Buying Guide

Best Lawn Fertilizer For Your Yard

Understanding Fertilizer Labels
A graphic showing that the letters NPK on a bag of fertilizer stand for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

All lawn fertilizers contain three main nutrients listed in this order on the package: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK). 


Fertilizers for other plants can have different ingredients in different amounts. Use fertilizer specifically designed for grass for the best results. 


The NPK indicates the percentage by weight of each of these three  nutrients. For example, a common type of all-purpose fertilizer is referred to as 10-10-10. That means the bag contains an NPK ratio of 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorous and 10 percent potassium. The remaining ingredients contain other nutrients and fillers. 


  • Nitrogen (N) promotes rapid growth and lush green color. 
  • Phosphorous (P) helps develop healthy root systems. Starter lawn fertilizers have a high phosphorous count for this reason, while fertilizers for established lawns have a relatively low amount. 
  • Potassium (K) boosts the overall health of your grass and helps with disease resistance, drought protection and cold tolerance. 


Tip: Remember these numbers by keeping “up, down and all-around” in mind when reading fertilizer labels. The first number promotes rapid growth ("up"), the second promotes root development ("down") and the third number promotes overall grass health ("all-around").

Types of Fertilizers
Someone wearing yellow gloves holding a handful of white fertilizer granules.

The main types of fertilizers are granular, liquid, organic and synthetic. 


Granular

  • Available in various time-release formulas. 
  • Gives you more control over your lawn feeding schedule.


Liquid

  • Quick-release designed for quick growth and color. 
  • MSynthetic materials such as minerals and inorganic waste matter, it tends to be less expensive than organic lawn fertilizers.
  • Many liquid fertilizers are available in a bottle that attaches directly to the end of a hose for convenient and quick-acting distribution.


Organic

  • All-natural; can be purchased or made at home.
  • Feeds lawn as organic materials break down and release nutrients back into the soil.


Synthetic 

  • Tends to be less expensive than organic lawn fertilizers.
  • Fast-acting, water soluble and quickly absorbed by plants for rapid greening.


The best fertilizer or lawn care product for your needs may be one that also controls unwanted growth or bugs. These include:


  • Pre-emergent weed control, or “weed & feed” fertilizers that feed your lawn while helping prevent weeds. They strengthen and encourage growth in the roots of the grass.
  • Quick-greening fertilizers for use on established lawns. These have a nitrogen-heavy formula that brings beautiful green color to a tired lawn.
  • Moss and fungus control fertilizers that kill moss without damaging the surrounding lawn.
  • Lawn weed killers that are usually available in liquid form, although some are granular. Depending on the type, a lawn weed killer can kill crabgrass, chickweed, black clover and other common unwanted lawn growth.
  • Lawn insect control products that can be applied in both growing or dormant seasons to manage harmful insects such as ants, fleas and ticks. Apply these with a broadcast or rotary spreader.
  • Weed and grass killers that eliminate any growth in areas you want free of plants and grass. They are typically very fast-acting.


To make sure you cover your entire lawn with fertilizer, apply it in overlapping patterns. Make one complete pass vertically across your lawn and a second pass horizontally.


Fertilize only when the grass is dry to reduce the possibility of leaf burn, and water your lawn thoroughly after fertilizing so the nutrients soak into the soil.


Clean your spreader before putting it away to reduce a build-up of dirt and chemicals.

How to Choose Fertilizer Based On Your Grass Type
A lush, green lawn bordered by shrubs and red and purple flowers.

Determine your grass type to find the best lawn fertilizer for your yard. If you’re not sure what kind of grass you have, use our guide on Types of Grass to identify it.  


Warm-season grasses such as bahia, bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia grow vigorously throughout much of the year and need a little more attention than cool-season varieties.


The cool-season grasses, like fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and rye, grow and spread more slowly than warm-season varieties. They are typically semi-dormant during the summer, so you can fertilize them just twice a year: once at the beginning of spring and again at the beginning of fall.

When to Fertilize Your Lawn
A man using a spreader to distribute lawn fertilizer in front of a house with a white fence.

The best time to fertilize your lawn is in the fall while grass is growing and storing nutrients. However, your lawn fertilizing schedule will depend on the type of grass you have and the type of fertilizer you’re using. 


Early fall means cooler weather with warm soil and ample rain, creating the perfect environment for grass to develop strong roots and grass seeds to germinate. An application of nitrogen-rich, slow-release fertilizer around Labor Day will feed your lawn and provide essential nourishment for the coming spring. 


Spring is the next most important time of the year to fertilize your lawn. Spring grasses come to life hungry and ready to be fed. Fertilize your lawn as soon as the dormant grass is at least fifty percent green again. 


Summer is hard on lawns because of heat, drought, insects and increased foot traffic. Feeding your lawn with slow-release fertilizer at the start of summer will help keep your grass healthy and green throughout the season. This is not necessary for cool-season grasses. If insects are a problem in your yard during the summer, consider using a fertilizer with insect control. 


Use quick-release, pre-emergent weed control (or weed and feed) fertilizer to eliminate unsightly weeds without harming your grass. Avoid using weed and feed if you plan to reseed your lawn in the same season. As a general rule, you can safely apply weed and feed in the spring and overseed in the fall.

 

Apply slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer every 90 to 120 days at the start of spring, summer and fall. Apply all-purpose fertilizer every six to eight weeks. 


How to Fertilize Your Lawn
A garden tractor pulling a spiker seed drop spreader over a lawn.

Before you fertilize, check your local weather forecast. Plan to fertilize just before a day of light, steady rain. You’ll save water and your grass will be well-fed. Using an aerator to make small holes in your lawn before you fertilize can make it easier for fertilizer and water to reach the roots of the grass. 


Fertilizers are typically grouped as granular, water-soluble and organic, and you can choose from walk-behind, handheld, drop or liquid spreaders to apply fertilizer to your lawn. 


When trying to determine how much fertilizer to use on your lawn, remember that every eight steps is roughly equal to 10 feet. For size reference, compare your lawn to the size of a tennis court, which is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide.


It helps to break up your lawn into easily measurable sections. Sketch out a rough drawing of your yard and break it into a few large squares, rectangles, circles and triangles.


• For squares and rectangles, measure the length and the width, then multiply those two numbers to get your area. 

• For circles, measure half the distance across the center of the circle then multiply by 3.14. 

• For triangles, measure the base and the height, multiply the two numbers, then divide by two.

• Once you have the areas determined for each shape, add up the areas to get the total area of your lawn. 


When determining how much lawn fertilizer you need, don't guesstimate, calculate. Know exactly how much you need with our project calculators.


Choose from broadcast, handheld and drop spreaders to apply fertilizer to your lawn. Find recommendations for the proper spreader settings on the label of most fertilizers. 


Use quick-release, pre-emergent weed control (or weed and feed) fertilizer to eliminate unsightly weeds without harming your grass. Avoid using weed and feed if you plan to reseed your lawn in the same season. As a general rule, you can safely apply weed and feed in the spring and overseed in the fall.

Fertilizer Solutions for Common Lawn Problems
A half-dozen white grubs curled up on a green lawn.

In addition to giving your lawn vibrant, green color and boosting healthy growth, the best fertilizer for grass can help control weed growth, moss and insects. Some organic fertilizers or lawn foods don't have additional features. Some fertilizers will:


  • Kill common weeds
  • Kill crabgrass
  • Control moss
  • Kill insects, pests and grubs
  • Improve lackluster color

Fertilizing your lawn can be a simple, roughly seasonal process once you match the correct type of fertilizer to your grass, whether you hire lawn care providers or do it yourself. Looking for a specific product or other item?  Search by voice or image with our mobile app.