When it comes to fall – or autumn if you prefer – many of us tend to start thinking about lawn care in terms of leaf raking and blowing.

But proper fall lawn care is still as much about your grass as anything else. In fact, this is the time of year that you need to start thinking about your grass’s health in relation to cooler weather.

That means giving your lawn one last round of fertilizer before cold weather sets in for good. Sometimes referred to as winterizing, this final fertilizer application will ensure a healthy lawn throughout the winter and set it up for a strong growth during the early spring.

However, not all winterizing is the same. In fact, if you do not apply the right type of fertilizer – at the right time – you could harm your lawn. So, with that in mind, let’s look at the type of fertilizer (“plant food”) you should be using this fall, as well as the best time to apply it.

A quick lesson on fertilizers


Before you purchase and apply a fall fertilizer, understand that traditional fertilizers are made up of three ingredients: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Each of these elements help your lawn to accomplish something different and fertilizers are compounds of these three substances mixed in different amounts.

  • Nitrogen – Promotes the production of chlorophyll, thus nitrogen helps your grass to grow greener and fuller blades. However, too much nitrogen can also burn the grass and lead to brown patches.
  • Phosphorus – Feeds root growth and helps in the uptake of nitrogen. However, too much phosphorus application can prevent your grass from absorbing other key nutrients, causing it to die. Too much is also bad for water sources as it promotes the growth of algae and weeds when it is washed away into lakes and rivers.
  • Potassium – Helps your grass to fight off disease, drought, and stress. However, you can over-apply this element as well. And while that will not directly hurt your grass, it will affect the levels of other elements in your soil, thus changing the environment for your grass.

All lawn fertilizers feature different mixtures of these nutrients – in the order listed above (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) and will have numbers on the bag to represent the amounts of each that are present. For instance, the bag may say 20-20-20, which means the mix is made up of 20% of all three elements. And those numbers are extremely important for a winterizing treatment of your lawn.

What type of grass do I have?


This is the most important question you must answer. In fact, your winterizing fertilizer application relies solely on the answer.

Living in north Georgia, you likely have warm-season grasses – Bermuda, zoysia, centipede, or perhaps even St. Augustine – and if that is the case, then you should be careful to avoid any sort of high-nitrogen fertilizer. 

The reasons for this are twofold. First, warm weather grasses go dormant during colder months and store nutrients for those months. And a dose of nitrogen will cause the grass to use the nutrients it should be storing for growth. Second is that using this nitrogen-heavy fertilizer at this time of year could promote certain diseases that spread more readily in the late fall.

So, if you do apply fertilizer to warm weather grass in the fall, it should be one richer in potassium to help it fight off winter stresses and be ready for spring. This blend is sometimes referred to as “potash.”

However, you should also be careful not to use too much potash, as the salt levels in this mix can also burn your grass, so make sure to follow directions on the package thoroughly. The best method of establishing the levels you need to utilize is through soil testing. To properly test your soil, simply contact your local extension service, gather soil in the containers they will give you and return it to them for analysis.

If you do have cool weather grasses – such as fescue, rye, blue or bentgrasses – now is the perfect time to give it a high dose of nitrogen. In fact, a mix of 25-5-5 would be ideal for a winter boost.

How and when do I apply the fertilizer?


Wait until cooler weather begins to take hold and then prepare to work on a dry day. For either cool or warm grasses you will need to evenly distribute the fertilizer across your lawn. Use a granular spreader (which can be purchased at any home improvement store) and be sure to follow the directions closely. 

It is not a particularly involved process, but it does require some time and precision – and that is why many homeowners choose to have professionals apply their fertilizer treatments.

At Hughes Turf Management, we make life simpler by handling all aspects of your lawn care – allowing you to enjoy a lush, healthy lawn year-round without the commitment of DIY soil checks and fertilizer treatments.

Our expertise guarantees that your grass – no matter if it’s a warm or cold weather species – will get the exact treatment it needs to enhance your outdoor enjoyment.

Contact us today at 678-617-1962 and let us ensure your lawn’s optimal health for years to come.