With essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK), fertilizers are formulated to support the growth of a healthy, dense, and green lawn that is resilient against pests, fungus, drought, foot traffic, and other environmental challenges.
However, despite their benefits, excessive fertilizer application can inadvertently lead to yellowing, browning, or drying patches on your lawn. This situation, called fertilizer burn, is one of the most common mistakes when fertilizing soil.
What Causes Fertilizer Burn?
Fertilizer burn is a result of over-fertilization, which happens when plants get more fertilizer than they can absorb. It appears as yellow or brown dry spots on the grass blades or large patches of burnt grass. This burnt appearance occurs because the fertilizer salts draw too much moisture from the plants.
In addition to using too much fertilizer, you also risk plant damage when you apply fertilizer under the following circumstances:
- Dry soil
- Wet leaves
- Direct sunlight
- Extreme heat or drought
- When the grass is under stress
Using incorrect ratios of NPK in lawn fertilizers, specifically those high in nitrogen, can also lead to fertilizer burn. A soil test can help prevent this risk and ensure optimal grass growth by providing valuable insights into your soil's nutrient composition. It allows you to customize your fertilization approach based on the specific needs of your lawn while minimizing the risks of using excessive amounts of fertilizer.
What Does Fertilizer Burn Look Like?
Brown patches of dead grass on your lawn can stem from issues like poor soil conditions, pests, fungal diseases, foot traffic, and heat and drought. Meanwhile, fertilizer burn can also appear as burnt, curled, or crunchy leaves, alongside symptoms such as stunted growth, defoliation, blackened and rotted roots, and salt buildup in the soil.
If you use a spreader for applying granular fertilizer, the damage may also appear as long streaks of burnt grass where you may have overlapped the granules. Interestingly, fertilizer burn can be confused with nitrogen deficiency, an opposite issue but with similar signs, like wilting, curling, or scorching.
In essence, different issues can lead to similar symptoms. So, accurate diagnostics are essential for making informed decisions to address lawn issues.
How to Prevent Fertilizer Burn
How long you will see signs of fertilizer burn after application will depend on the concentration of the nutrients and release time.
For fast-release fertilizers like liquid fertilizers, the signs of fertilizer burn will be visible a few days after application. Meanwhile, slow-release fertilizers may show signs of damage after a few weeks. Due to their slow-acting nature, they may even prevent damage from excess fertilizer. They guarantee a more controlled and sustained release of nutrients, reducing the risk of fertilizer burn and facilitating sustained, long-term growth for your entire lawn.
Preventing fertilizer burn is a matter of selecting the right fertilizer and ensuring proper application:
Read the label. Whatever type of fertilizer you use, read the label and follow the recommended application rates. Always practice safety to protect your family and pets as well as your grass.
Apply uniformly. For granular fertilizer, use a broadcast spreader in an overlapping pattern to ensure even distribution. For liquid fertilizer, dilute the solution in a sprayer and apply it while walking at a steady pace for a uniform application.
Use NutriPods grass plug fertilizer. When planting grass plugs, we recommend using NutriPods grass fertilizer—providing a balance of NPK ratio in pre-measured dissolvable pods that you can work seamlessly into the soil for direct root access. It not only ensures a mess-free application but also facilitates a gradual nutrient release, reducing the risk of lawn burn.
Avoid fertilizing in heat or drought. Extended periods of heat and drought, exacerbated by the lack of water, can intensify the effects of fertilizer on your lawn, potentially leading to burns. Avoid fertilizing during these conditions when the grass is less resilient and more susceptible to damage.
Do not apply fertilizer to wet grass. Similarly, avoid fertilizing wet grass, as it can increase the risk of fertilizer burn. Instead, water your lawn adequately after applying granular fertilizers. This will help remove any fertilizer sitting on the foliage and ensure the nutrients will spread evenly through the soil.
Can You Fix Fertilizer Burn?
Lawn fertilizer burn can potentially damage your grass beyond restoration, particularly in severe cases where no measures to reverse the damage are taken. The success can depend on factors such as root health, grass type, and the amount of excess fertilizer applied to your lawn. Clearly, the higher the dose, the greater the risk.
Flush Out Excess Fertilizer
If you spill granular fertilizer or realize you've over-applied, the first step is to remove as much excess fertilizer as possible from the surface. Subsequently, hose down the affected area with water for a week to effectively flush out the excess fertilizer. However, remember that this method works best in lawns with good drainage to avoid waterlogging.
Remove Damaged Grass and Restore Your Lawn with Grass Plugs
In an unfruitful attempt to fix fertilizer burn, help your lawn recover faster by raking damaged and dead grass. This will help conserve the energy of the remaining plants and direct it towards new grass growth. You can also fill in bare spots with grass plugs to aid in the recovery and prevent soil erosion.
Maintaining a healthy lawn involves proper fertilizer application to avoid the detrimental effects of fertilizer burn. The key is to strike the right balance, ensuring your lawn receives the nutrients it requires without overwhelming it with too much fertilizer. By adopting responsible lawn care practices, you can enjoy a lush, green lawn without unsightly burned patches.
For high-quality grass plug fertilizer, visit the NutriPod website and discover a reliable solution to promote the overall well-being of your lawn.