Fertilizer Deciphered

Written by DIY, Outdoor

We’ve been doing SO MANY outdoor things gearing up for the nice weather. I’m working on another big ‘ole outdoor update post for you all. But until then, let’s get technical about the biggest yard update we’ve tackled so far. The YARD!

You may remember me writing that our backyard… well… it really wasn’t a “yard.” Before we bought the house, it had been an in ground pool. The previous owner filled it in before putting it on the market. Jordan used his engineering knowledge to determine it was the correct type of fill and we shouldn’t have any sinking issues. And we haven’t! However, the grass was in a really poor state. But we knew we could fix it.

Here is the yard on day one. I took this screenshot from our little video of Tealy’s first frisbee toss at our new home. Needless to say, I didn’t want to document the yard itself really. It’s sort of hard to see, but most of the brown you see is just dirt and straw. They attempted growing some grass, but it didn’t really have much of a chance once it got hot. We moved in July, and it was already too late.

It got worse over the winter, to the point where we had a mud pit for a yard. We started letting the dog go out front just so we didn’t have to clean her off every time. Again, we knew we were getting into this when we bought the house. So we were prepared for it.

Fast forward to now…

We have grass! The same little corner is a lot greener these days! There are still some bare spots we are working on, but it’s worlds better than before and we couldn’t be happier. We are gonna keep working at it little by little through the season and wine and dine this yard!

So, how did we get here? Early this spring we geared up with all the essentials to create a yard. We headed to Lowes, our favorite place! Jordan found the oldest employee in the garden center (that’s his secret, they know the most!). Of course it was this sweet looking little old lady with white hair, and she KNEW ALL THE THINGS!

Keep in mind we are trying to start a yard from just fill dirt. It was definitely lacking any nutrients the plant needs. We needed to hit the area with a heavy does of all the good stuff to get it to the point grass will actually root in. We also needed a heavy does of all the other nutrients that help it stay healthy.

So here is the chemistry lesson. Please keep in mind, I was an art major and science was my worst subject. That’s how easy this is! There are three little numbers that tell you everything you need to know, called the fertilizer grade. The first number represents nitrogen (N), the second is phosphorus (P), and the third is potassium (K). These N-P-K numbers reflect each nutrient’s percentage by weight. So if you have a 10lb bag with 10% nitrogen, there is 1lb of actual nitrogen in the contents.

What the heck does this all mean and why does it matter? Great question! These are the primary nutrients to all plant life. Although, different plants need them at different levels. Here is the very basic run down of the effect of each of those nutrients on grass.


Promotes vigorous growth and a rich, green color.


Focuses the energy on strong root development, and helps the grass use other nutrients efficiently.


Helps regulate root and top growth, and basically keeps the grass healthy and balanced.
Out of those three, which do you think our yard needed the most? If you said phosphorus, you would be right! Typically, you want to be careful how much phosphorus you use, because the runoff is not good for the environment. But if your yard has a deficiency like ours did, you should be ok. We typically like to be organic or environmentally friendly as much as possible. But to get the yard started, we opted for this. Once we have it established, we will go back to our regularly scheduled program of natural fertilizers and aerating.

We used Scotts Starter Food for New Grass which had HUGE numbers: 21-22-4. But this will be the only time we use something with this much “oomph”. Most other bags had numbers around 10 and below for maintenance. Also, don’t forget the grass seed!
In the spring, you typically want to hit it with more nitrogen to help it spring back to life, get nice and green and grow fast. While in the fall, you would want more potassium to help it build a tolerance to weather and drought while it hibernates for the winter.

A tricky problem we have are the typical dog urine burn spots. With our pretty new green grass we want to try and keep this to a minimum. So I googled it, and here is what I found. Dog urine is high in nitrogen because of their high protein diets. Nitrogen… didn’t we just say how good that is for grass? Yes, but… if there is too much nitrogen it kills the grass. Too much of a good thing.
It seems prevention is the best method. Once the grass is dead, it’s dead and you’ll have to fill your bare patches with grass seed. There were two things I found to help prevent this: 1)Dilute the pee! Water the yard and spread out the nitrogen. This will then make it good for the grass at lower concentrated levels. 2) Neutralize the nitrogen with baking soda. So I guess when you see the dog go, just sprinkle some over it and you’re good!

Whew! That was a lot of science-y talk for me! All this info about fertilizer was eye opening for us, and is hopefully useful to you and helps you get your best lawn this year! Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re gonna go enjoy our new lawn!

Last modified: September 9, 2017