How to Choose the Right Fertilizer for Your Yard
In addition to keeping your yard looking lush and green, lawn fertilizer can strengthen your lawn so it is more resistant to weeds and diseases. Feeding your lawn every six to eight weeks will keep it well-supplied with nutrients. This guide discusses the three main types of fertilizer so that you can confidently choose the best variety for your lawn.
When to Feed Your Lawn
With cool nights, ample rainfall and morning dew, fall is the ideal time to feed your lawn. An early fall feeding gives the lawn the nutrients it needs to grow and recover from the damage of the hot summer months. A late fall feeding prepares the grass for the winter months, strengthens roots and enables the grass to store more nitrogen to use in the spring.
If you need to re-seed your lawn in patchy areas, read our Overseeding Your Lawn Project Guide
Choose a Lawn Spreader
A lawn spreader helps you evenly distribute fertilizer and other lawn care products around your yard. There are two basic types of lawn spreaders:
- Drop spreaders are useful for smaller yard spaces, up to 5,000 square feet. A drop spreader lays the lawn food between its wheels, meaning you have more control of where the fertilizer is laid, but you need to be precise in how you maneuver the spreader. Overlap your strips so that you don’t miss a spot.
- Handheld spreaders also accommodate small yards. Crank the handle while walking through your yard to release the fertilizer.
- Broadcast or rotary spreaders are used for large yard spaces. This spreader disperses lawn food beyond the wheelbase, covering more ground than you would achieve with a drop or handheld spreader.
How to Read Fertilizer Labels
When shopping for fertilizer, look for three numbers on the label. These numbers indicate the percentages of main nutrients responsible for the development and overall health of your lawn. The first number represents nitrogen. The second is phosphorus and the third is potassium. So, if a bag of fertilizer is labeled 20-27-5, that means it contains 20 percent nitrogen, 27 percent phosphorus and 5 percent potassium. The remaining ingredients contain other nutrients and fillers.
Nitrogen helps the grass grow and produce a lush green color. Phosphorus strengthens its roots, and potassium builds strong cells within the plant tissue. It also helps the grass withstand stress, drought and disease.
Multi-benefit lawn fertilizers combine nutrients that feed grass in critical growing seasons with additional ingredients that address other common lawn problems, from crabgrass prevention – often needed most in the North – to insect killers that eradicate harmful pests without harming the grass itself. There are even weed and feed products that work as post-emergents, killing off crabgrass that has already invaded the lawn while strengthening the grass so that it grows thicker and keeps the weeds from returning.
Weed and Feed Fertilizers
Weed and feed fertilizers have two benefits, explained in the name: They feed your lawn while also killing existing weeds. Some of these fertilizers kill weeds by sticking to the weed leaves, so it’s important to apply when the grass is wet from morning dew or after a quick sprinkling.
Tip: Don’t water your lawn for 24 hours after applying a weed and feed, as the water can wash away the weed control particles before they can get to work.
Feed Only Fertilizers
Feed only fertilizers are great if your lawn is weed free and you just want to feed it to thicken your grass, crowd out new weeds and strengthen your lawn to help protect it against future problems. These fertilizers can be used on any grass type during any season. Check manufacturer's instructions for specific application details.
The type of grass you have determines the type fertilizer you should use and how often you should use it. There are a variety of fertilizers to choose from to suit your lawn’s needs, including:
- Liquid fertilizer: works and absorbs quickly, so you may need to reapply every few weeks.
- Granular fertilizer: absorbs into the ground more slowly and may require less application than liquid fertilizers. Granular fertilizer is also easier to control than liquid.
- Organic fertilizer: good for low-maintenance gardeners. The chemicals in organic fertilizers are slow to break down and seep into the ground.
Before you fertilize your lawn, do a soil test to determine the pH level of your soil. The pH, or the acidity level, of your soil has a lot to do with how well your plants grow. By understanding the pH level, you can get the most appropriate fertilizer for your lawn. One of the most efficient ways to test your soil is by using a pH test kit. The pH is tested on a scale of 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). Plants grow best in soil between 6 and 7 (neutral).