It is a common misconception made by many homeowners, that rainfall and the soil provide enough nutrients for a luscious, green lawn. However, the truth is that in even the most perfect of conditions and locations for growth, additional nutrition is needed for your lawn to reach its fullest potential.
Maybe you are looking to revive your lawn after a drought or after years of being unkempt by a previous owner, or maybe you are looking to maintain the beauty and health of your lawn for years to come. If either of these statements is true, you have come to the right place.
In this article, we will learn exactly what goes into lawn fertilizers today as well as the best times of the year to apply them. We will also be reviewing several different brands of fertilizer to help you find the best lawn fertilizer for your unique lawn.
Every lawn is different and requires specialized care. The key to unlocking your lawn’s true potential lies in the type of fertilizer you use to feed it. Carry on reading to find an expert buyer’s guide to use before purchasing your fertilizer or jump straight to our number #1 pick here.
Table of Contents
- What Should I Look For When Buying Lawn Fertilizer?
- Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Lawn Fertilizer
- Budget Options
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Verdict: Your Best Lawn Fertilizer
What Should I Look For When Buying Lawn Fertilizer?
There are dozens of different kinds of fertilizers on the market today, each claiming to be the best fertilizer for specific reasons. However, what is most important is finding the fertilizer that is best for your unique lawn and its specific needs.
Here we will be breaking down a few important criteria to consider before purchasing a new lawn fertilizer so that you can narrow down your search and easily choose the one that will work best for your lawn.
Type of Fertilizer
There are three main types of lawn fertilizer. These include organic, synthetic, and liquid. Organic fertilizers are derived from all-natural ingredients which means that they are naturally occurring in soil. Organically sourced fertilizers contain zero chemicals and will not pose a threat to pets or wildlife. When using organic fertilizers, you also will not need to worry about water pollution, which can be a major concern if you live near a well-established water source. Organic fertilizers tend to take longer to activate than synthetic, however, so a level of patience is required when using them.
Synthetic fertilizers contain all of the nutrients that your lawn needs but are derived from chemical versions of these nutrients. Synthetic fertilizers will provide a much faster result in fuller and greener grass and will be much more effective at maintaining weed control than an organic fertilizer can. However, chemical-based fertilizers can be more dangerous to children, pets, and wildlife, and they will not provide the long-term, soil health benefit that organic can.
The third main type of fertilizer is liquid fertilizer. This type of fertilizer is usually a strong concentration of fertilizer that is mixed with water and then sprayed on your lawn along with the water either from a hose or a large pump sprayer. Liquid fertilizers work to provide an almost instantaneous effect by soaking the fertilizer into the soil along with the water. Liquid-based fertilizer will be absorbed into grass and soil the fastest, however, it will often need to be applied more frequently than granular fertilizers.
Depending on which type of fertilizer your choose for your lawn, there is likely to be a different application process for each one. To find a fertilizer that works best for your specific lawn, it is important to find one that will be easy to apply to your yard.
If you own a large yard and need to apply a significant amount of fertilizer during each session, a granular fertilizer that can be applied with a rotary spreader may work best. If you have a smaller lawn, however, a liquid fertilizer may work best as it can be applied more often as needed.
Healthy lawns need several different kinds of nutrients to thrive. The three most important are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Before you begin shopping for the best lawn fertilizer for your lawn, it can help to perform a simple soil test that can tell you the current nutrient levels of your lawn and what nutrients it is most in need of.
When shopping for fertilizers, you will base your purchase upon the NPK ratio of the fertilizer which refers to the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio found in the fertilizer. Depending on the result of your home soil test, you can search for a fertilizer that includes the necessary level of nutrients as well as the secondary nutrients such as hydrogen, calcium, and sulfur that your lawn may need.
Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Lawn Fertilizer
To determine the best fertilizers for our list, we looked at several different kinds of fertilizers from several different manufacturers to construct a list that will have a fertilizer option for everyone and every type of lawn. Using our buyer’s guide and the criteria we mentioned above, we carefully researched each type of fertilizer to ensure that it is the best for its primary purpose which is making your lawn as thick and healthy as it can be.
#1: Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food (Best Value – All-Purpose)
Scotts Turf Builder lawn food is an excellent, all-season fertilizer that can be used in any season and on any grass type, making it ideal for all different types of lawns and weather conditions. Scotts is a lawn care company that has become the leading expert and top retailer in lawn care and fertilization products. Each of the Scotts products is scientifically developed and thoroughly tested by expert lawn scientists to help you achieve the fullest potential of your lawn.
Scotts Turf Builder has a 32-0-4 NPK ratio, which means that it contains a high amount of nitrogen which will jumpstart the growth and coloring of your lawn. This particular blend contains zero phosphorus which is most often needed for new grass and developing strong root systems. So if you are trying to grow new grass, it may be best to choose a different formula that is developed specifically for the development of strong and healthy root systems.
Scotts trademarked All-in-One particle technology is built into this granular fertilizer to promote a beautiful and even green color as well as even feeding throughout your entire lawn. Scotts recommends that users apply fertilizer every 6-8 weeks to achieve optimal results, and by consistently using this brand of fertilizer, your lawn will be able to absorb water and nutrients much better compared to non-treated lawns.
One particularly important factor to note about this formula of Scotts Turf Builder is that it is specifically formulated for northern types of grass which are considered to be cool-season grasses, meaning it may not be the most ideal for warm seasons lawns. Not to worry, however, if you are from a warm season climate, we have a top fertilization choice for you in our list below.
#2: Milorganite Fertilizer (Best for Warm Season Grasses)
Milorganite fertilizer is an all-purpose lawn food that can be used on all types of grass, however, it is the brand that is most recommended for the fertilization and care of warm weather grasses as well as the sandy soil formations found in the southernmost states of the United States.
Milorganite has been the trusted grass fertilizer for golf courses around the country and is known for providing slow-release nitrogen feeding without the need for immediate water, making it very easy to apply and maintain the product.
Reason #1 – Organic and Environmentally-Friendly
Milorganite fertilizer is derived from 85% organic material, which makes it an environmentally friendly option. It feeds and nourishes your lawn with naturally occurring soil microbes, making it safe and effective for the care and growth of any lawn type.
Because of the slow release rate of this fertilizer, it can release nutrients at the same rate that grass types can use it which reduces the amount of fertilizer run-off and keeps groundwater leaching at bay.
Reason #2 – Slow-Release Technology
Milorganite is a slow-release fertilizer that also contains an additional iron supplement that provides your lawn with the nutrients it needs to maintain a rich, long-lasting, green color all season long.
The slow-release technology provides even feeding for your lawn for 8-10 weeks of even growth and strong root development.
#3: Simple Lawn Solutions (Best Liquid Fertilizer)
Simple Lawn Solutions liquid lawn fertilizer is a fast-acting lawn feed spray that works by giving your lawn a boost of both the macro and micronutrients that it needs to grow greener and thicker.
With an NPK rating of 16-4-8, this liquid fertilizer is a great blend of all the essential nutrients that grass needs to grow. Most of the nutrients found in this fertilizer are also derived from natural sources such as seaweed and fish which makes it organic and safe for the environment. With a well-balanced blend of nitrogen to give your grass the boost it needs to grow, as well as phosphate to assist with strong root production and potash for protection against disease, this fertilizer is a great all-purpose blend that you can use within the spring and summer months.
This fertilizer is safe to use on all grass types including southern grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and Florida palmetto. Phosphate will assist in the production of strong roots, while potash will protect against disease.
Customers were impressed with the easy application process of this fertilizer, as well as its quick results. This specific type of fertilizer comes in a bottle that simply attaches to your standard garden hose and then is sprayed along with your hose water over your entire lawn.
#4: Pennington UltraGreen Lawn Fertilizer (Best Low Cost)
Pennington UltraGreen lawn fertilizer is an all-purpose fertilizer that can be applied to any lawn type. Its strong defense mechanisms against heat and drought make it ideal for warm and dry climates. It also provides an extended feeding rate of up to 3 months per application.
Formulated with 5% iron and 10.5% nitrogen, it will provide your lawn with an instant boost of color and growth while carefully caring for your lawn’s root structure.
Many satisfied customers compared this product to Scotts top-rated lawn fertilizer which makes this lawn food a great option for the budget-conscious homeowner.
However, it is extremely important to make sure that you test the soil nutrient levels of your lawn before using this product. This product has a 32-0-4 NPK ratio, which is a very high level of nitrogen to be found in fertilizer. While it will help to provide a strong boost to a very nitrogen deficient lawn, it can prove to be detrimental to the lawn that already has a well-established level of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen applied to your yard can cause burning and permanent damage. So, before using this product, perform a soil nutrient test to make sure that your lawn can withstand this high level of nitrogen.
#5: Scotts Natural Fertilizer (Best Organic Fertilizer)
If you are looking for an organic lawn fertilizer that is safe to use around pets and children and is effective at promoting healthy grass and root growth, Scotts natural lawn food would be an excellent choice.
This highly rated fertilizer is derived completely from all-natural ingredients, making it safe to use around pets and children. Your lawn can even be walked on and used by your family immediately after application. Some of the main, natural ingredients used within this fertilizer include bone meal and blood meal which work to deliver the proper nutrients to your lawn safely and naturally.
Scotts Natural fertilizer is safe to use on any type of grass and at any time of the year, making it very versatile and easy to use. It is so safe that it can even be used on new lawns being grown from both seed or sod.
Compared to other organic fertilizers, Scotts Natural includes fast-acting results in as little as 1 to 3 weeks. This 11-2-2 NPK ratio fertilizer is safe to use on all types of lawns and provides much faster results than most organic fertilizers.
Many homeowners mistakenly think that lush, green lawns can only be achieved by the use of an expensive lawn care service or high-end fertilizer brand, but this is just not true. There are several budget-friendly fertilization options on the market today that work great for a wide variety of different lawns and growing locations.
Here we will explore budget-friendly options for each of the three main lawn fertilizer forms including organic, synthetic, and liquid.
Purely Organic is a budget-friendly, organic fertilizer that is designed to be used on all types of grass from all geographical locations of the United States. Its purely plant-based formula is created using a rich blend of grains and soy to provide the desired amount of nutrition to your lawn without the adverse effects of other organic fertilizers, such as manure, which can leave a smelly odor behind for days and sometimes even weeks.
The 10-0-2 NPK ratio of this fertilizer will provide your lawn with a healthy level of nitrogen to promote healthy grass growth and a lush, green color without the risk of burning. Its healthy potassium level will also work to promote a strong root system and the thickness of your turf.
Vigoro is a budget-friendly, synthetic lawn fertilizer that promotes even coloring and thick turf development with its 29-0-4 NPK ratio. This fertilizer is designed to be used throughout all seasons and is proven to show results in as little as 72 hours after application.
Vigoro backs their nitrogen-based lawn fertilizer with a no-burn guarantee which guarantees the healthy growth of grass, free from chemical nitrogen burns.
Scotts Liquid Turf Builder is a liquid lawn fertilizer that can be used on any type of grass, however, it is recommended only for use during the active growing season.
This 2-in-1 feeding system will feed your lawn and promote its green coloring while you water. With its simple to use hose attachment system, you can easily spray your lawn with this liquid-based fertilizer while the bottle is attached to your garden hose.
This fertilizer provides quick results which means it may work best as a supplemental fertilizer and not as your exclusive lawn fertilizer.
It is important to note also that while the fertilization solution within the bottle of this product is great and shows proven results, many customers complained about the overall design of the bottle and the fertilization delivery system. Due to the less expensive cost of this fertilizer, less effort was put into the overall design and functionality of the bottle which means it is, unfortunately, prone to leakage and sputtering.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Lawn Fertilizer Work?
When applied to your lawn correctly, lawn fertilizers work by providing your lawn with several key nutrients that it needs to maintain a bright and vivid color as well as its strength and durability. Many of these nutrients are naturally found in the soil that the grass is growing from, however, the nutrient levels are usually not enough to help your lawn reach its full potential.
Think of lawn fertilizer as a vitamin supplement. Our bodies receive essential vitamins and minerals from the foods that we eat, however, we can be prone to vitamin deficiencies. A daily vitamin helps with our overall nutrient levels just like fertilizers work to give your lawn all of the nutrients that it needs to grow healthy and strong.
Lawn fertilizer comes in many different forms, however, the most common forms include organic fertilizer, synthetic fertilizers, and liquid fertilizer. Each type of fertilizer comes with a nutrient description called an NPK ratio. NPK stands for the three most important nutrients that grass needs to grow and thrive – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
The NPK rating shows you the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (in that order) by displaying a number ratio such as 20-5-10. These numbers differ amongst different types of fertilizers which means that it is important to look closely at the label and determine which fertilizer has the nutrient ratio that will be most effective for your lawn.
To learn more in-depth about the nutrients that lawns need to grow, look at our “What Nutrients Does Grass Need” section found below.
When Should I Fertilize My Lawn?
Much of this answer depends upon what climate you live in because grass grows differently and needs different nutrients depending upon its location.
If you live in a climate that includes all four seasons of the year, you will need to make a fertilization schedule for each season of the year so that your lawn has the vital nutrients it needs to either deal with the hot and dry conditions of the summer or the cold, frosty temperatures of the winter months.
The most important fertilization times tend to be in the spring and the fall. In the spring your lawn needs a nutrient boost as it is waking up after the long winter and beginning its regrowth. This fertilization application will help it grow thick and strong as it begins its regrowth process.
It is also very important to apply a fertilizer that includes more potassium in the fall. Potassium will feed your grass throughout the harsh winter months and keep it healthy during its dormant period.
Grass that grows in warm climates will require a bit of a different fertilization schedule. It is important to note that warm-season grasses will not need the same frequency of fertilization that a four seasons grass type will need. Fertilizing this type of grass too often can prove harmful to the overall health of the grass. It is typically best for fertilizing warm climate grass throughout the spring and summer.
How Often Should I Fertilize My Lawn?
For climates that include all four seasons, it is ideal to fertilize grass four times per year – in the early spring, late spring, early summer, and the fall. This type of feeding schedule will properly prepare your lawn for the conditions of each season and help it reserve enough nutrient stores to be protected against the harsh conditions that each season can bring.
While it might seem that your grass can never have too much of the right fertilizer, there is a limit when it comes to this helpful product, because there is such thing as too much of a good thing here. When too much fertilizer is applied to a lawn, the overabundance of nitrogen and other nutrients found within the fertilizer can cause the grass to “burn”, turning it brown and white, which causes it to die.
Another adverse effect of too much fertilizer is not as noticeable but can also be detrimental to the overall health of your lawn. When lawns are over-fertilized, the grass tends to grow long very rapidly. While you may think of this as a good thing overall, it actually means that the root health of your grass is lacking. While your lawn may look healthy on the outside, below the surface its root structure can begin to weaken which makes your lawn prone to bare spots.
What Nutrients Does Grass Need?
While there are dozens of different nutrients needed for grass, the three most important and most often needed nutrients for healthy growth and root production are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These three basic nutrients make up what we call the NPK number on the fertilizer packaging.
Nitrogen is the most highly needed nutrient for healthy grass growth and durability. Nitrogen is the first of the three numbers in the NPK ratio shown on your fertilizer packaging, and this number must be the largest amongst the three in the ratio. It comes in either quick release or slow-release action, which each present its own positive and negative factors. It is important to choose a fertilizer that provides nutrients in the safest form for your grass.
Phosphorus is the second most needed nutrient for healthy grass growth. This nutrient is the second number in the NPK ratio, and it is the most important for the overall longevity and health of your lawn. Your lawn requires less phosphorus than it does nitrogen, however, it is equally as important to the health of your lawn and especially important for new, sprouting grass.
The third most important nutrient for grass growth is potassium. Unlike some of the other nutrients, potassium is needed by your grass all year. It works to build up the strength of your turf, making it more resilient to damage due to high traffic or disease. It is especially important to apply potassium to your grass as winter approaches because this vital nutrient will feed your grass through the winter and help your lawn grow back strong and thick in the spring. Potassium is the third number shown in the NPK ratio.
What Else Can I Do to Make My Grass Thicker and Greener?
Along with proper fertilization, there are several other actions you can take to promote a thick and green lawn. One of the most important of these actions includes mowing. Finding a balance in your mowing schedule will promote the thick and healthy growth of your lawn. You don’t want to mow too much or too little, rather paying close attention to the growth of your lawn, as well as the weather conditions such as rainfall amount, will alert you to the best time to mow your lawn.
Also, when mowing your lawn, make sure that your lawn mower’s blade height is at an appropriate level for your grass. If the blade cuts grass too low, this can cause it to burn and die, while keeping the blade too high can make you feel the need to cut more frequently, which is not good for your lawn’s overall health.
Watering your lawn and paying close attention to rainfall amounts will also help promote an overall healthy lawn. It is particularly important to water your lawn in both the early spring and early fall as well as throughout the summer as needed. Many climates deal with frequent drought throughout the summer months which can cause the grass to turn brown and die or go dormant. Watering your lawn in the early morning or evening during these times will provide your grass with the hydration it needs to beat the heat as the sun shines down upon it.
Weed control and aeration are also vital actions you can take to promote the health of your lawn. Many fertilizers today are equipped with weed-reducing properties to help with the spread of weeds such as dandelions and crabgrass.
Aeration, which involves the process of punching hundreds of tiny holes throughout your lawn, will promote healthy air and water flow as well as protect your lawn from compacting and becoming too thick.
Verdict: Your Best Lawn Fertilizer
Overall, finding the best lawn fertilizers for your lawn depends greatly upon where you live, which type of grass you are growing, and the current nutrient levels of your lawn. Once you get this vital information, the search for the best type of fertilizer for your unique lawn type will become a breeze.
To review our findings in this article, we have formulated a quick verdict that can help you make your final decision.
If you want the best value for money, pick the Scotts Turf Builder. This fertilizer is a great all-purpose choice for all different types of lawns, and it can be used throughout all seasons.
If you need a fast-acting, liquid fertilizer, pick the Simple Lawn Solutions Liquid Fertilizer. This liquid fertilizer comes in a well-designed and easy-to-use application bottle and provides your lawn with the perfect blend of nutrients that it needs to thrive.
If you want to keep the spend under $25, choose any of our budget-friendly choices shown above. We have included a budget-friendly option for all three of the main types of fertilizer.
The dream of a greener and healthier lawn is not that far away. With some education into what your lawn needs nutritionally, you will be able to find a fertilization method that will work best for your unique lawn helping it reach its fullest potential.