Northern Nevada landscaping and gardening: Oops, fertilizer burn! | Carson City Nevada News

Most of us have done it, but usually only once. The “it” I’m talking about is burning a lawn with manure. There are several “oops” ways this can be done. One is spilling fertilizer while filling the spreader when it is parked on the lawn. Another is to tip the spreader over while sliding it back and forth.

A third can occur when a clogged spreader opening is cleaned while the spreader is on the lawn and a mass of fertilizer falls out. Then of course there is also the case that too much is simply applied in one or more places, which can happen if you do not close the spreading vane when turning on the lawn or if you have opened the spreader too wide. Fertilizing too often can also burn grass.

Finally, burns can occur if a lawn is fed in hot weather or if the fertilizer is not watered thoroughly. Sometimes the burning is not your fault, it is due to the soil not draining properly, which can cause salts to build up in the root area.

Fertilizers are mineral salts. If too much salt is left on the grass, it dries out and turns yellow to brown. The discoloration usually shows up a day or two after fertilization. Sometimes this kills the grass, but usually heavy watering will help wash the salts through the soil. This should allow the grass to grow back within seven to 14 days. When the lawn dies, it must be removed, the soil dug up, and seeds planted or sward installed.

When you have a moment of fertilizer on your lawn, act immediately. Sweep up as much as you can. Then water the burned area until the soil underneath is saturated. Apply an inch of water a day for the next seven days. Water dilutes the salts and loosens them from the roots.

Fertilizer application rates and guidelines are on the package for a reason and should be followed. More is not better. It is also important to know your spreader and how much is being applied through the openings at the bottom of the hopper. Perhaps switch to slow release fertilizers or organic fertilizers, which are most likely not to burn. Do not fertilize a drought-stressed lawn. Weak grass is more likely to burn.

Since it is already mid-June and temperatures are rising, it is not time to fertilize with a conventional lawn fertilizer. If, like me, you forgot to fertilize earlier in the season, now only use an organic or slow release fertilizer. As with any chemical, read and follow the directions on the label.

– JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor and Emeritus Extension Instructor at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at

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