Your lawn has been nice and not asked for anything in the last few months except for an occasional drink of water. You probably gave it a dose of weed killer to control winter annuals and a pre-emergence herbicide to prevent the seeds of summer annuals from germinating. Other than that, your lawn has been sleeping peacefully feeding on stored energy reserves.
A great healthy lawn requires a lot of time, effort and money. The payout however, is a beautiful pleasing landscape to be enjoyed by the whole family, including your pet. However, in the coming weeks, your lawn is going to be very hungry after its winter nap. So, get ready to supply it with three of the most important nutrients it may need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K). Feeding time should begin once the threat of the last frost is past and the soil temperature has been consistently above 65 ºF. Fertilization of your lawn should be made based upon recommendations from a soil sample. Soil samples will help you provide your lawn with the adequate amount of each nutrient, if necessary. You may not have to put down a complete fertilizer and this could save you some money. However, there is a general rule of thumb to fertilizing if you do not get around to testing your soil. Without a soil test, a 3-1-2 or a 4-1-2 ratio fertilizer such as 12-4-8 or 16-4-8 will be sufficient. Most warm season grasses require 1 to 5 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet a year. For example, apply 6 lbs. of 16-4-8 per 1,000 square feet after green-up in the spring then monthly until six to eight weeks before the average first frost date.
If you have centipede grass, do not over feed it with nitrogen. Over fertilization is one of the biggest reasons for the decline of centipede lawns. On most centipede lawns, one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet once a year is adequate. If you have sandy soils, you may need to apply two pounds of nitrogen. This should be done AFTER spring green-up. A simple program for centipedegrass fertility is three applications of fertilizer spaced about six weeks apart. Consider applying 2 lbs. of 15-0-15 per 1,000 square feet around the first of May, then a second 2 lbs. mid-June and the final application of 2 lbs. the first of August. Never apply lime to your centipede lawn unless a soil tests recommends this. It would be ineffective and somewhat of a waste of time, effort, and money to fertilize before green up. The plant is not actively growing and therefore will not absorb the nutrients fast enough.
Remember these tips when applying fertilizer to your lawn: apply fertilizer when leaves are dry to prevent foliar burn; then apply ½ in of water to lawns that have just been fertilized; use a mechanical spreader for even distribution; blow or sweep fertilizer that lands on the driveway, sidewalks, and roads back into the lawn and not into a storm drain; and never exceed the recommended rate for your particular lawn.
A good fertilizer program is essential to maintaining a healthy and attractive lawn. Apply fertilizer at the right time and at the recommended rates.
Information for this article was gathered from Lawns in Georgia Bulletin 773 and the Georgia Master Gardener Handbook Eight Edition