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Turfgrass Establishment Series - Nitrogen Fertilization

By Tyler VanLandingham

Turfgrass management is an intricate dance of science and artistry, and one of the key elements in this performance is nitrogen (N) fertilization. Properly nourishing your turfgrass post-establishment can be the difference between a lush, vibrant lawn or sports field and one that struggles to thrive. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of N fertilization after turfgrass establishment and share some best practices to ensure your green spaces remain healthy and beautiful.

The Role of Nitrogen in Turfgrass Health

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for turfgrass, as it plays a crucial role in various aspects of plant growth and development. It is a primary component of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for photosynthesis, which is the process that allows plants to convert sunlight into energy. Additionally, N is involved in the production of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which are vital for cell structure and function.

After the initial establishment of your turfgrass, the demand for N continues. It helps maintain the green color, promotes new leaf and shoot growth, and aids in the recovery from stresses such as mowing, foot traffic, and environmental factors. However, applying the right amount of N at the right time is essential to avoid problems like nutrient runoff and excessive growth.

Best Practices for Nitrogen Fertilization Post-Establishment

1. Soil Testing: Before applying any fertilizer, it's crucial to conduct a soil test. This analysis helps determine the nutrient levels in your soil, allowing you to tailor your fertilization program to your turfgrass's specific needs. See the post on soil testing for the steps to conduct a soil test. However, because N levels in the soil fluctuate, it is best to not rely on the soil test report when it comes specifically to N. Most turfgrass species thrive somewhere between 2 and 4 pounds of N per 1000 square feet per growing season. Therefore, for this application, generally somewhere between 1-1.25 pounds of N per 1000 square feet will provide your turfgrass with a healthy amount of growth. If using quick-release N sources, the total N before the end of October can be applied across 2-3 applications.

2. Slow-Release Fertilizers: Consider using slow-release N fertilizers. These gradually release nutrients over an extended period, reducing the risk of nutrient leaching and providing a consistent source of N for your turfgrass. Slow-release N sources can also allow larger amounts of N to be applied in a single fertilization event.

slow vs quick release fertilizer

3. Timing Matters: Timing is everything when it comes to N fertilization. Aim for late summer or early fall applications, as these coincide with periods of active turfgrass growth. Avoid fertilizing during periods of drought or excessive heat.

4. Water Management: Adequate watering is crucial to maximize the benefits of N fertilization. Irrigate your turfgrass appropriately to ensure the nutrients reach the root zone and are absorbed effectively.

6. Environmental Considerations: Be mindful of environmental regulations and restrictions regarding N fertilization, especially near water bodies or in regions prone to nutrient runoff. Make sure to sweep or blow off those driveways and sidewalks!


Nitrogen fertilization post-establishment is a critical component of maintaining healthy and vibrant turfgrass. By understanding the role of N in turfgrass health and following best practices, you can ensure that your green spaces thrive and continue to provide beauty and functionality. Remember, a well-nourished lawn or sports field not only looks stunning but also contributes to a healthier environment.

Tyler VanLandingham is a Graduate Research Associate and M.S. Student Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University.

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