Lawns need fertilizer to grow and stay thick and lush. However, the many varieties of fertilizer can be confusing. Here are the best lawn fertilizers and how to use them.
Types of Lawn Fertilizers
Fertilizers come in many forms. Here are the most common forms of fertilizer that are used on lawns.
Liquid fertilizers may be in containers that are ready to attach to the hose and apply or may need to be mixed. In either case, they are applied to the lawn by spraying the fertilizer on the blades of grass. In general, liquids start to work immediately and last seven to ten days. However, many liquid lawn fertilizers contain slow-release particles that lengthen the time between applications. Liquids are vulnerable to leaching out of the soil with rain or frequent irrigation.
Water-soluble fertilizers dissolve completely in water to form a liquid solution. Some are made to be placed in a hose-end sprayer, while others must be mixed into a tank sprayer. Once they are mixed, water-soluble fertilizers are used just like liquids.
Granular fertilizers look like little pieces of gravel. Many granular fertilizers have some fast-release fertilizers and some slow-release fertilizers. These fertilizers are spread with a push fertilizer spreader or a hand-held fertilizer spreader. The fast-release portion of the fertilizer starts working immediately.
Slow-release fertilizers have a coating on them that breaks down slowly, releasing the nutrients in the fertilizer slowly. These fertilizers can last for months between applications, making them very convenient. They take seven to fourteen days to start working.
Organic Versus Synthetic Fertilizers
Organic fertilizers feed the microbes in the soil, which break down the nutrients into forms the plant can use. Synthetic fertilizers feed the plants directly. In addition, organic fertilizers must be certified to contain only allowable compounds found in nature by a certifying agency. This is usually the USDA or Oregan Tilth in the United States. Some fertilizers are labeled “All Natural,” but because this phrase is not regulated in the United States, the fertilizer could have anything in it. Many lawn fertilizers are synthetic because lawns need large amounts of nutrients at once, and that is difficult to deliver in an organic fertilizer.
What Should I Consider When Choosing Lawn Fertilizers?
In addition to the form of the fertilizer you choose, here are some other things to consider when buying fertilizer.
Lawn Fertilizer Ratio
The ratio people talk about is the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorous to potassium. This ratio must be on every container of fertilizer. It is often called the NPK ratio, which is the symbol for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in that order. Different types of turf grass have different ideal ratios. You need to know which grass you have before you go fertilizer shopping. Also, you use different types of fertilizers based on the time of year, so you need to have those ratios in mind when choosing a fertilizer. New lawns need different amounts of nutrients than established lawns. Make sure you know what ratio you are looking for before you go shopping for fertilizers. For all fertilizers, nitrogen should be the largest number. Grass does best at a pH of 6.5. Lime will raise the pH, while sulfur is used to lower it. Use agricultural lime, not picking lime.
Grasses used for lawns are broken down into two main groups. Cool-season grasses grow in early spring, bloom, and set seed during the spring, then go dormant during the summer. They start growing again in the fall. Cool-season grasses are more tolerant of frost, low light, and lower temperatures but require more water than warm-season grasses. Examples of cool-season grasses used for lawns include Kentucky Bluegrass, tall fescues of several types, creeping red fescue, and Chewings fescue used in shade mixes and rye grasses.
Warm-season grasses begin growing in mid to late spring, grow all summer, set seed in late summer or early fall, and go dormant in the winter. They have a lower frost tolerance and need more light and warmer temperatures. Some warm-season grasses go heat dormant in the heat of summer before growing more in early fall when planted in very warm climates. Warm-season grasses include Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, buffalo grass, and Zoysiagrass.
Both cool-season and warm-season grasses need fertilizer, but the timing of the fertilization differs. Cool-season grasses need nutrients early in the spring through late spring, then not again until late summer and fall. Warm-season grasses need nutrients mid-spring through fall.
Sandy soils drain faster, and fertilizers are more likely to leach out of them. You will need to apply fertilizer more often and use a slow-release fertilizer to prevent leaching and keep your lawn green.
Clay soils do not drain as well and will require less fertilizer than sandy soils.
Testing Your Soil
The best gift you can give your lawn is to do a soil sample once a year before the growing season begins. The soil sample is sent to your state or provincial soil lab for analysis for a modest fee. In return, you get a list of the levels of nutrients in your soil and recommendations for fertilization. Follow the fertilization recommendations for your first fertilization. After that, you only fertilize with the nutrients your lawn is using during the growth season. Without a soil sample, you may give your lawn more nutrients than it needs or the wrong nutrients. Too much fertilizer is as bad as no fertilizer, so invest in the soil test.
Premium Versus Inexpensive
I am always tempted to buy the cheapest fertilizer I can find. However, cheap fertilizers often use cheap ingredients like sewage sludge that I don’t want on my lawn. I buy a premium fertilizer because these ingredients are better and often more bioavailable than the cheap stuff. If all you can afford is the cheap stuff, buy that. However, if you can buy a premium fertilizer, your lawn will thank you.
Top 10 Best Fertilizers for Lawn
Here are my picks for the ten best fertilizers for lawns.
1. Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Best Liquid Fertilizer for Lawns
Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK is my pick for the best liquid lawn fertilizer. The NPK ratio is 16-4-8. Nitrogen helps green up the lawn quickly and makes it grow into a thick, lush carpet of grass. The phosphorus makes the grass put down deep roots, making it more drought and heat-resistant. Potassium helps plants make strong stems and grow fast. In addition, this fertilizer has seaweed and fish emulsion to add vitamins, trace minerals, and amino acids to the lawn and to the soil. Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Lawn Food Quality Liquid Fertilizer is suitable for all lawns. It is not organic. This fertilizer is made of high-quality feed-grade ingredients. The package is ready to attach to the end of a hose and use. It covers 3,200 square feet. This is enough to treat most lawns in front of the house and behind it. It is moderately expensive, which is to be expected for a premium fertilizer.
Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Lawn Food Quality Liquid Fertilizer is made by a family-owned business with over 25 years of commercial lawn management experience. They make Simple Lawn products in the United States.
To use Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Lawn Food Quality Liquid Fertilizer, simply attach a water hose to the package and turn on the water. Apply in sweeping motions until the blades of grass are wet. Water the lawn for at least twenty minutes within twenty-four hours of applying the fertilizer. Repeat as needed as part of a regular maintenance program. You can burn your lawn with this fertilizer, so don’t spray any one area too heavily.
This fertilizer contains phosphorus and potassium, so cannot be used in some states unless you have a soil test that shows a deficiency in these nutrients.
I think Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Lawn Food Quality Liquid Fertilizer is easy to use and provides a fast green-up. I would use it once in the spring but not after that. Phosphorus and potassium can build up in the lawn and cause problems, including killing the lawn, if applied too frequently. In my area, the soil is already high in both those minerals, so I cannot use this product on my lawn. However, it is a good product to use if your soil is not high in phosphorus and potassium to help the grass turn green and grow well. As I mentioned, some states ban using phosphorus on lawns without a documented deficiency because it will run off and contaminate creeks and rivers. You can’t use this fertilizer in those locations without a soil test done by the state soil lab that shows a deficiency in those nutrients.
- Easy to use
- The package fits on the hose, no mixing
- Good for all types of grass
- Can burn lawn
- Contains phosphorus, so use is restricted in some states
2. The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer – Best Organic Fertilizer for Lawns
The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer is my pick for the best organic lawn fertilizer. The NPK ratio is 7-1-2, so it feeds lawns lots of nitrogen to grow without too much phosphorus and potassium. It does not contain biosolids, manures, recycled waste, or animal parts, so you are not putting sewage sludge on your lawn. Instead, the fertilizer is made of soybean meal. The granules are specially engineered to be low in dust to avoid triggering allergies when applying the product. The forty-pound bag covers up to 11,000 square feet of lawn, depending on the application rate, so you may only need one bag a year. It provides easily digestible carbon to the soil microbes so they can stay healthy and break down the nutrients in the fertilizer into forms your grass can use. The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer is certified organic and is safe for children, pets, and to use near waterways. Because it has phosphorus in it, this fertilizer cannot be used in some states.
The Andersons was founded over 75 years ago. The company provides professional-grade products to homeowners across the world. They are involved in research and development, material selection, production, and distribution of lawn and garden products.
The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer label provides the spreader settings for low, medium, and high fertilizer rates for a number of brands of spreaders. The low rate spreads 3.57 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000, the medium-rate spreads 7.14 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet, and the high-rate spreads 10.72 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. Most homeowners would use the medium rate. Water the lawn well after spreading the fertilizer.
I like that The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer is a slow-release organic fertilizer. I wish it did not have phosphorus or potassium in it since that makes it unavailable in several states. You may have problems finding this fertilizer at the big box stores. You can order it online, though. The bag is pretty expensive. At the medium application rate, the bag covers 5,600 square feet, so it probably won’t last all season. Organic products are always more expensive than synthetic products, however. The soybean meal is a premium quality component, so that accounts for the extra cost. Even at the highest application rate, this fertilizer will not burn your lawn. It will take one to two weeks to start working because it is a slow-release fertilizer.
- Premium ingredients
- Won’t burn lawn if used as directed
- Safe for kids and pets
- May not be readily available at big box stores
3. Milorganite 0636 Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer – Best Budget Fertilizer for Lawns
Milorganite 0636 Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer, 32-Pound is my pick for the best budget lawn fertilizer. The NPK ratio is 6-4-0, and it contains iron for a deep green color. This iron is non-staining. The fertilizer is made of kiln-dried microbes that are left over after wastewater is cleaned by them. The wastewater is pumped into big tanks. The microbes are put in the tanks, and oxygen is bubbled through the water. The microbes eat the waste in the water, cleaning it. After the water is clean, the microbes die and fall to the bottom of the tanks. The water is released, and the dead microbes are dried in kilns to kill pathogens and made into pellets. This fertilizer does not contain sewage sludge and is organic. The nitrogen in this fertilizer is at least eighty percent slow-release that will not burn the lawn. It does contain phosphorus, so it is not available in states that ban phosphorus use on lawns. One application lasts for ten weeks, and it does not have to be watered into work. It is safe for pets and children. It is certified organic.
Milorganite has been recycling microbes from Milwaukee Jones Island water reclamation facility since 1926. It is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milorganite is made by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. There are some shortages of the product sometimes because they can only process what naturally occurs.
To use Milorganite 0636 Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer, use one bag for every 3,200 square feet. The bag has a chart with the spreader settings for several brands of spreaders. For cool-season grasses, spread Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. For warm season grasses, spread Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and early October.
Milorganite is an interesting fertilizer that recycles microbes that would otherwise go to waste. I like that it is a good fertilizer that is both organic and inexpensive. If I could not afford a premium fertilizer, I would use this one, provided my soil needed phosphorus as well as nitrogen. Again, this fertilizer has phosphorus and cannot be used in some states. In Florida, you use one bag per 5,200 square feet because Florida mandates a lower application rate. Sometimes Milorganite is hard to find but is being shipped as fast as they can make it. If your lawn is deficient in potassium, I would not use this product. You will need something with potassium in it, like The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer. My soil has lots of potassium and phosphorus, so I will not be able to use this fertilizer. I use a nitrogen-only fertilizer. However, this is a good product if you do not have that problem.
- Recycles microbes that would be wasted
- Slow-release nitrogen
- Can be in short supply
- Has phosphorus so is restricted in some states
4. Scotts Green Max Lawn Food – Best Nitrogen Fertilizer for Lawns
My pick for the best nitrogen fertilizer is Scotts Green Max Lawn Food. The NPK ratio is 27-0-2, and it also includes sulfur and iron. This formula feeds the lawn and causes green-up in just three days. The iron gives your grass a dark green color. The potassium helps the lawn grow thick and lush. The sulfur helps with protein synthesis. Nitrogen is used in all aspects of plant growth. The iron in this product is guaranteed not to stain hardscapes like driveways and sidewalks if used as directed. You can use this fertilizer on any grass type in the spring, summer, and fall. One 16.67-pound bag feeds 5,000 square feet of lawn at the low rate of spread or 4,100 square feet at the normal rate of spread. The fertilizer is not organic but is safe for children and pets. The lawn is safe to re-enter immediately after applying this fertilizer. This product does not contain phosphorus, so can be used in all states.
Scotts has been making products for lawns and gardens for over 150 years. They have a large research and development department and really test their products before releasing them.
To use, fill your spreader with Scotts Green Max Lawn Food. The label only has spreader settings for Scotts brand spreaders but set your spreader to release 3.33 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. In this setting, the bag covers 4,100 square feet. Walk back and forth over the yard, once north to south and again west to east. Sweep any spilled product from hardscapes into the lawn. Water for 20 minutes after spreading the fertilizer. Use it four times a year, when you mow for the first time, in late spring, mid-summer, and in the fall.
I know Scotts products are good products. The bag is pricey but will treat the average lawn (front and back) twice for the price. I like that the product is safe to use, and you can go into the yard immediately after using it. I also approve of the absence of phosphorus, which is not really needed in lawns that much. I would prefer it didn’t have potassium, but it has little enough that the potassium should not be a problem. Because of the large amount of immediately available nitrogen, this product will burn your lawn if you spread too much of it at one time. Be sure to set your spreader correctly to avoid burning your grass.
- Doesn’t contain phosphorus
- Good for all grass types
- Can burn law if over applied
5. Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food – Best Spring and Summer Fertilizer for Lawns
Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food is my pick for the best spring and summer fertilizer for lawns. The NPK ratio is 32-0-4, and it contains sulfur and iron. This fertilizer is formulated for all grass types. It grows a lush, thick lawn that is a dark green color. It also improves the lawn’s ability to withstand heat and drought. The large roots this fertilizer builds are able to absorb water and nutrients easily. This product will burn the lawn if you apply too much of it. This fertilizer does not contain phosphorus, so can be used in any state. It is not organic. Scotts has a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the product’s performance.
Scotts was founded in 1868 in Marysville, Ohio. They belong to Scotts Miracle-Gro company and make a variety of lawn food products.
To use Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food, set your spreader to spread 3.33 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. You can apply this fertilizer to a wet or dry lawn. Walk one way back and forth and then walk at right angles to spread more. Water the lawn for twenty minutes after applying if temperatures are over 90 degrees F. Otherwise, it is not necessary to water after spreading this fertilizer.
As I mentioned above, I think Scotts does a good job of developing lawn fertilizer. This fertilizer is stronger than the Scotts Green Max Lawn Food and is moderately priced. I believe this fertilizer does a good job of fertilizing the lawn in early spring, late spring, and mid-summer. I would switch to a fall fertilizer for the last feeding of the year. If your soil is high in potassium, I would use a product with a lower level of potassium or one without potassium. A little potassium is good, but too much can make your grass do poorly. If you live in the south, I would use Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Lawn Food instead of this version of the lawn food. It has an NPK ratio of 32-0-10 with sulfur and iron.
- Moderately priced
- A bag treats yard twice
- No phosphorus
- Higher potassium
- Not recommended for fall use
6. GreenView Fall Lawn Food – Best Fall Fertilizer for Lawns
GreenView Fall Lawn Food is my pick for the best fall fertilizer for lawns. In addition to GreenView, there are other excellent options for fall lawn fertilizers that you may want to consider.
GreenView Fall Lawn Food has an NPK ratio of 22-0-10 and also contains sulfur. The high nitrogen content gives plants a burst of energy to grow green and lush, while the higher potassium content helps your grass develop deep roots. This gives the grass nutrients to green up in the spring and to better survive the winter. The sulfur content helps form the amino acids necessary for growth. Taken together, these nutrients help your lawn absorb nutrients more efficiently and resist heat and drought. The grass will also be able to withstand the cold temperatures winter brings. This product contains no phosphorus, so can be used in all states. It is not organic.
GreenView is a brand owned by Lebanon Seaboard Corporation. This company was founded in Lebanon, PA in 1947. Currently, it and its brands manufacture lawn and garden products, wild bird seed, and products for fine golf course turfgrass.
To use GreenView Fall Lawn Food, set your spreader to spread 3.2 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. The bag contains a table of spreader settings for popular spreader manufacturers. The instructions do not say you need to water this fertilizer in, but I would run the water for twenty minutes after spreading the fertilizer. These products are distributed worldwide.
I would use GreenView Fall Lawn Food about one month before the first freeze date in your location. In my area, that would be in early to mid-October. Your county Extension agent can tell you the best date for your fall lawn fertilization. The higher potassium in this fertilizer helps prepare your lawn for winter. Most lawns don’t need phosphorus in the fall. I like that GreenView guarantees that you will be satisfied with the results of using this fertilizer or your money back. However, the package doesn’t say that this fertilizer is designed to work on lawns at temperatures above 60 degrees F, but that is what the manufacturer says. That is important because fall in the north brings colder temperatures quickly. You may need to spread this fertilizer at the end of the summer before the temperature drops if you live in the north. In the south, the temperature restriction is not a major concern, as fall is still quite warm. The bag of fertilizer is modestly priced and covers 5,000 square feet when used as directed.
- Modestly priced
- The right mix of nitrogen and potassium for winter
- Easy to use
- Must be used when the temperature is over 60 F
7. Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer – Best Fertilizer to Repair Lawns
Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer is my pick for the best fertilizer to repair a lawn that has dead spots, lots of weeds, and is not healthy. The NPK ratio is 9-0-2 and contains natural ingredients like feather meal, soybean meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, molasses, and sulfate of potash. These nutrients are broken down by soil microbes, and so are released to your lawn slowly. You will not burn your lawn if you use this fertilizer as directed. The nutrients will allow your lawn to grow lush and thick. Children and pets can enter the lawn right after you finish spreading Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer. This is not certified organic, so cannot be used in organic gardening. Not for sale in AK, CA, MD, MT, PR, WA, WV, WI. One bag covers up to 5,000 square feet, depending on the application rate chosen.
Safer brand is over forty years old. Their products use naturally derived ingredients to make safer products for the home and garden. Some of their products are certified organic, but others are not. All their products are developed and proven, so they work every time you use them.
To use Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer, set your spreader to release four to eight pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. I would pick six pounds for the typical lawn. There is a chart on the bag with common spreaders and the recommended spreader settings. Water the lawn for at least twenty minutes after spreading the fertilizer.
I would use Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer on a lawn that is struggling. If it is thin, weedy, and not growing well, this fertilizer can help. In truth, any nitrogen fertilizer will help in this situation, but this has lots of nitrogen, no phosphorus, and enough potassium to encourage strong roots and vigorous growth. A strong grass plant will spread rapidly and resist pests and diseases. Note that you must treat the underlying cause of your lawn’s problems before spreading this fertilizer if you want the fertilizer to help. It will not cure diseases or kill pests. Make sure you have treated and eliminated the problem so this fertilizer can help your lawn the most. I think this fertilizer is a little on the pricey side but should treat your average lawn twice.
- No phosphorus
- Natural ingredients
- Safe for children and pets
- Not available in all states
- Not certified organic
8. Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed 3 – Best Weed and Feed Fertilizer for Lawns
Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed 3 is my pick for the best weed and feed fertilizer for lawns. The NP ratio is 26-0-2 and has sulfur in it. This product can be applied to Bahia grass, Bermuda grass, Bluegrass, Centipede grass, Fescue, Ryegrass, and Zoysiagrass. Do not apply to St. Augustine grass (including Floratam), Dichondra, Lippia, Carpet grass, and Bent grass lawns, as it will kill those lawns. The active weed-killing ingredient is 2,4, D, which kills broadleaf plants like clover and dandelions, but also kills broadleaf grasses like St. Augustine grass.
Scotts is a respected company founded shortly after the Civil War by a Union veteran. They spend a lot of money on research and development and have given the fertilizer industry such innovations as a slow-release fertilizer.
To use Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed 3, first water your lawn. Set your spreader to deliver 3.3 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. While the lawn is wet, spread the weed and feed. This helps the fertilizer stick to the blades of grass and the weeds. Do not water for twenty-four hours after spreading this fertilizer. Do not spread it when rain is expected within twenty-four hours. Spread the fertilizer when the temperature is between 60-90 F and the weeds are growing, so they will absorb the fertilizer into their roots and die. One bag covers 4,100 square feet at the recommended setting. It is safe to reenter the lawn immediately after the fertilizer is spread.
Scotts makes good products, and I include this one because a lot of people use weed and feed fertilizers. However, Extension does not recommend using a weed and feed product on your lawn. You should apply a pre-emergent in the early spring and use a post-emergent at other times of the year, separate from your fertilizer applications. Spot treat weeds during the summer. The best time to kill weeds is the fall, when they are storing food in their roots and absorb the herbicide more readily. You don’t fertilize lawns at the same time as the best time to kill the fall weeds. Pre-emergents are best spread in early spring before it is time to fertilize your lawn. I would instead use a fertilizer without the herbicide in it and spread the appropriate herbicide at the time of maximum usefulness.
- Fertilizer and herbicide in one
- Wrong time for either fertilizer or herbicide
- Will kill broadleaf grasses
9. Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer – Best Starter Fertilizer for Lawns
Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer is my pick for the best fertilizer to start a new lawn. The NPK ratio is 22-23-4, and it also includes iron for a quick, deep green. The phosphorus helps all types of grass seed, sod, and plugs get established and grow deep roots fast. The potassium adds general vigor so the lawn can grow thick and lush and resist heat, cold, and drought. Part of the nitrogen is slow release, so the fertilizer works for a full three months. The package is resealable, so if you don’t use it all the first application, it will stay fresh. Pennington guarantees your satisfaction, or they will refund your money. This fertilizer should be used when the temperature is between 50 F and 90 F. It is not organic.
Pennington was founded by Brooks Pennington Sr. In 1945 in Madison, Georgia. He started out selling grass seed to farmers. As the grass seed business took off, Pennington started making fertilizer to help the grass grow well. Pennington started producing wild bird seed over 60 years ago and, in the last three decades, has become known for providing seed for wildlife food plots.
To use Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer, with seed, apply the fertilizer evenly over the surface of the soil. Plant the seed according to the seed package instructions. Water deeply.
With sod, lay the sod, then spread the fertilizer. Water the grass deeply.
When reseeding, overseeding, or repairing bare spots in an existing lawn, apply evenly over the dry grass, then water deeply.
Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer has a lot of phosphorus in it. While many states ban lawn fertilizers with phosphorus, they make an exception for new lawns and lawns with a soil test showing a phosphorus deficiency. I would be careful using this fertilizer if you live in an area where the soil has a high amount of phosphorus and potassium. Even new lawns do not need infinite amounts of the nutrient, and you could poison your grass if you apply too much. However, if you need phosphorus and potassium, this is a good fertilizer for you. The instructions are simple, and the company does a lot of research, so you should have good results if you follow the directions. You can burn the lawn if you put too much down, so be careful not to overdo the fertilizer. This fertilizer is not expensive, and you really only need to buy one bag of it for most size lawns, so it is good for the budget.
- Simple instructions
- Resealable bag
- Formulated for new lawns
- High phosphorus content
- Not organic
10. Espoma Organic All Season Lawn Food – Best Overall Fertilizer for Lawns
Espoma Organic All Season Lawn Food 9-0-0 Natural & Organic Lawn Food is my pick for the best overall fertilizer for lawns. It has an NPK ratio of 9-0-0, making it suitable for all lawns. This fertilizer also contains calcium, sulfur, and several types of beneficial microbes. The microbes break down the feather meal and poultry manure in this fertilizer into forms the lawn can use. This is a predominantly slow-release fertilizer that will last up to two months. The lack of phosphorus and potassium means this fertilizer can be used in all states. Espoma says this fertilizer is safe for kids, pets, and the environment. It will not leach out of the soil or pollute waterways. Espoma says this fertilizer will not burn your lawn, either. It is certified organic. This fertilizer is used for all grass types, including newly seeded or sodded lawns.
Espoma is a family-owned company founded in 1929. They produce fertilizers and other products for all gardening needs. They are the largest distributor of organic fertilizers in the United States.
To use Espoma Organic All Season Lawn Food 9-0-0 Natural & Organic Lawn Food, set your spreader to apply six pounds per 1,000 square feet if you leave the clippings on the lawn. Apply it to a dry lawn that has been recently mowed. Water the grass for at least twenty minutes within twenty-four hours of spreading the fertilizer. The fertilizer should be applied in early spring, late spring, late summer, and fall. If you remove the lawn clippings from your lawn, double the rates for the late spring and fall applications but not for the early spring and late summer applications. A bag of fertilizer will cover 5,000 square feet of lawn at the six pounds per 1,000 square feet application rate.
I like Espoma products and prefer to use organic fertilizers on my lawn. Unless your soil is deficient in phosphorus and potassium, you do not need to apply anything but nitrogen to your lawn. Espoma Organic All Season Lawn Food 9-0-0 Natural & Organic Lawn Food is expensive, but I believe the product is worth the extra money. I am not sure if the beneficial microbes are helpful, but they do not seem harmful. If they are alive when the fertilizer is spread, the microbes can improve the condition of the soil while they break down the fertilizer into forms of nitrogen your lawn can use. However, the microbes start dying when packaged, so if the fertilizer is old, they may not still be alive when you spread the fertilizer on your lawn.
- No phosphorus or potassium
When to Fertilize Lawn?
When you fertilize your lawn is as important as what you use to fertilize it. Here are some things to consider.
Time of Day
I always fertilize between dawn and about 10 a.m. This gives liquids a chance to absorb into the grass blades before the sun gets high and before nightfall. Drops of liquid on grass blades concentrate the sun’s rays and can burn holes in the blade. Grass that is wet at night is a magnet for fungal infections. Since most granular fertilizers say to water after they are applied, I use them early in the morning for the same reasons.
Time of Year
Cool-season grasses are fertilized in late winter/early spring, then again in late spring. They are not fertilized again until late summer, then once in late fall. Warm-season grasses are fertilized in mid-spring through the fall.
Rain – Before or After?
I used to hear people recommend fertilizing before an expected rain. However, research has shown that instead of watering in the fertilizer, rain often sweeps the fertilizer off the lawn and into the storm sewers. This causes two problems: your lawn did not get fertilized, and the storm sewers dumped the fertilizer in creeks and rivers. Fertilizer in creeks and rivers causes algae blooms that kill fish and degrade the quality of the water. As a result, the advice has changed. Do not fertilize before a rain. Fertilize after the lawn dries from the rain. Do not apply iron or granular fertilizer to a wet lawn unless the package directions say to do so.
Mowing – Before or After?
For granular fertilizers, I mow the lawn before fertilizing. This allows the grains of fertilizer to reach the ground more easily. Some foliar sprays say not to mow before applying so the fertilizer can be absorbed into the grass blades more easily. You should not mow before spreading weed and feed products.
Grass is fertilized differently in different parts of the country. This is primarily because cool-season grass is grown in the north, and warm-season grass is grown in the south. Here are some states and when to fertilize the lawn in each.
Texas is a big state with lots of climates, so I will discuss North Central Texas, where I live. On or about May 1, I apply the first fertilizer of the year. Because our soil has lots of phosphorus and potassium, I apply just nitrogen. Every 45-60 days after that, I apply a slow-release nitrogen. In the fall, I stop applying nitrogen on October 1. I do not apply potassium in the fall because it is not needed here.
Fertilizer in South Florida is applied year-round. Apply nitrogen every 45-60 days. Many places in central and northern Florida have rules that you cannot fertilize between June 1 and September 30. In central and northern Florida, fertilizer is applied for the first time in April. In late May, apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. In October, fertilize with a product that is primarily fast-release so nitrogen does not build up too much for the winter.
Turf grass is fertilized four times in Ohio. The first application of nitrogen fertilizer is usually made in mid-April. The next one is applied in late May. The third one is applied in early September, while the last application is in late November.
When to Avoid Fertilizing Your Lawn
There are times when your lawn is dormant or stressed and should not be fertilized. Apply fertilizer during the growing season. Do not fertilize warm-season grasses in the winter when they are dormant. Stop fertilizing about a month before your first frost date. Do not fertilize cool-season grasses in the summer or winter. Fertilize them in the spring and fall.
How Do I Fertilize My Lawn?
The way you fertilize depends on whether you are using a liquid or a granular fertilizer. New lawns are fertilized differently than established lawns. Always follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer you use. Here are some general guidelines.
Liquids and Water-Soluble Fertilizers
Liquids and water-soluble fertilizers are usually applied with a hose-end sprayer. I screw the hose on the end, put the fertilizer in the holder, and turn on the hose. Some packages are ready to screw on the end of the hose. I start at the end of the yard farthest from the house and apply the fertilizer in sweeping motions from left to right, gradually backing up. I apply the spray until it drips off the grass blades and move on. I cover the entire yard carefully because any missed spots will show up a lighter green than the parts with the fertilizer on them, which is embarrassing. After I am through fertilizing my lawn, I wash out the hose end sprayer on the lawn, then put it up. If I am using the container that is put on the end of the hose, I put the remaining fertilizer up away from the heat or cold, where pets and children cannot reach it.
Granular fertilizers are applied with a fertilizer spreader. Some people buy a push spreader, and some people buy a handheld cranked spreader. Both types have a dial on them that sets the size of the opening in the spreader the fertilizer comes out of. Most bags of lawn fertilizer have a chart on them that tells you where to set that dial for various brands of spreaders.
I fill the hopper of the spreader and start at one corner of the lawn. I walk at a normal walking pace back and forth from north to south. When I finish the lawn, I then walk back and forth from west to east. This makes sure every area of the lawn gets enough fertilizer. As with liquid fertilizers, missing a spot means that spot will be lighter green than the rest of your lawn.
Before planting a new lawn, take a soil sample. Follow the recommendations for the initial fertilization to make sure the nutrients a new lawn needs are there. This fertilizer is sufficient for six to eight weeks. I then follow the regular maintenance for the type of grass I am growing.
What to Do After Fertilizing Lawns?
After spreading granular fertilizers, it is important to run the irrigation system for twenty minutes in each zone. Failure to do this will burn your lawn. Weed and feed products say to wait twenty-four hours before using the sprinkler to allow the weeds to soak up the poison. Some liquids and water-soluble fertilizers say to water your lawn after spreading them, while others tell you to wait to water for a specified period of time. I check the label to find out which type of fertilizer I am using and water accordingly.
I would not let pets or children out on the lawn until it dries after spreading fertilizer. The fertilizer can burn paws and feet if the blades are not allowed to dry after spreading the fertilizer and watering the lawn.
Over-Fertilizing Your Lawn
More fertilizer is not necessarily better. You can over-fertilize two ways. If you spread too much fertilizer when you fertilize, you run the risk of burning the lawn. If you put fertilizer out too frequently, you can also cause problems. In both cases, you can kill your lawn.
Signs of Overfertilization
When you overfertilize, the blades of grass may turn brown on the edges. In severe cases, the whole blade turns brown. The blades may also wilt as if they did not have adequate water. If you spread way too much fertilizer, the lawn may die.
How to Fix Overfertilization
If you fertilize and a day or two later you start seeing brown on your lawn, you need to flush the fertilizer out of the soil. Run your irrigation system twice with a twenty-minute rest between periods so that the fertilizer will leach out of the soil. Do this even if the lawn was watered recently. Do not let this water runoff as it will pollute the stormwater.
Homemade Lawn Fertilizer
You can make your own lawn fertilizer by applying nitrogen to your lawn. Here are some products that will do that.
Bat guano has an NPK ratio of 10-3-1. You may not be able to use this in an area that bans phosphorus applications to lawns. It may be hard to find and has a strong smell.
Blood meal has an NPK ratio of 13-0-0. This is probably the substance that is most readily available. Spread it over the lawn and then water it in. Blood meal does have a distinctive smell, and the pets will be attracted to it. Keep them off the lawn until the smell goes away.
Worm castings have an NPK ratio of 0.86-0.37-0.25. Because they are so low in nutrients, the challenge is to get enough of them to cover a whole lawn.
Fish emulsion typically has an NPK ratio of 2-3-1. Not only is that the wrong ratio for grass, but fish emulsion smells bad when spread on a large lawn. I would not use this on my lawn.
In the spring, you can apply one inch of compost to your lawn. After you spread it, use a leaf rake to settle the compost and put it next to the soil. Water the lawn for twenty minutes after spreading the compost.
Coffee grounds have nitrogen, but repeatedly applying coffee grounds to your lawn can make the soil too acidic after several years.
You do not need to add anything for phosphorus or potassium unless your soil test recommends it. Otherwise, stick with the nitrogen sources.
Lawn Fertilizing Tips & Mistakes to Avoid
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your lawn fertilizer.
- Wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, and close-toed shoes when spreading fertilizer to avoid contact dermatitis from the fertilizer.
- If you use granular fertilizer, wear a mask when spreading it to avoid breathing the dust, which will irritate your lungs.
- Store your fertilizer in a dry, cool place to keep it at its best.
- If you seed your cool-season grass in the fall, do not fertilize after the first frost date. You will trigger a lot of new growth, which will freeze in the cold.
- A pH that is too high may lead to deficiencies in iron, manganese, and zinc, even if those nutrients are in the soil.
- Nitrogen does not stay in the soil for long, leaching out when it rains. This is why we give the lawn four feedings, so the nitrogen doesn’t disappear before the lawn needs it.
- Make sure you measure your lawn accurately in the spring before fertilizing. Recommendations are made for 1,000 square feet, so you need to know exactly how big your lawn is to treat it appropriately.
- Do not fill the spreader with fertilizer while on the lawn, as spills can burn your lawn.
- Always be moving when you open the gate on the spreader.
- Always close the spreader gate when making a sharp turn so you don’t drop more fertilizer on the inside of the turn than on the outer side.
- It is easier to spread fertilizers that are less than twenty percent of nitrogen because you have a higher margin for error than when spreading fertilizers that are more than twenty percent of nitrogen.
- Sweep any spilled fertilizer off the sidewalks and concrete instead of hosing it off so it doesn’t wash into the storm drains.
- Be very careful in fertilizing in areas with a high water table to avoid contaminating the groundwater.
- Lawns that are newly established will need a bit more nitrogen in the first year of their life.
- Grass growing in shade needs ½ to 2/3rds as much fertilizer as grass growing in the sun. It is best to only fertilize a shaded grass like St. Augustine in early spring and late fall, when deciduous trees do not shade the grass.
- Using a mulching mower and recycling grass clippings adds valuable nutrients and requires less fertilizer. It also keeps more yard waste out of landfills.
- Foliar burn is a brown discoloration of the grass blade where fertilizer salts have sat on the grass blade and drawn all the moisture out of it. To avoid foliar burn, fertilize on a dry lawn and run the irrigation one cycle after spreading the fertilizer.
- If your lawn has heavy traffic or a pest injury, smaller and more frequent applications of fertilizer will help it heal.
- Liquid fertilizers are more likely to burn lawns when applied at rates of ½ to ¾ pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
- If you have never fertilized your grass with a hose-end sprayer, first practice with plain water until you can confidently spread the liquid over your lawn.
- Fast-release nitrogen like urea, ammonium sulfate, and ammonium phosphates work for four to six weeks. They are less expensive sources of nitrogen, so the fertilizer will be cheaper.
- Fish meal, animal manure, blood meal, and activated sewage sludge are sometimes referred to as slow-release fertilizers but break down quickly in the heat of southern climates.
- Slow-release nitrogen costs more than water-soluble nitrogen. In some states, like Texas, a fertilizer only has to have fifteen percent of the nitrogen as water-insoluble nitrogen to be labeled slow-release. Putting too much water-soluble fertilizer on your lawn will burn it.
- If you are purchasing slow-release nitrogen, at least fifty percent of the nitrogen should be slow-release to work effectively.
- If your lawn borders water, leave a ten-foot strip unfertilized to avoid contaminating the water source.
- In the summer, apply iron sulfate or chelated iron instead of nitrogen to cause the lawn to stay dark green all summer without damaging it with excess nitrogen.
My pick for the best liquid fertilizer for lawns is Simple Lawn Solutions Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK – Lawn Food Quality Liquid Fertilizer. You just hook the package up to a hose, turn the hose on, and spread the fertilizer.
The Andersons 7-1-2 Innova Premium Organic Fertilizer is my pick for the best organic lawn fertilizer. It is a premium fertilizer that is safe for kids and pets.
My pick for the best budget fertilizer is Milorganite 0636 Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer, 32-Pound. It is the dried and pelleted microbes left after they filter wastewater.
Scotts Green Max Lawn Food is my pick for the best nitrogen fertilizer. This fertilizer will turn your lawn a deep green in no time.
My pick for the best spring and summer fertilizer is Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food. Scotts is a reputable company, and this product is easy to find and use.
GreenView Fall Lawn Food is my pick for the best fall lawn fertilizer. The extra potassium builds vigorus roots to withstand the cold of winter.
My pick for the best fertilizer for a struggling lawn is Safer Brand 9335SR Lawn Restore Natural Lawn Fertilizer. This fertilizer is formulated to repair bald patches, thicken a thin lawn, and grow a lush, green carpet of grass.
Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed 3 is my pick for the best weed and feed fertilizer. I recommend using fertilizer separately from your weed control products, but if you must use weed and feed, this is the one to use.
My pick for the best fertilizer for new lawns is Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer. It has the extra phosphorus new lawns need.
Espoma Organic All Season Lawn Food 9-0-0 Natural & Organic Lawn Food is my pick for the best overall fertilizer for lawns. It has nitrogen, calcium, sulfur, and beneficial microbes to grow a great lawn.