Almost everyone with a lawn worries about the best time to fertilize. Fall is an important time to fertilize your lawn. This guide will tell you what to use and how to use it in the fall to set your lawn up for winter and early spring, regardless of your grass type.
Do I Need To Fertilize My Lawn In the Fall?
Turf grass requires lots of fertilizer because it needs more nutrients than any soil can provide. Fertilizing your lawn in the fall helps lawns repair any damage from the heat of summer, improves the root system, and gives the turf the energy to start growing in the spring.
Failure to fertilize your lawn will adversely affect your lawn’s ability to grow and stay thick and lush.
Types of Fertilizer
Fertilizer comes in several types. Here are the most common ones.
For lawns, liquid fertilizers usually come in a package you just connect to your hose and spray on the grass. Liquids start to work immediately, but most don’t last as long as granular fertilizers. The disadvantage of liquid fertilizers is that it can be hard to spray them evenly throughout the lawn, leading to spots where the grass is very dark or burned and spots where the grass stays very light.
Water Soluble Fertilizer
Water-soluble fertilizers are granules that dissolve completely in water. They are commonly put into a hose-end sprayer, which mixes them as the water forces the fertilizer out and onto the lawn. Water-soluble fertilizers for lawns are uncommon.
Granular fertilizers are the most common type of lawn fertilizer. They resemble tiny rocks or pellets and are spread with either a push-behind sprayer or a hand spreader. Broadcasting granular fertilizer over the lawn does not work well, so you really need a spreader for this type of fertilizer. Many granular fertilizers are a mix of quick-release fertilizer that starts to work immediately and slow-release fertilizer.
Slow-release fertilizer is coated with a substance that gradually breaks down. As it breaks down, nutrients are released into the soil where the grass can use them. Slow-release fertilizer takes about two weeks to start working but can last many months, depending on the coating. To be effective, the slow-release part of the fertilizer needs to be at least 50% of the fertilizer.
Organic Versus Synthetic Fertilizer
Organic and synthetic fertilizers represent two different approaches to providing your plants with the nutrients they need. Synthetic fertilizers are higher in nutrients and feed the plant directly. They are useful to wake up plants in the spring or treat immediate nutrient deficiencies.
Organic fertilizers are made only with ingredients found in nature. In addition, certified organic fertilizers only contain ingredients on a list of ingredients allowed in organic gardening. They are submitted to a certifying agency such as the USDA, and that agency approves the fertilizer. That fertilizer can then have the word “organic” on it.
Other fertilizers may say “natural,” but no one makes sure that only organic ingredients are in the fertilizer. Organic fertilizers provide nutrients to soil microbes, which break down the nutrients into forms the plants can use. This mimics the natural cycle of decomposition.
What Should I Consider When Choosing Lawn Fertilizer In The Fall?
Here are some things to consider when choosing a fertilizer.
Type of Grass
Different types of grass are fertilized at different times of the year. Cool-season grasses (bluegrasses, fescues, and ryegrasses) grow in early spring through late spring, then go dormant in the summer. They then grow again starting in early fall until the first hard frost. Cool-season grasses are fertilized on Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day in most locations.
Warm-season grasses (bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustinegrass ) grow in early spring, through the summer, and into the fall. They are fertilized in early spring, late spring, mid-summer, and fall. The fall fertilization prepares them for winter dormancy. The exact timing of the fall fertilization depends on the climate where they are grown.
The different types of grass are in different growth stages at different parts of the year, so you need to make sure your fall fertilizer matches the type of grass you are growing.
All lawn fertilizers contain nitrogen. Some contain potassium and nitrogen. A few also include phosphorus.
The ideal lawn fertilizer ratio, according to most scientific research, is one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Cool-season grasses should receive two-thirds of their yearly amount of fertilizer in the fall. Warm-season grasses should also get one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
Neither type of grass needs phosphorus.
Potassium is often included in fall fertilizers to promote winter hardiness. The amount of potassium in a fertilizer with nitrogen and potassium will be the correct amount for your lawn if you apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
Some fertilizers are very inexpensive, and some are pretty pricey. Like most people, I want to conserve money. However, when I buy fertilizer, I spend the extra money to buy a premium brand.
Very inexpensive fertilizer uses cheap ingredients that may not be as available to my grass as the ingredients in a premium brand. Cheap fertilizer often uses sewage sludge as a nitrogen source, and I don’t want to spread that on my lawn.
My advice is to buy the best fertilizer you can afford.
The 5 Best Fall Lawn Fertilizers
Here are my five picks for the best fall lawn fertilizers.
1. Simple Lawn Solutions Lawn Food: 15-0-15 Phosphorus- Free – Best Liquid Fall Lawn Fertilizer
Simple Lawn Solutions Lawn Food: 15-0-15 Phosphorus- Free is my pick for the best fall liquid lawn fertilizer.
There are not a lot of liquids to choose from for fall lawns. This one has an NPK ratio of 15-0-15. The nitrogen gives the plant energy to grow while the potassium strengthens the grass roots and gives the plant the vigor to withstand winter.
The relatively high amount of nitrogen and potassium allows the grass to store the food it will need during the winter and to start greening up in the spring.
The fertilizer also has sulfur, kelp, and humic acid to condition the soil and feed the soil microbes that keep it healthy. All the ingredients in this fertilizer are feed-grade quality.
The lack of phosphorus means you can use this fertilizer in areas that do not allow phosphorus applications for lawns.
This fertilizer is safe for all types of grasses. The fertilizer package is ready to put on the end of your hose and use. This is not an organic product.
Simple Lawn Solutions is run by the fourth generation of a family. This family has over twenty-five years of professional turf grass management experience. All their products are made in the United States of America.
Attach the Simple Lawn Solutions Lawn Food: 15-0-15 Phosphorus- Free package to the end of your hose. Switch the water on, then switch the valve on the package to open. Spray in a sweeping motion back and forth on your lawn. Water within twenty-four hours of applying this fertilizer.
I like Simple Lawn Solutions Lawn Food: 15-0-15 Phosphorus- Free because it is easy to use, and the package covers 3,200 square feet of lawn.
I find liquids to be harder to apply evenly and usually end up with some missed spots and some spots where I paused too long and got a lot of fertilizer down. After I use up the liquid in this container, I save it and just buy more lawn food and refill the container. That way, I don’t waste the container.
I would not use this lawn food in areas where the soil has a lot of potassium. I would instead use a product with less potassium, like the Espoma or Greenview products. However, for climates where it gets very cold over the winter, and the soil doesn’t have a lot of potassium, this fertilizer will work well.
I think this fertilizer is priced moderately, and one container will be plenty to do the average lawn.
- Easy to use
- Reusable container
- Phosphorus free
- Premium Ingredients
- Relatively high potassium
2. Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer – Best Organic Fall Lawn Fertilizer
Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer is my pick for the best organic fall lawn fertilizer.
The NPK ratio is 8-0-5 with calcium and sulfur. This fertilizer will help the lawn recover from summer drought, give long-lasting energy through the fall and winter, and aid green-up in the spring.
Use this fertilizer on any kind of turf grass. This fertilizer is organic. It is, like most organic products, a bit pricey. However, a bag treats more than one lawn once, so the price is only once a year.
One bag treats 5,000 square feet if you use a mulching mower. If you remove the clippings from your lawn, the bag of fertilizer treats 2,500 square feet.
Espoma was founded in 1929. The founding family still owns it. Espoma makes a full line of general fertilizers and specialty fertilizers in the United States of America.
Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer should be applied to a lawn that was recently mowed.
If you use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on your lawn, set your spreader to six pounds per 1,000 square feet.
If you remove the clippings from your lawn, set the spreader to twelve pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Spread back and forth one way, then back and forth the other way. Slightly overlap your passes so you don’t get light stripes on your finished lawn. Water your lawn within twenty-four hours of applying this fertilizer.
Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer is a good product from a reputable manufacturer. I like that it is relatively gentle and has lots of slow-release nitrogen to feed my lawn through the winter.
In my area, we have cold days or weeks, but most of the winter, it is above freezing, and the grass still grows. It is important to give the lawn enough nitrogen to keep growing through the winter, to repair the damage of a hard summer, and to green up in the spring. The potassium adds vigor and helps the lawn withstand our few freezes.
Even in cold climates, this fertilizer will help your lawn recover from the summer, store enough food to make it through the winter, and start growing in the spring.
Because most of the nitrogen is slow-release, I do not worry as much about burning my lawn when I apply this fertilizer.
I water right after I spread the fertilizer to activate it and start feeding my lawn. This also helps prevent burning.
It is not a good idea to spread granular fertilizers when it is supposed to rain within twenty-four hours because the fertilizer gets swept off the lawn.
3. Greenview 2129861 Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer – Best Synthetic Fall Lawn Fertilizer
Greenview 2129861 Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer is my pick for the best synthetic lawn fall fertilizer.
It has an NPK ratio of 30-0-12 and also contains sulfur. The sulfur helps build amino acids that grass uses to grow. It helps established grass continue to grow and helps condition it to survive the winter.
Sixty percent of the nitrogen is released slowly, so this fertilizer feeds the grass throughout the fall and winter until the spring fertilizer is applied. Wait to spread this fertilizer until the nighttime temperatures are in the sixties F for a few days.
Greenview Fairway Formula lawn products are made by Lebanon Seafood Corporation. The company was founded in Lebanon, PA, in 1947. Their headquarters remain in Lebanon. They manufacture fertilizer and control products for lawn and golf turfgrass. All their products are backed by a 100% money-back guarantee.
To use Greenview 2129861 Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer, set your spreader to put out 0.9 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet or a little less than five pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.
The package has several brands of spreaders and the correct setting for them. Walk back and forth one way across the lawn, then walk back and forth the other way across the lawn. Slightly overlap the passes so you do not get stripes on your lawn.
If you want something stronger than an organic fertilizer, Greenview 2129861 Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer is a good synthetic fertilizer. It is safe for all grasses.
I think the fertilizer is expensive, especially since you only apply it one time to your lawn, but the bag covers 15,000 square feet. I go in with some neighbors to buy the bag of fertilizer so we use it up in the fall and don’t have to store it for a year.
Because you have to apply the fertilizer once the temperature cools off and cannot apply to frozen turf, you may have a small window to apply this fertilizer. In my area, that would be late October or early November, but in the northern areas, it might be much earlier.
- Good general fertilizer
- Provides lots of slow-release nitrogen
- Large bag to store
4. Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed 3 – Best Weed And Feed Fall Fertilizer
Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed 3 is my pick for the best weed and feed fall fertilizer.
The NPK ratio is 28-0-6. It also has sulfur in it and the weed killers 2,4,D and Mecoprop-p. Both of these kill over 50 broadleaf weeds.
Do not apply this fertilizer to lawns made of St. Augustinegrass, Floratam, Dichondra, Lippia, Carpetgrass, or Bentgrass because it will kill them. One bag treats 5,000 square feet.
Scotts was founded in 1868 by a Civil War veteran. The company does a lot of research and development before releasing a product. They are one of the leaders in the lawn care industry.
Use Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed 3 when the temperature is between 60-90 degrees F. Use only on green, actively growing lawns. Water the lawn, then spread the fertilizer using a spreader.
The bag only has spreader settings for Scotts brand spreaders but set your spreader to spread a little less than 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The fertilizer will stick to the grass and weed blades. Do not water the lawn for twenty-four hours after spreading the fertilizer.
If you are going to use a weed and feed product in the fall, Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed 3 is the right one to use. However, you cannot use it on a lawn with broadleaf grass on it, or you will kill the lawn.
I don’t use weed and feed products. Research has shown that they deliver either the weed killer or the fertilizer at the wrong time of the year. Use a fertilizer such as Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer in the late fall to help your grass be as healthy as possible going into the winter.
One problem with weed and feed products, including this one, is that many do not include enough weed killers to get rid of the toughest weeds. Finally, the granules tend to roll off of many weeds before the weed killer is absorbed. Spot treat your weeds when it first starts to get cooler because the weeds will be storing food from their leaves in their roots. The weed killer will be absorbed into the roots and kill the whole plant at once.
While this fertilizer is not expensive, your money would be better spent on a good fertilizer for fall and a separate spray on weed killer.
- Easy to use
- Weed and feed products deliver weed killer or fertilizer at the wrong time of the year
5. Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Fertilizer for All Grass Types – Best Overall Fall Fertilizer
Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Fertilizer for All Grass Types is my pick for the best overall fall fertilizer.
The NPK ratio is 32-0-10, and it includes sulfur. This fertilizer builds strong roots for better winter survival and better grass in the spring. It delivers nutrients to repair the lawn from heat, drought, and activity so it goes into the winter in good shape. The color will be dark green after this fertilizer starts to work.
In addition, it gives the lawn vital energy so that it can begin growing in the spring. Fertilize in the fall for better spring turf. It also improves the lawn’s ability to absorb water and nutrients versus an untreated lawn. This is not organic. Use this fertilizer on all types of grass. Keep this fertilizer out of reach of children and pets.
To use Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Fertilizer for All Grass Types, set your spreader to spread 2.5 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. The package only has the settings for Scotts brand spreaders.
Spread the fertilizer one way back and forth, then go back and forth the other way. The fertilizer will work faster if you water your lawn after spreading it, but watering in is not required.
I named this the best overall pick because Scotts products are widely available, and they have lots of research behind them.
This package will treat 5,000 square feet at the recommended rate, which is about twice the size of an average yard. You might want to go in with a neighbor to avoid storing the fertilizer for a year.
The fertilizer is moderately priced, so almost everyone with a lawn will be able to use this fertilizer on it, regardless of budget. It is a good product with nitrogen to help the grass recover from the hot and dry summer and potassium to add general vigor and a strong root system so the grass will come through the winter well.
The sulfur adds amino acids to help the grass build the proteins it needs to construct more grass. I like organic products, but there is something to be said about powerful synthetic products when trying to spread a lot of nitrogen and potassium at one time.
Sometimes, an organic product just isn’t powerful enough. I would water after applying this fertilizer even though the package says that it is optional.
Water helps wash the nutrients down into the root zone of the grass. You have to water frequently anyway, you might as well water after fertilizing.
- Widely available
- Solid research behind the product
- Money back guarantee
- Not organic, if that matters to you
When Do I Fertilize In The Fall?
When you fertilize, your lawn is important to the health of your lawn.
Time of Day
I recommend fertilizing in the morning before 10 a.m. This allows liquid fertilizers to dry before nightfall. If the leaves are wet at night, it increases the chance of fungal diseases attacking your lawn. Because you have to water your lawn after spreading most granular fertilizers, I use them in the morning, too.
Month of the Year
The month of the year you fertilize varies by grass type and climate. For warm-season grasses, the rule is to fertilize no later than six weeks from the first frost date. For cool-season grasses, you would fertilize around Labor Day and again around Thanksgiving.
How Do I Fertilize In The Fall?
Here is some information on using the fertilizer you have picked.
Fall Fertilizer Application Methods
There are two common methods for fertilizing a lawn. One uses a hose-end sprayer, and the other uses a spreader. When spraying with a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer, sweep the spray over your lawn in an arc, then step backward a pace and repeat. Make sure you do not pause too long, or you will overfertilize that area of the lawn. It is also important to make sure you spray every part of the lawn because areas that didn’t get fertilizer will be light green surrounded by the dark green fertilized grass.
With granular fertilizer, you use a hand-cranked spreader or a larger spreader you push across the lawn. In either case, walk back and forth across the lawn in a north-to-south direction, then walk back and forth across the lawn in a west and east direction. This ensures that each part of the lawn gets enough fertilizer. Be careful when turning a push spreader as the corners end up with too much fertilizer unless you close the spreader, turn and line up, then open the spreader and walk forward. Don’t crank a hand spreader during the turn, either.
How Much Fertilizer Should I Use?
You should use enough fertilizer to put a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet on the lawn. This is not the same as a pound of fertilizer. To find out how much fertilizer you need, use this equation.
Fertilizer to spread = 1/percent nitrogen as a decimal
So, if you have a fertilizer that is 20% nitrogen, you will use five pounds of fertilizer:
5 = 1/.2
How Often Do I Fertilize In The Fall?
For warm-season grasses, fertilize once. For cool-season grasses, fertilize at the start of fall and around Thanksgiving.
Overseeding Lawns In The Fall
In warm climates, many people overseed their warm-season grasses with a mix of winter rye and other cool-season grasses. If the turf has bald patches or is thin, overseeding will help fill in the lawn regardless of the type of turf grass you are growing. It is better to overseed and then fertilize. There are no products I recommend that have both seed and fertilizer in them.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Fertilizing In The Fall
Here are some common mistakes people make when using fertilizer.
- Wear gloves because almost all fertilizers will irritate your skin. If you are using liquid fertilizer, make sure the gloves are waterproof.
- Wear a face mask when handling dry fertilizer so you do not breathe any fertilizer in.
- Except for Weed and Feed products, water the lawn within twenty-four hours to activate the fertilizer and avoid burning your plants.
- More is not better. Follow the label directions closely to make sure you do not burn your lawn.
Fall Lawn Care Tips
Fall is a critical time for lawns, regardless of grass type. Here are some tips to keep your lawn healthy and lush all year round.
- In the fall, aerate the lawn using a hollow-tine aerator (a.k.a. core aerator) a couple of days after watering the lawn. Leave the lawn cores on the lawn, where they will crumble back to the ground. This improves airflow, water infiltration, and helps prevent thatch buildup.
- Mulch your clippings and leaves. They contain nutrients your lawn needs. Spread the mulch over the grass or leave it behind when mowing.
- Use a spray herbicide appropriate for your weed type and spot-treat weeds. This can be done even in St. Augustine and other broadleaf grasses because you only spray the weeds. The grass will fill in the dead spots quickly.
- Don’t over-irrigate. If you are watering your lawn more in the summer, dial it back down for the fall. Lawns don’t need as much water when the temperature is cooler, and you don’t want soggy, messy lawns.
In conclusion, lawns need fertilizer in the fall. If you only fertilize one time a year, fall is the right time to do that. Simple Lawn Solutions Lawn Food: 15-0-15 Phosphorus- Free is my pick for the best fall liquid lawn fertilizer. The package is a hose-end sprayer, so you just attach it to your hose and turn on the water. My pick for the best organic fall lawn fertilizer is Espoma EOFW30 Organic Fall Fertilizer. It is a nice, gentle fertilizer that will last all winter. Greenview 2129861 Fairway Formula Fall Fertilizer is my pick for the best synthetic lawn fall fertilizer. The bag is a bit pricey, but it is a good fertilizer. My pick for the best weed and seed fertilizer is Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed & Feed 3. I think you should use separate herbicides and fertilizer applications, but if you are going to use a weed and feed, this is the one. Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Fertilizer for All Grass Types is my pick for the best overall fall fertilizer. Scotts is widely available and easy to use.