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What about the new liquid lawn fertilizers?

What about the new liquid lawn fertilizers? A well-fed lawn simply does better than one that gets no fertilizer. It rebounds from dry periods quicker than unfed turf and grows fast enough to stay ahead of wear and tear caused by insects, disease, and people. The only questions are how and how often you should feed your grass. Until recently, the answers were simple: spread dry, bagged fertilizer over your lawn three or four times a year. But now there's a whole new generation of liquid lawn fertilizers from which to choose.

Just how good are they? We looked at about a dozen, most new in the past year or two, and found some potent enough to use in place of bagged fertilizers, while others are best used as supplements.

First, why liquids?

Liquid fertilizer is easy to handle and simple to apply: just spray it on by hand or, in one case, run it through a hose-end sprinkler. Application on unevenly shaped lawns is much easier than it can be with a drop spreader and dry fertilizer.

In addition, most new waterborne fertilizers won't burn the lawn, since they're designed to release only a small amount of nitrogen at once. But light doses of these fertilizers need to be applied frequently in order to do long-term good.

Some of these give your lawn a meal,

others a snack. Which is which?

Spray-on fertilizers come in two forms.

Ready-to-use fertilizers are sold in disposable containers you just thread onto your hose and apply; their strongest selling point is convenience. They generally apply little actual nitrogen--the most important nutrient in any lawn fertilizer--so you need to make frequent applications to sustain your lawn. To figure out how often, see the chart above right.

Landscape professionals--those at Disneyland, for example--apply ready-to-use fertilizers when they need to perk up a lawn quickly between major feedings. In home landscapes, these fertilizers are most useful for similar purposes: say, to green up the grass before a lawn party. For fastest green-up, buy a fertilizer that contains iron.

Water-soluble concentrates are most commonly sold in granular form, though some come as liquids. You put them in a reusable hose-end sprayer (or a tank like the one pictured at top far right), dilute with water, and spray on. At recommended rates, these can deliver as much as a bagged fertilizer: 7 to 16 ounces of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Liquid concentrates are often more expensive than other forms because they are broad-range fertilizers, formulated to be safe to use on many different types of plants, including lawns.

Our chart spells out application rates and costs for each type.

How to apply spray-on fertilizer

The easiest spray-on fertilizer to apply is the one that works through a hose-end sprinkler: one source is Fertilizer Solutions, Inc.; (800) 448-1862. Tank and fertilizer cost $39.95 postpaid. How evenly it applies the fertilizer, however, depends on how evenly your sprinkler distributes water. Impulse sprinklers usually distribute water quite evenly, as do the better oscillating sprinklers.

Fertilizers applied through hose-end sprayers are less precise, and they rely on repeated applications to even out their effectiveness over the course of the year. Apply them by walking backward across your lawn, spraying side to side as you go. Be sure to wear shoes that aren't hurt by water when you do this, since your feet will likely get wet as you pass over ground you've already sprayed.

The application rates of different hose-end sprayers can vary widely. Two that we tested sprayed fertilizer so fast you could cover 1,000 square feet in 60 seconds. Other sprayers took from 3 to 20 minutes to cover the same area. You'll have to experiment to get it right, and adjust your walking speed accordingly. If you find that the lawn food is coming out so fast that you can't keep up with it, turn the water volume down.

We also found that some ready-to-use sprayers weren't as reliable as reusable ones and would quit working from time to time for no apparent reason. If you use one of these, keep your eye on the bottle to make sure the fertilizer is coming out.

To compare fertilizers, first

compute actual nitrogen

When turf experts tell you how much to feed your lawn (usually 2 to 4 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year), they always speak in terms of "actual nitrogen." What is it?

Each fertilizer is marked with three numbers, such as 20-2-4. These numbers are percentages by weight of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Their order never changes.

A bag or bottle marked 20-2-4 contains 20 percent nitrogen, 2 percent phosphorus as phosphoric acid, and 4 percent potassium as soluble potash.

To determine the actual nitrogen, take its percentage of the weight of the package. A 10-pound bag of 20-2-4 fertilizer, for example, contains 2 pounds of actual nitrogen (10 times .2), enough for a year. A 32-fluid-ounce bottle of 20-3-3 liquid fertilizer that weighs 38 ounces contains about 7-1/2 ounces actual nitrogen (38 times .2), so in order to supply the 2 pounds of nitrogen needed over a year's time, you'd need five bottles.

Knowing the amount of actual nitrogen, the price, and recommended application rates, you can compare products. You'll find whopping differences in what you pay for what you get. Study our chart for the ranges of prices and products.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1989
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