Cool-season turfgrass species should be fertilized mainly in the autumn. In addition to a fertilization in September, a fertilization with nitrogen in November will help produce a healthy turf. There are many fertilizer choices available. Organic, inorganic, and synthetic organic products are all available. As with all plants, turfgrasses cannot tell the difference between the sources of nutrients. Some products contain high amounts of slow-release N while others contain none. Although there are exceptions to the rule, it is good practice to use products with a greater percentage of slow-release nitrogen sources during spring and summer months and a greater percentage of quick-release nitrogen sources in the fall.
Late fall nitrogen promotes good root development, enhances storage of energy reserves, and extends color retention in cool-season lawns. Most of the benefits from late fall nitrogen will be seen next spring and summer with earlier green-up, improved turf density, and improved tolerance to spring diseases such as red thread and pink patch. The timing of this application should be near or after the last mowing of the year, but while lawn is still green. Typically, there may be a month or more between your last mowing and the time the grass turns brown or goes under snow cover. Generally the first few weeks of November are when to apply. Earlier Purdue research suggests that the nitrogen must be taken-up by the plant before winter to be most effective. Therefore, a soluble nitrogen source such as urea, ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate, or ammonium sulfate is most effective. The target application rate for this November fertilization should be 0.5 to 1.0 lbs. N/1000 ft2.
If you are confused on how much of a particular product to apply to achieve a particular N-rate, use our fertilizer calculator to help determine exactly how much product to use: www.agry.purdue.edu/turf/fertcalc/Fertilization%20calc.html.
Aaron Patton, Turfgrass Extension Specialist, Purdue University