. of Nitrogen/1000 sq. ft./year

May 5 – 15                          0.5 lbs.

July 4                                     0.5 lbs – optional for zoysiagrass

*This timing is for eastern and central Nebraska; in western Nebraska, adjust by delaying fertilization a week to 10 days in spring and a week to 10 days sooner in fall.

*The best way to know how much product to apply is to do some simple and quick math.  If it’s late April and fourth of a pound is called for, simply divide 0.25 by the nutrient analysis on the fertilizer product bag…a typical one is 21-2-5.  For example, 0.25 divided by 0.21.  This results in our final amount to be applied to 1,000 sq. ft – 1.2 pounds.  Then, multiply 1.2 pounds by the number of 1,000 sq. ft. units in the lawn; by 5 if it’s a 5,000 sq. ft. lawn; ie. 1.2 x 5 = 5.95 pounds of product needed.

This article was reviewed by Nicole Stoner

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