Nitrogen Fertilizer For Your Lawn

Grass is notorious for needing a lot of nitrogen fertilizer.  Nitrogen is a macronutrient that all plants need.  It is the basis for proteins in plants and animals, and is present in the chloroplasts, which are the molecules within plants that perform photosynthesis, making food for the plants.  If plants do not have enough nitrogen, they turn yellow, in part because the chloroplasts are not functioning properly. Some plants require more than others.  Most species of grass are what are called "heavy feeders" and require a lot of nitrogen.  You will often hear people say their lawn has "greened up" after an application of fertilizer.  After fertilization, the nitrogen levels in the plants are higher, including inside the chloroplasts, hence the greener color.

Forms of Nitrogen Fertilizers

Organic nitrogen is found in decaying plant and animal material.  This is why compost is a good addition to soil.  Commercially synthesized nitrogen generally includes either nitrate or ammonium.  In the form of nitrate, plants can quickly and easily absorb nitrogen, but it leaches, or is washed, from the soil quickly.  The ammonium form bonds tightly with soil particles, so it moves through the soil to plants more slowly.  To provide your lawn with the nitrogen it needs, use fertilizers that have both forms of nitrogen, or alternate applications of each type. Organic forms of nitrogen are beneficial to the lawn, but take longer to break down and become available for plants.  Inorganic forms such as nitrate or ammonium are more quickly available to plants, but can be lost into the groundwater, causing pollution problems downstream, if not applied correctly.

When to use Nitrogen Fertilizer

"More is better" is not the name of the game when fertilizing a lawn.  To much of a good thing is not, in fact, a good thing, when it comes to fertilizer.  Over-fertilized plants produce soft, weak growth.  When more nitrogen (or any nutrient) is added to the soil than can bond with the soil, it will move through the soil, and can cause imbalances away from the site it was added.  Many factors affect the ability of plants to take in nutrients.  Weather, soil pH, plant type, and stage of growth all influence the way plants take in and use nutrients. Each species of grass has different fertilizing requirements.  Usually, nitrogen fertilizer also includes phosphorous and potassium.  These formulations are called "N-P-K" fertilizers.  The ratio of each nutrient to the other is indicated by a number.  This is called the "fertilizer analysis."  You could buy a 10-10-10 fertilizer, which has equal parts of each nutrient.  A 20-10-10 would have twice as much nitrogen as phosphorous and potassium.  The numbers also correspond to percentage by weight in the particular fertilizer.  A 10-10-10 fertilizer is made of 10% of each nutrient.  The additional 70% of ingredients are inert, or inactive.  A higher number corresponds to a larger amount of active ingredient in the fertilizer. Nitrogen is important in overall plant health. Phosphorous is integral in root formation.  Potassium regulates water movement.  If you are just establishing a lawn, you might want to use fertilizer that has more phosphorous by percentage than nitrogen or potassium, so the plants can establish a healthy root system.  During the summer, when the grass is actively growing, you may want to use a fertilizer with more nitrogen.  Always apply nitrogen fertilizers at the rate recommended for your growing conditions and the species of grass that you grow.  A plant can only use so much fertilizer.  Any excess will be waste-in terms of money spent, and in terms of a resource that is underutilized.  Nitrogen, in particular, is harmful when over-applied, as extra nitrogen will seep through groundwater, into streams and continuing to rivers causing algal blooms and other environmental impacts. Nitrogen fertilizer is an important part of a lawn maintenance plant.  When applied in the proper form at the proper time, it will help maintain a lawn in peak condition.
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