Cranky Man’s Guide to Lawn Fertilization

All Cranky Man lawn tips are based on local experience in the southeast region of Pennsylvania in the good ol’ US of A.  Many of these tried and true tips are compatible with a Humid Subtropical Climate.  If you are reading this from the jungles of Central Africa, you probably have a lot of more important things to worry about … like day-to-day survival.  If you live in the southwest of the U.S. of A., just start a rock garden! 


Memorial Day is fast approaching.  Spring is well on its way to morphing into Summer, although in our little slice of paradise, Spring has been but a rumor to wax nostalgic over between the cold and rain.

That being said, there are certain steps you should already have taken or will be taking shortly to ensure the health of your lawn over the impending hot days of Summer.  For instance, pre-emergent should have been applied several weeks ago to forestall the hot weather loving sprouting of crabgrass.  In addition, you should be prepared for or at least entertaining the idea of Weed ‘n Feed applications that will fertilize your lawn; rid it of weeds; and keep them away.

Past writings for this very blog have recommended the general idea of Five annual fertilizer treatments:

  1. Pre-emergent treatment to prevent crabgrass (early to mid-Spring)
  2. Spring Weed ‘n Feed (late Spring)
  3. Anti-grub application to obliterate beetle grubs that feed on lawn roots (early to mid-Summer)
  4.  Fall Weed ‘n Feed that maintains the clean & healthy momentum (late Summer-early Fall)
  5. Winter feeding (mid-late Fall)

In the years since those wise and eloquent words were first written, I have learned even more or have had to adjust my fertilizing treatments according to “facts on/in the ground” or events that shaped a different approach. Certainly the old tried and true outline above is timeless as a general guide.  But every lawn in different.  Every lawn aficionado with their own quirks and preferences.

It’s the stuff that makes the Lawn World go ’round!

photo 2


In the years through which I have been caring for my own 1/4 acre, I have learned a lot and have changed the way I approach lawn treatments.  For instance, I no longer do anti-grub treatments after dealing with an infestation and learning about the milky spore.

This also helps out quite a bit in the wallet, as anti-grub treatments are the most expensive ones, so long as torturing a few grubs doesn’t bother you. For this reason, I have suggested most recently that anti-grub treatments can be optional, if (Big IF) you pay attention to the potential presence of grub-producing beetles in the late June-early July time frame.

Another change is the use of Starter fertilizer as a way of helping the lawn recover from the hot Summer. This is an optional treatment, not used in years when Summer has been wetter and not so brutally hot. Those summers are few and far between however.

So my present-day fertilizer schedule is closer to this now:

  1. Pre-emergent
  2. Spring Weed ‘n Feed
  3. Starter fertilizer (Optional, based on Summer’s Heat and Rain and the condition of the lawn; applied in early to mid-September)
  4. Fall Weed ‘n Feed (Optional, based on your decision on “if and when” to apply 3. above; mid-September to mid-October)
  5. Winterfeed (no sooner than six weeks after 4. above, no later than first week of December, weather permitting)

Lawn fertilizing should be approached as a balancing act. Balancing the current condition of your lawn with its future health.

You never want to apply any fertilizer during hot, dry Summer conditions. Never apply a fertilizer within a month – as a minimum – after previous applications; six weeks is optimal.  Most important … Use simple common sense; pay attention to the weather and condition of your lawn; and remember, long-term health is more important that present-day appearance. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking short-term appearance over long-term lawn health.

Carry on …. And be Green out there!


Cranky Man’s March: In like the Tundra, out like a Lawn


Gentlemen, start your engines!

March 2016 has been a wacky ride so far in the SouthEast Region of Pennsylvania.  Started off nice enough; then turned windy and stormy; followed by two days in the 80s; then back to raw, windy Ides of March weather.  Now, there’s a whispered rumor of snow for this Sunday.

In other words, perfect late Winter lawn weather!

To complete the picture the early blooming trees are already out in pink, white, and lavender.  Soon Spring will have officially sprung!

As any dedicated lawn nerd knows, now is the time to get to work.  You had your post-holiday Winter weekends all to yourself, where your biggest worry was over-napping. (At least mine was …)

So let’s get crackin’ …

1. Love your Equipment, and it will Love you back!

Get your lawn mower into the shop for a seasonal tune-up that includes blade replacement.

I’m pretty good in Equipment Condition, having just bought a new grass-eater last June.  I will get a full season out my mower before worrying about a pre-season tune-up next year.  As for other equipment … like trimmers, edgers, and leaf blowers … I tend to simply use them until they die. To me sending them into the repair cycle is hardly cost-effective, given the relative affordability of smaller equipment and the Cheapness of their Owner. 

This year I plan to add a new blower/sweeper.  I just need to figure out if another gas model is needed, or if an electric version will do the job without too much aggravation.

2. Cut the lawn short to clean it up!

First thing I do every Spring is low-cut the lawn (i.e. lower than I would normally dare during the rest of the year).  This makes it easier to clean up the entire lawn of Winter debris, including loose twigs and soggy leaves.

After cutting one section (maybe 3-4 passes) I will use a rake to make sure I get up all the sodden leaves and debris buried deeper in the grass.  Particularly when it comes to those nasty, rotting leaves, it’s best to get them up.  Otherwise they tend to become a block to new spring growth, and if allowed to collect can kill underlying grass plants.


obligatory Forsythia shot

3. Look to the Forsythia to Vanquish the Crab!

Crabgrass … That bane of Summer lawns, proliferates in the heat of the Summer.  The hotter, the better for the little bastards!

But crabgrass seedlings, left dormant over the long Winter, germinate in the early Spring, roughly around the time when average soil temperatures exceed 55° for three or more days.  Of course figuring out when that magical moment occurs is a bit more complicated than simply checking out ambient air temperatures since the ground always takes longer to warm than the air above it.

Fortunately, Mother Nature provides its own ground temp indication in the form of the Forsythia.  When the forsythia blooms, the ground temperatures will be just about right for your first lawn application of the season (Preemergent).  But if you cannot wait for Miss Forsythia to show her yellow blossoms, ’tis better to apply a preemergent early than late.

Frankly, I only concern myself with the front lawn at our house, since it’s the portion that gets exposed to the hottest periods of sun.  Our backyard is significantly more shaded, so crabgrass from experience has never been a serious issue …

Well, except for my one neighbor, who several seasons ago was raising more weeds than grass, including a copious assortment of bastard crabgrass plants.  They are much better lately.  We even cooperate on chickweed eradication.  But I still apply several passes of preemergent (and weed ‘n feed) along our common border.  I view it as similar to prophylactic doses of antibiotics! 

4.  Is Aerating over-rated?

Absolutely not!


How core aerator works

I have written much on the whys, hows, and wherefores of aerating your lawn.  Aerating has numerous benefits to your lawn, especially if your lawn suffers a lot of foot traffic during the Summer.  Click HERE to link into a short discussion of aeration benefits and the proper equipment to use.

Aerating is a preferred time to add a layer of grass seed, known as over-seeding, to thicken your lawn.  It’s not necessary for lawns already sufficiently thick, and most lawns will thicken – if well fed – during the Spring growing season.  Skip over-seeding if you don’t need it!

BIG HINT TIME:  I know some people who will aerate twice every year.  Personally, I do it once a year, and even skip it if my timing doesn’t allow for it.  But trust me … If you aerate your lawn at all, don’t do it in September when Summer-baked soil will make ground penetration almost impossible.  Aerate in the early Spring when Winter snows and Spring rain renders the soil softer and easier for the aerator to do its job properly! 

5.  Weed ‘n Feed done right at the right time.

Timing is important – for several reasons – when applying weed ‘n feed.  The first crucial factor is to make sure, if you applied a preemergent earlier, to wait 4-6 weeks before applying any other fertilizer.

Second, decide whether you need a “direct application” to eradicate weeds that are present, or whether your lawn is sufficiently weed-free to use a simpler momentum-type product to maintain your lawn’s present balance.  Direct application products require wet conditions, either by using a liquid spray or by applying a sandy-type dry product early on dew-soaked mornings or right after a rain.

Your last “timing consideration” when fighting weeds is to watch the weather.  Weed control products require 48 hours of rain-free weather.  Otherwise the rain washes the direct-application product off the weeds, defeating the primary purpose of using them.

I like the sandy, dry weed ‘n feed products.  They have become harder to find, but Scott’s has a good dry product, Scott’s Turf Builder Weed ‘n Feed 3.  Fortunately, my lawn is tight on the weed control front, so I use a momentum-type, sustained release in pellet form.  Using a momentum-type product takes a lot of the guess-work out.

So now you are primed and ready to get your lawn off to a Spring-loaded start.  Remember … What you do in March and April has much to do with how your lawn will look in July and August!

And while I can’t guarantee you that all that work and exercise will make you look like this rather self-absorbed lawn fan, …


…  I can assure you your lawn won’t look like his either!


Has my Absence made your Heart grown Fonder?

mccainofflawnThis Winter has been a killer – motivation-wise.

Not sure exactly what the problem has been; but I have a few suspicions with which I will not bore those who still care enough to open those Cranky Man’s Lawn e-mail notifications they may wish they never requested.

Tough darts there, my friends!

I’m back, baby!  And I will be imposing my beliefs, viewpoints, and advice in your general direction regardless of your silent trepidations that – one day – I might rediscover my keyboard.

Here are a few ideas I am working on for near-future proselytizing:

  • A return to my roots – so to speak – with a renewed season-long look at keeping your lawn Cranky Man worthy!  Only this time I will reveal what I really do instead of what the Lawn Bible preaches.
  • a Trump dump … Not to be confused with a “Dump Trump” movement, this will only be my attempt to lance a boil I have been struggling to understand.

(Big Hint:  If it’s Hillary as the Democrat nominee, I would likely vote for just about any one or thing rather than to see her in the Oval Office unopposed by my guaranteed Right … even if I have to hold my nose the entire time I’m working the polls in early November.)

  • a look at the upcoming Phillies season with a different twist on what looks to be a painful, disheartening, glamour-less baseball season for Philadelphia’s faithful.  Now, doesn’t that make you want to run out and buy a Phillies season ticket plan?!?  Could be worse … They could be playing in 76ers jerseys!

So hang in there kiddies!

Rumors aside … The Cranky Man isn’t lawn fertilizer yet!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Beetlejuiced

Not those Beatles ...

Not those Beatles …

The Fourth of July is behind us, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you haven’t been paying attention.  The beetles are back!

Japanese beetles live very short life spans in which to fit their two favorite – and only – activities: Eating holes in your lawn and Making hundreds of little baby beetles, a.k.a. grubs.  The grubs do the lawn eating until they’re big enough to move on to lawn orgies and maintaining the eat and spawn cycle.

Life as a summer beetle ain’t all that complicated.

Neither is the solution for your lawn.

Don’t be like me last year.  At some point I decided not to do anything about the annually anticipated Dance of the Beetles.  I hadn’t noticed much beetle “dancing” is the two previous seasons, so I thought, “What the heck? What’s the worst that can happen?”  Then I decided to complicate the problem by not reacting when we observed larger-than-normal beetles frolicking in what was certainly a form of promiscuous insect shenanigans right on the front lawn!

Well, they didn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Japanese beetles.

Yes, sometimes I need to be roused with a hard swat about the head with heavy bag of You’re-Such-An-Idiot!

That hard swat came in the form of serious dead spots and chunks of lawn you could rollup like a dead body in your aunt’s heirloom Persian rug.  It was not a good September, lawn-wise or for the body.

Is it Frolic Time already???

They said, “Try the milky spore. You’ll love it!”

After a lot of work to fix what beetles had wrought, I decided to go all microbiological warfare, consisting of a tedious application of the dreaded milky spore!  Dreaded by humans for it’s pain-in-the-nether-regions application process.  Dreaded by the beetles because … well, it’s not a nice way to depart the lawn-eating, baby-beetle-making circle-of-life.

You can read about it in the linked post; but trust me I wouldn’t want to be the beetle larvae that eats from the wrong grass root.  But effective it supposedly is, offering up to ten years of grub protection as the spore grows and multiplies.  No worries to you, the kids, your dog, or that body in auntie’s Persian rug.  The milky spore is harmless to all other species!

At this point however, I’m playing a coy waiting game.  I should have years of protection, but the milky spore needs to grow and multiply through the – ahem – judicious use of fresh and living beetle larvae.  (The icky body in the Persian rug part.)

Anyways, I figure a year or two before I’m home free and no longer in need of expensive grub treatments, often the most expensive lawn treatment for which you will normally pay.  My plan was to apply the usual grub treatment, that is until struck with the thought that I need healthy grub “hosts” to make the milky spore effective.

Such a conundrum!  Forego the recommended grub treatment to allow healthy grubs to feast on my lawn so to initiate their untimely and horrific death.

Now where did I put that carpet …???

For those of you not opting for the hideous milky spore solution to control your bug issues, make sure you purchase and apply your grub treatment this weekend. Once you see beetles cavorting on your lawn, it’s probably too late.

As for my lawn beetles …

You can run; but you can’t hide!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Severe growth and handling Summer’s heat


Severe growth, Cranky Man style!

Pilots have a term for describing the best visibility conditions in which to fly.  They call it Severe Clear.

If you have been following the Cranky Man Lawn Program program, you spend your weekly mowings have mutated into a slog of high, heavy, and perpetually wet grass; and you have started second-guessing your OCD affliction for The Perfect Lawn.  The combination of Spring fertilizing, typically wet weather, and moderate temperatures results in what we Lawn Gurus refer to as Severe Growth!

And right about now you might be frantically searching for a heavy garden implement to chuck in my general direction.

That’s OK … It will all be fine.  Soon the Summer temps will kick in; your beautiful, thick lawn, which has been drawing rave reviews from jealous Lawn Lazies, will be growing more slowly and thinning appreciably; and you will spend little time cutting the lawn you currently curse for its density.

Nature is the Great Equalizer …

Until that happens stick to these tips for mowing that jungle you begat through all that hard work and tender loving care:

  • Bag your lawn clippings no matter how difficult or time-consuming.
    • Leaving lawn clippings – especially from a very thick lawn – lying on the grass can be both unsightly and unhealthy to the underlying plants.
    • Mulching your lawn is always good, but mulching an extremely thick lawn over and over runs the risk of too thick a layer of mulched grass that could block fertilizer and nutrients and allow water to run off too quickly to be absorbed.
    • Once your lawn thins a bit with the increasing heat of Summer, you can resume mulching your lawn clippings.
  • Take smaller cutting widths with your mower, even if it means you are using less than half your mower’s width.
    • When the lawn is especially thick, you must give the mower a chance to chew through what it’s being fed.
    • Whether mulching or bagging, it’s a good idea to cut smaller swaths, especially if you don’t want to be raking up excess clippings that choke the outlet and end up in a few days as a brown stripe of dead grass across your lawn.
    • Then again, you could just buy a more powerful machine.  Your call ..
  •  Slow your pace in cutting the grass.
    • Grass in Spring conditions, especially when well-fertilized will be thicker, wetter, and heavier as a result.
    • Depending on how think the lawn is and how powerful a mower you are using, slowing your pace and taking a smaller cut swath will help the mower keep up.
Burn, baby, burn

Burn, baby, burn

As you sweat from the added mower work and the annoyance of bending, lifting, and dumping a seemingly endless string of heavy bags of clippings, keep in mind all those wonderful lawn compliments and the realization that in August your neighbor could be using his lawn as an airport runway.

Comfort yourself with the thought that as soon as the Summer heat ratchets up, you will no longer need your clippings bag and your mowing workload will be cut in half!

You just need to remember these tips to help your lawn survive another long, hot Summer.

  • Water early and regularly.  Do not wait until you notice browning patches of grass!  Even when temperatures are mild, lawn watering should be performed every 2-3 days without appreciable rain.  Err on the side of caution, especially when the forecast calls for intermittent thunderstorms as opposed to reliable day-long rains.
    • Or your can install an irrigation system.  I don’t have one.  Again, your call …
  • Allow your lawn to grow longer with higher temps!  A big mistake by many lawn owners is cutting the grass way too short because they like the look of a golf course fairway.  Longer grass helps to shade the underlying soil and roots, allowing better retention of water.  Raise the cutting height of your mower deck with rising air temps.
    • Remember Cranky Man’s creed:  “A fairway in June is a runway in August!” (patent pending)
  • Mulch your clippings whenever lawn conditions allow.  Once the Summer heat hits, your lawn should thin out a bit, which makes mulching while mowing easier to accomplish.  Mulching will add an extra protective layer around the base and roots of your grass plants and helps the soil retain moisture longer during hot, sun-filled days.

Last but not least, take the time to enjoy your lawn whenever you can.  Take the opportunity to walk your lawn sans shoes and socks!  Nothing feels better than the cool softness of a thick, green lawn.  A lawn junkie’s reward …

Walking barefoot in the grass – your grass – can be oddly relaxing, a great way to shed the stress of the day and a fitting reward to those who work so hard to keep their little slice of Life green and lush!

Happy mowing!



Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Getting the Crabs out

obligatory Forsynthia shot

obligatory Forsynthia shot

It’s April … Everything’s growing. Green is everywhere. You can grow a thick, lush lawn on your driveway if you so choose.

And it’s oh so easy to fall into complacency.

Don’t take your full green lawn for anything incredible in the middle of April! The long, hot summer is right around the corner. So stick to the program and get your Spring fertilization done.

The forsynthia, whose blooming signal warming soil temperatures, have been in bloom for at least a week. If not done already, you should apply crabgrass pre-emergent SOON!

If, however, your lawn is already showing signs of dandelion and other weeds, your lawn might best be served by applying a weed ‘n feed now and treating crabgrass later (post-emergent).

Cranky Man’s lawn received its pre-emergent treatment last week. This week was spent filling in (with soil) and seeding some damaged lawn areas. This puts us on schedule for a regular weed ‘n feed in three weeks (four weeks from pre-emergent).

The key here is to heed the mantra of a well-respected lawn aficionado, “Everyone’s lawn looks good in April!” No matter how good your lawn looks today, what you do now will get your lawn through the dangerous Summer months!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14: Poking holes in the patient

How core aerator works

How core aerator works

Some will say aerating should be done in the Spring, some in the Fall.  Some will even do both!

Personally, I prefer the Spring for aerating as it ensures soft, receptive soil (here in southeastern Pennsylvania) from months of rain and slow melting snows.  Waiting until the Fall is much riskier – Success wise – because of the possibility of long periods of dry, rain-free weather.  No rain means hard ground and limited penetration.

Last weekend I aerated my lawn; so I am now ready for some serious lawn treatments (currently pre-emergents for crabgrass) and a few patching jobs on some damaged areas.

So when will you be aerating?