Feeding Your Lawn

Under 2 hours

Feed your lawn the right fertilizer for a lush green grass

One of the best ways to keep your lawn healthy and green is to fertilize it, also known as feeding your lawn. Using fertilizer helps to sustain your plants throughout the year.

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.

Additionally, for tips and helpful information on using the right type of grass seed, visit our Overseeding Your Lawn project guide. And if you're thinking about the best way to go about planting trees and shrubs, check out our 10 Steps to Plant a New Tree and Shrubs project guide.

The type of grass you have will determine the 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. They’re also easier to control. Granular fertilizer is used in the following video series.
• Organic fertilizer: good for low-maintenance gardeners. The chemicals in organic fertilizers are slow to break down and seep into the ground.

To help you identify your grass, take samples to your local Home Depot Garden Center for assistance.

Perform a Soil Test

Before you fertilize your lawn, do a soil test to determine the pH level your soil needs to absorb the fertilizer’s nutrients. 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).

Choose Your Lawn Spreader

A lawn spreader can help 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.
• Hand or 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.

Choose Your Fertilizer

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. For example, 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.


Calculate your lawn space

• To determine the amount of fertilizer you’ll need, calculate the square footage of your lawn space. You don’t need to measure areas without grass, such as flower beds and walkways.

• If your lawn is rectangular, multiply the length and width to get the total square footage. If you have an irregularly shaped lawn, one containing a lot of islands, break up the space into rectangular sections. Multiply the length and width of each section, and then tally the sums to get the total square footage.

Fill and set lawn spreader

• Check the instructions on your fertilizer bag for the recommended spreader setting. This determines the amount of fertilizer you’ll apply as you spread the lawn. The higher the setting, the larger the hole size in the hopper. Adjust the setting on the spreader accordingly.

• Before you fill the spreader with fertilizer, make sure that the hopper hole is closed. Fill the hopper on a hard surface, such as a driveway or sidewalk. This will prevent a potential spill from damaging and saturating a spot on your lawn.

• Be careful not to overfill the hopper or the lawn spreader may become hard to maneuver. Your lawn spreader may come with a feature to help you avoid dispensing fertilizer onto your driveway, sidewalk or walkway. If so, turn it on before you begin the job. Follow all other instructions provided by your manufacturer for operating your lawn spreader.

Operate your spreader

• When applying the fertilizer, make header strips around the edge of the lawn. These header strips provide convenient starting and stopping points for each pass.

• Always push the lawn spreader, never pull it, and walk at a moderate pace. Your speed affects the rate that the fertilizer is laid.

• If your lawn is irregularly shaped, make header strips around the entire perimeter. Then, work your way inward. Go up and down the lawn with parallel strips.

• Keep the hopper chute open as you make your passes. Close the hopper chute when you come to the end of a strip, stop, or make turns. This will prevent you from creating saturated spots and wasting fertilizer.

• Also, be careful when maneuvering the lawn spreader on slopes to avoid tipping it over.

Clean spreader and water lawn

• After you’ve covered the lawn, check for any fertilizer that may have scattered onto your driveway, sidewalk or walkway. Use a broom and dust pan to clean these areas. Fertilizer contains minerals that can stain concrete. You can sprinkle any leftover fertilizer back on the lawn after you have scooped it up.

• Next, rinse off the lawn spreader with a garden hose on the lawn. This allows you to make use of fertilizer that’s stuck in and around the spreader. Clean the hopper plate and wheels thoroughly. Then allow the lawn spreader to dry.

• Lastly, water the lawn thoroughly. This will mix the nutrients from the fertilizer into the soil.