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March through May, it’s never too late to do the right thing

I discovered last weekend on the radio show and on Facebook that many people wonder if they missed the perfect time to start on my lawn fertilization schedule.  

Photo: Getty Images

Many seem to be confused when it comes to applications of products for the early green-up or of pre-emergent herbicides. While the schedule recommends those be applied February through March, some people only see or hear “February.” Don’t avoid jumping in on the schedule because of a misinterpreted tardiness. Remember the GardenLine Tenet, “It’s never too late to do the right thing” (NTLTDTRT) … a rule that can be applied to many more gardening practices than just my fertilization schedule.

One cool thing about my lawn fertilization schedule is that you never have to plead tardiness or forgetfulness, no matter where we are on the calendar. And since it’s almost officially spring and the weather has been cooperative for the past week, you’ve got the okay to do the premier lawn fertilizer application right now, so you’ll have that green, lush lawn by May 1.  You’ll have it even sooner if you kicked off the schedule in February.

Of course, NTLTDTRT is not an absolute doctrine. When it comes to planting vegetables, it can often be too late to plant certain things. But it does apply to almost every lawncare issue. And it’s a great philosophy that can guide you in deciding when or whether to apply fertilizers, mulches, fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides – organic or synthetic. 

So, let me head off some potential questions about NTLTDTRT. 

  • If you didn’t shoot for the early green-up with a fast-acting 15-5-10, you can still apply it and remain on schedule, because the spring fertilization with controlled-release formulas can be done as soon as 30 days after applying the 15-5-10., though I prefer you wait 45 days.
  • If the summer application of controlled release fertilizer is put off until July, that’s okay too.
  • Let’s say it’s early May and you’ve just realized you forgot to do the April application of slow- or controlled-release fertilizer. (I often get calls and email questions about that.) Say it with me: It’s never too late to do the right thing! 
  • Sure, Mother Nature has often completely discombobulated our scheduled pre-emergent herbicide application, but remember that NTLTDTRT was actually put in place just for that. The next one can be done by May 1, but apply the philosophy on this application, too, if it needs to be later in May or even June. 
  • Nitro-Phos Super Turf 19-4-10 is the number one example on the schedule, just because it’s the most readily available. But there are many others out there, so don’t hesitate to use another if you’re feeling a little experimental. You can choose 19-5-9, 18-5-9, 21-7-14, 18-0-6, or even a controlled-release 15-5-10. The most important factor is that you pick something “CONTROLLED- or SLOW-RELEASE,” because we want it to feed for up to 90 days.
  • Those controlled-release 3-1-2 and 4-1-2 formulas are designed for southern turfgrasses. Avoid national brands at all costs because they are usually too high in nitrogen. Far too many of them are also weed-and-feed formulas, and you probably know how I feel about them.


Let me reemphasize that NTLTDTRT is not a rule of absolutes. If you wait too long to do anything in a schedule like mine, you will not achieve the optimum results. Pre-emergent herbicides are perfect examples. My schedule calls for their application during specific periods, and if you’re a month behind, you’ll definitely have missed 30 days of blocking weed seeds from germinating. Still, you need to get it out, right? So - say it with me again - It’s never too late to do the right thing!

And since organic Texas-native mulches are always a good thing for moisture retention and weed control, and are just downright good for the soil over time, you can apply NTLTDTRT in any case. In all my books, magazine articles and web postings over the years, I’ve tried to encourage two to three mulchings per year, but only with the healthiest varieties. Don’t get me started on dyed mulches or mulch volcanoes around trees.   

It’s never too late to do the right thing! It’s a pretty simple philosophy, but one that has served me and GardenLine listeners very well for over two decades. Just say it out loud and use a little logic. I promise you’ll find many instances when it can be applied with regard to fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, plantings, mulch, and insecticide applications.


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