Spring Gardening: Pre-emergent Treatment & Plant Feeding |

Getting a jump start on tending to your lawn is one of the smartest things you can do during spring gardening season. While a lot of people tend to want to lush up their lawn once they notice it has some issues, the smarter move is to act early.

Pre-emergent weed control and fertilizers can do a lot to help your turf (and plants) during the spring gardening season. The tricky part is this:

  • Choosing the right products
  • Putting down the right amounts at the right time.


Choosing the right product requires a little learning. We’ll start with learning about what plants need to thrive, and then learn how to read fertilizer numbers on a package of traditional fertilizer.

In order to thrive, vegetation requires carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which they obtain from the air and water. Plants also require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which is where your fertilizer comes into play. Too little nitrogen and your plants won’t thrive; too much and they may grow masses of foliage but fail to produce flowers or fruit. Phosphorus helps plants produce their buds, flowers and fruit as long as the soil pH is in range (6.5-6.8). Potassium helps improve the overall health of the plant and aids in fighting off disease. To produce the lushest plants, you’ll want these nutrients to be in balance.

Standard fertilizer packages display three letters, each followed by a number: N, P and K. N stands for nitrogen, P represents phosphorus and the K is for potassium. Each letter is followed by a value, which indicates the percentage of the nutrient by weight. For example, in a 5-10-10 formulation found in a 100-pound bag, 5 percent of the fertilizer is comprised of nitrogen, 10 percent is phosphorus and 10 percent is potassium. The remaining 75 pounds is comprised of filler.

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If you prefer to go the organic route, there are three main types of organic fertilizers:

  • Plant-based: Most plant-based fertilizer act more as soil conditioners than as soil feeders
  • Animal-based: These fertilizers add nitrogen and include substances such as manure, bone or blood meal, milk and fish emulsion
  • Mineral-based: Mineral-based fertilizer can help adjust the pH level of your soil, and include epsom salt, calcium, rock phosphate and more
Anne Roberts Gardens soil-test-2

While we recommend a soil test, which will indicate any deficiencies, most areas can do well with a standard 5-10-10 fertilizer or thereabout, if you’re going that route. That said, a soil test can help you save money by indicating which nutrients are needed. They’re also ecologically smart because if your vegetation has the right amount of nutrients, you’ll won’t produce run-off in rainy times, where excess nutrients are washed away and must be handled elsewhere.

Anne Roberts Gardens dirt

Weed Prevention

Pre-emergent treatment is designed to prevent the growth of weeds – not to kill weeds that are already there. When soil temperatures are above 50 degrees, it’s time to apply a pre-emergent. This treatment will keep weeds from crowding out the vegetation you want to nurture and will keep the “uglies” from marring your landscape. Because more and more people are eschewing herbicides in favor of organic methods, don’t think that a pre-emergent weed killer is necessarily full of “the bad stuff.” Corn gluten is one organic substance that is ideal for control of weeds, such as:

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  • crabgrass
  • dandelions
  • lambs quarters
  • barnyardgrass
  • curly dock
  • green foxtail
  • black nightshade
  • orchardgrass
  • shattercane
  • purslane
  • wooly cupgrass
  • giant foxtail
  • buckhorn plantain
  • quackgrass
  • velvetleaf
  • annual bluegrass
  • creeping bentgrass
  • clover
  • and more!


Not only does corn gluten act as a pre-emergent, it also acts as a plant food. You can read a great article about corn gluten on EarthEasy.

The Big, Bold Summary Statement

My Big, Bold Summary Statement is this: Regardless of your route preference, understand that your vegetation is a mix of living organisms. Like you, they require the right amounts of the right food, water and oxygen to thrive. The more you learn about and care for the needs of your plants (which includes your lawn), the better result you’ll achieve. After all, no one gets in good shape by accident!

About The Author

Anne Roberts
Anne Roberts
Chicago Landscaper, Master Gardener, Green Roof Specialist & Degreed Horticulturist at Anne Roberts Gardens

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