Find out how to choose the best lawn fertilizer for your yard, and don’t miss our top picks!
Whoever said, “The grass is always greener on the other side” probably didn’t know what they were talking about. To keep your yard in good shape, all you really need is the best lawn fertilizer for your climate and conditions and a few dates circled on your calendar. Once you know what will work best, just put it on as directed and do what it says to do on the package. This guide will teach you about the basics of fertilizer and review some of the best products on the market.
Before You Buy Lawn Fertilizer
Ahead, get our top tips and recommendations for choosing the best lawn fertilizer for your yard—and don’t miss our top picks!
Whoever said, “The grass is always greener on the other side” probably wasn’t using the right stuff. When it comes to keeping a yard in top condition, all you really need is the best lawn fertilizer for your climate and conditions, and a few dates circled on the calendar. Once you’ve determined what’s ideal, simply apply as instructed and follow up as directed on the package. This guide will teach you the fertilizer fundamentals and offer reviews of some of the highest-rated products on the market.
What to Consider When Choosing Lawn Fertilizer
As lawn care has become more popular over the past century, science and marketing have come up with ways to get “the perfect lawn.” Use caution. Even though these amazing products can make grass look beautiful and healthy, using them wrong can kill the grass, make you sick, and make a lot of environmental problems worse.
Find out how much and what kind of fertilizer your grass needs before you buy and put it on your lawn. The information you need can be found in a soil test kit that you can do yourself or in a mail-in packet from your local extension service. Don’t be tempted to use more than what the test results suggest. Doing so could mess up the chemistry of the soil, or even worse.
How to Choose Fertilizer for Your Lawn
Buying fertilizer for your lawn is not a simple task. Find out more about what your lawn really needs and how to give it what it needs.
You might have seen three numbers on the labels of lawn fertilizer. The numbers show how much of the basic nutrients (N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus, and K for potassium) the fertilizer has. This is called the NPK ratio. If a fertilizer’s NPK ratio is 12-0-10, for example, it means that it has 12 percent nitrogen, 0 percent phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium.
In general, nitrogen helps plants stay green, phosphorus helps their roots grow, and potassium protects them from drought and disease. Depending on the type of grass you have, the soil’s natural chemistry, and the climate where you live, some combinations will work better than others. The best way to find out what your lawn needs is to start your fertilization program with a soil test and then find the fertilizer that best fills in what’s missing.
Organic vs. Artificial
Once you know your best NPK number, you can choose between a synthetic and an organic fertilizer.
Synthetic types are made from minerals, gasses, and even waste, and they are made to work quickly, sometimes in just a few days. The problem with synthetic fertilizers is that they are known to “burn” (kill) grass if they are used too heavily. If they get into the water supply, they can also hurt the environment and put people’s health at risk.
Organic fertilizers are made from things that are alive, like cottonseed, peat moss, bat guano, blood meal, or bone meal. They can take a little longer to work their magic. Usually, you have to wait a few weeks to see results. Even though they take some time, the risks to the environment and health are low.
There are two ways to make fertilizer: with liquid or with small pieces. Liquid fertilizer comes either as a liquid that needs to be mixed with water or as a powder that needs to be mixed with water. It usually needs to be applied more often than granular fertilizer. It can also be bad for the environment if it pollutes the water supply in large amounts, leaking lead, cadmium, and arsenic through storm drain runoff and causing algae blooms and long-term health risks for the public. Still, it works well to get results quickly, so it’s best to use it only when you really need fast results and can do so sparingly.
Granular fertilizer usually works in a slow-release way. It can take up to a month or longer to see results, but you need to check on it less often. It’s also a lot safer for your health, so it’s usually a better choice unless you can’t wait a few weeks for your yard to grow back.
Fast vs. Slow Release
The grass’s metabolism will tell you whether you need fast-release or slow-release fertilizer. Fast-release lawn food can be helpful in early spring and when a new lawn is being planted. A quick dose of nitrogen fertilizer helps grass that has been dormant all winter grow new leaves early in the growing season. These new leaves help the grass grow more roots faster. In the same way, a quick-release lawn starter can help young grass seedlings or sod that has just been laid get going faster.
Slow-release lawn food, on the other hand, is better for long-term care. This kind of plant food makes sure that plants get the right nutrients all season long. Slow-release lawn fertilizer is like a meal for the grass, while fast-release fertilizer is more like a snack.
Type of Grass
Most warm-season and cool-season grasses need a lot of the same nutrients. During the growing season, they need a steady supply of nitrogen to help their leaves grow quickly. Phosphorus may not be needed, and it should only be used if a soil test tells you to. Potassium needs to be replaced often to help plants resist drought and stay healthy overall. Most of the time, a healthy ratio is around 4-0-2.
Centipede grass and St. Augustine grass are two types that don’t follow this rule. These grasses need more potassium than other grasses because they grow in warm places. They need about the same amount of nitrogen and potassium and almost none of phosphorus. These grasses need 15-0-15 or something similar.
Our Top Picks
If you want a strong, healthy lawn, keep reading to learn about a great fertilizer. In the reviews that follow, we’ll tell you more about our top picks and explain why we thought they were some of the best lawn fertilizers on the market.
Milorganite Slow Release Nitrogen Lawn Fertilizer is the best all-around.
Milorganite has been used in lawn fertilizer since the 1920s, when it was first made available. This recycled lawn food is made from microbes that filter and break down organic matter in municipal wastewater. These microbes are rich in nutrients and are treated with heat. The fertilizer has an NPK analysis of 6-4-0, and it has 2.5 percent iron, which helps plants get very green. One application feeds for 10 weeks and doesn’t need to be watered in. It covers 2,500 square feet and weighs 32 pounds.
Milorganite is known to keep the grass green and healthy and to keep animals out of the garden, such as deer and rabbits. But it’s important to be careful because, like other biosolids-based fertilizers, it has traces of PFAS, which are chemicals that last forever and have been linked to a number of long-term health problems.
NPK Ratio: 6-4-0
Weight: 32 pounds
Coverage: 2,500 square feet
Derived from recycled waste material
Feeds gradually, reduces nutrient pollution
2.5 percent iron for deep greening
Value price point
Contains measurable levels of polyfluorinated chemicals (PFAS)
Contains 4 percent phosphorus, which many soils do not need
2.The Andersons Innova Organic Fertilizer
With 7-1-2 NPK and amino acids, Andersons Innova feeds lawns in a slow, steady way. The plant-based formula doesn’t have any biosolids, manure, recycled waste, or animal parts, which are all things that could be harmful. The non-burning granules keep damage from happening and are made to have low dust, so they are easy to use without making you sneeze. Up to 5,600 square feet of lawn can be fed with a 40-pound bag.
With a low-runoff formula that is safe to use near waterways, Innova 7-1-2 can be used in certified organic operations and is on the OMRI list of products that can be used there. It encourages a healthy soil ecosystem by giving microbes in the soil carbon that is easy to digest. This product is about as organic as you can get.
NPK Ratio: 7-1-2
Weight: 40 pounds
Coverage: 5,600 square feet
OMRI listed, USDA BioPreferred
Contains no biosolids, manure, composted waste, or animal components
Slow release pellets
Bulkier and heavier than non-organic fertilizer
BEST LAWN STARTER
3.Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass
Whether you start a new lawn from seed, sod, or plugs, you need to make sure the soil is healthy. Scotts Turf Builder 24-25-4 Starter has a lot of phosphorus to help roots grow quickly and nitrogen to help healthy leaves grow up to 70% faster than on a lawn that hasn’t been fertilized. The small granules are made to dissolve quickly so that they can be used quickly during the six-week germination and establishment phase of the lawn. The 15-pound bag can feed a new lawn that is 5,000 square feet.
This traditional fertilizer from Scotts gives plants a lot of nutrients in a small, light package. It works quickly, but if it’s not used right, it can pollute runoff. To get the most out of the fertilizer and stop nutrients from running off, it is important to prepare the soil.
NPK Ratio: 24-25-4
Weight: 15 pounds
Coverage: 5,000 square feet
Formulated for extensive root development
Ideal for new newly seeded or sodded lawns
Establishes grass 70 percent faster than unfed lawns
Lightweight and affordable
High phosphorus content may not be necessary for all soils
Requires soil preparation to prevent nutrient runoff
4.Scotts Turf Builder Weed & Feed
Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed takes care of two tasks at once, so you can have a beautiful lawn with less work. It has fast-acting fertilizer (28-0-3) to feed the grass and 2,4D, which kills broadleaf weeds like dandelions and clover. The 14.29-pound bag treats grass that is 5,000 square feet.
This product is easy to use, but you have to do it quickly. At the time of application, the lawn must be wet from dew, rain, or watering, so that the dry weed killer will stick to the leaves of the weeds. There shouldn’t be any rain in the forecast, and you shouldn’t water the grass for the first 24 hours after applying the fertilizer. After that, you can water it in. People and pets should stay away from the area for 24 to 48 hours.
NPK Ratio: 28-0-3
Weight: 14.29 pounds
Coverage: 5,000 square feet
Dual action product saves time and money
28-0-3 fertilizer for grass maintenance
2,4D broadleaf weed killer
Compact and lightweight package
Time and water sensitive
Not safe for young grass seedlings
No people or pets on the lawn for 24-48 hours after application
5.Ironite Mineral Supplement/Fertilizer
When grass doesn’t look right, it might not be because it doesn’t have enough nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. The only way to know for sure is to have the soil tested, but a pale green or yellowish color is often a sign that the soil doesn’t have enough iron. With 12 percent soluble iron, ironite gets to the root of iron deficiency without putting plants at risk of getting too much iron. Low levels of nitrogen and potassium make it easier for the grass to absorb and use iron, which makes the grass greener and last longer. The 15-pound bag can be used to treat 5,000 square feet.
Granular Ironite can be spread on your lawn just like other fertilizers, but be careful around concrete and stone because spills leave dark stains. For best results, water it in right after applying it.
NPK Ratio: 1-0-1
Weight: 15 pounds
Coverage: 5,000 square feet
Treats iron deficiency
Prevents over fertilization
Easy-to-apply granular formula
Soil should be tested for iron deficiency before applying
Spills can cause staining on concrete and stone
BEST FOR THICKER GRASS
6.Safer Brand Lawn Restore Fertilizer
When it’s hard to grow things, it can have a snowball effect, where less grass leads to less soil. When that happens, everyone has to work together to make things better. First, find and deal with the problem’s cause, which is often fungus, insects, or competition from a growing tree. Then, use Safer Brand Lawn Restore Fertilizer to treat the area. The mixture of organic plant food ingredients is meant to boost biological activity in the soil while it feeds the grass. The 20-pound bag covers an area of 5,000 square feet.
Safer Brand Lawn Restore is made from natural fertilizer ingredients like feather meal, soybean meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, molasses, and sulfate of potash. The nutrients don’t dissolve in water. Instead, microbes that help build soil break them down. So, it builds soil as it feeds plants and keeps nutrients from running off into the environment.
NPK Ratio: 9-0-2
Weight: 20 pounds
Coverage: 5,000 square feet
Builds soil organic matter
Strengthens weak grass
Easy to apply
Safe for the environment
Impact is not immediate
Since strong, fast-acting lawn foods can burn the grass or hurt the environment, we recommend using natural methods instead. Milorganite fertilizer, which is our best overall pick, has been used by both professionals and home gardeners for more than 100 years. It is a cheap fertilizer that feeds the soil and helps plants grow steadily and get a deep green color. The Andersons organic fertilizer is another option that is safe and easy to use. It has ingredients that improve the soil and leaves out questionable products like biosolids and ingredients made from animals.
How We Chose the Best Lawn Fertilizers
There are a lot of different kinds of lawn fertilizer for every possible need. There are many different kinds of formulas for winterizing, greening up in the spring, maintaining in the summer, getting rid of weeds, starting a lawn, making grass grow in the north or south, and so much more. We wanted to cut through the noise and recommend lawn foods that would work for the most lawns, including those with warm-season and cool-season grasses and lawns that like acidic soil.
Fertilizers that work well meet the needs of the plant over time. Even without taking into account the chemistry of the soil, most lawn grasses need an NPK ratio of about 4-1-2 for healthy growth. But since most soils in North America have enough P, we decided to start our search with fertilizers that are the same as 4-0-2. (8-0-4, 12-0-6, etc). This wasn’t a hard and fast rule; it was more of a guide.
When it came to making the formulas, we leaned toward organic and natural products for a few reasons. Organic fertilizers don’t burn, help keep the soil healthy, keep nutrients from washing away, and feed plants slowly over time. Non-organic fertilizers can also do these things, but organic fertilizers do them in a very consistent way from one to the next. Also, it’s rare for a lawn to need a quick boost of plant food, especially if it has been fed regularly.
On our final list, we chose both organic and non-organic items. The organic ones were for regular repairs and maintenance, while the non-organic ones were for special situations where their use solves specific problems.
Tips for How to Fertilize Your Lawn
Finding out what the lawn needs most is the first and most important step in fertilizing it. By looking at the chemical makeup of the soil, you can quickly find nutrient imbalances that can be fixed with targeted applications. If you don’t, you might add too much of nutrients that are already there or ignore a nutrient deficiency. Once you have the results of the test, you can match them to the best fertilizer you can get.
Use a fertilizer spreader to get an even coat.
With the spreader set to half the recommended rate, put the fertilizer down in lines going in the same direction, then do it again in lines going in the opposite direction.
Don’t throw fertilizer on the pavement or in flower beds.
Right after putting down fertilizer, blow or sweep it off the pavement.
Apply fertilizer before it rains or use sprinklers within 24 hours.
See the questions and answers about lawn fertilizer that come up most often.
Q: When is the best time to fertilize your lawn?
Cool-season grasses, like tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, should be fertilized when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees or when growth has started. For warm-season grasses like bermuda grass, zoysia, and centipede grass, fertilize when the grass is at least 50% green again after the winter.
Q: How often should you fertilize your lawn?
Feeding depends on the type of grass, the type of fertilizer, the climate, the weather, and the amount of nutrients in the soil. Too much fertilizer is much worse for the lawn and the environment than not enough. Most of the time, two applications of organic lawn fertilizers are enough, unless a soil test says otherwise.
Q: What is the best ratio for lawn fertilizer?
Testing the soil is the best way to find out what your lawn needs. Don’t feed your lawn with balanced analysis plant foods like 10-10-10 or 15-15-15. Even though these items have some of the nutrients grass needs, they don’t have enough of them. Instead, use lawn fertilizer that has a breakdown of 4-0-2 or 4-1-2.
Q: What is a natural lawn fertilizer?
Natural lawn fertilizers are made with nutrients that come from animal and/or plant waste, not from mined minerals or chemicals. Natural fertilizer tends to have fewer nutrients than conventional fertilizer, but natural products have other benefits, such as adding organic matter to the soil, boosting beneficial soil microbes, feeding plants for a longer time, and reducing nutrient runoff.
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