a lush english garden in summer

The Best Lawn Fertilizer? It Depends on Your Lawn

By: Sandy John

The House Method team reviews and recommends lawn care service providers. In this review, we explain why TruGreen is our top pick. House Method is reader-supported. Advertiser Disclosure.

Your front lawn serves as a welcome mat to your home, and your backyard is everything from your children’s play area to the space where you entertain friends and family. Finding the best lawn fertilizer will help you maintain lush green grass that’s an inviting backdrop to any activity.

Below, we’ll show you our top picks for lawn fertilizers, as well as look at factors to consider when selecting the right fertilizer for your lawn.

If you’d rather leave your lawn’s health to the experts, we suggest TruGreen as our recommended lawn care provider. Learn more about their plan options below, then get a free quote online or when you call 888.535.3193.

The best lawn fertilizers

If you know what your lawn needs, the next step is to choose the type of fertilizer. We did some research, and our recommendations are listed below.

Best Organic Fertilizer: Milorganite 06-04-00

Milorganite, which is made by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, consists of heat-dried microbes that were processed after they were used to eat nutrients from wastewater. Its N-P-K formulation is 6-4-0, and it can be applied at any time during the grass growing season. The nitrogen is slow-release, so there’s no danger of burning your grass, and the formula feeds your lawn for a long time with no need to reapply. The product includes 4% organic iron for added greening.

Milorganite 6-4-0

Fastest Green-Up: Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food

If an instant green lawn is your goal, Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food is the way to go. Just put it on the end of the hose, and you can feed and help produce a green lawn while you water. It can be used on any kind of grass and any time during the year that you would normally fertilize the grass. Reviews on Amazon say the green-up was noticeable in a week.

Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food

Best Long-Term Fertilizer: Pennington’s Signature Series Lawn Food

If you don’t want to fertilize multiple times, you need a long-release fertilizer, and Pennington’s Signature Series Lawn Food releases over four months. Its 29-0-5 formulation includes plenty of nitrogen for green grass and iron for an added boost of color. The product can be used on any type of grass and includes both nitrogen that releases quickly and slow-release nitrogen, so the green lasts.

Pennington’s Signature Series Lawn Food

Best Fertilizer for Adding Micronutrients: Simple Grow Solutions Micro Booster

If a soil test shows your soil is lacking micronutrients, Simple Grow Solutions offers a liquid solution. The company’s organic Micro Booster combines a blend of chelated micronutrients including manganese, iron, zinc, magnesium, boron, and sulfur. It can be used on lawns, as well as flowers, fruit, and vegetable plants. Some nutrients are immediately available, so you’ll likely see quick results. The product can be applied with a pump-end sprayer or hose-end sprayer.

Simple Grow Solutions Micro Booster

Best Fertilizer for Fall:Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food

If you have cool-weather grass, fall is the best time to apply fertilizer. Winterguard helps your grass build deep, strong roots, which will reward you with a healthy lawn in the spring. Scotts says its formula includes all the nutrients grass needs to repair any damage caused by the heat and dry spells of the summer.

Scotts Turf Builder Winterguard Fall Lawn Food

What is lawn fertilizer?

At its most basic, fertilizer is simply food for your lawn. Fertilizing correctly is the best way to support grass growth and foster a beautiful green lawn. It generally has three main components, which are known by their chemical symbols, N-P-K.

  • Nitrogen (N) promotes growth and density of grass plants and helps grass stay green. Density is very important, because a thick lawn doesn’t provide any space where weeds can grow. Nitrogen also encourages the production of chlorophyll, a necessary component of photosynthesis. However, if you over-fertilize with nitrogen, you can damage the grass blades. To avoid this, water after you fertilize.
  • Phosphorous (P) promotes the growth of a strong root system and helps with seedling development.
  • Potassium (K) helps plants fight disease and can help them withstand a dry spell.

N-P-K are known as macronutrients. Any fertilizer container will list the percentage of each in that order. For example, a 10-5-3 bag contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorous, and 3% potassium. The percentage equals the total percentage of the bag (so 18% NPK). The rest of the ingredients are fillers to ensure the fertilizer applies evenly, but that percentage is the key to fertilizing your soil. Knowing the right mix will get you the results you want. Different types of grass require different mixtures, so you shouldn’t just purchase the first fertilizer you see.

Some communities have banned the use of phosphorus in fertilizers for lawns because if it’s applied shortly before it rains, the fertilizer can be washed off the lawn and end up in a stream and eventually in a lake or river. Phosphorus can reduce the level of oxygen in the body of water and harm wildlife, such as fish, that live in the water. For that reason, many fertilizers have a zero in the second spot of its formulation.

Think of fertilizer as a vitamin for grass. To grow grass successfully, the plants need nutrients to survive. They need at least 16 different nutrients and often miss nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Grass also needs other nutrients such as calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, although it may be able to get those from soil. The lawn may also need small amounts of other nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, which are called micronutrients. All these will be indicated on the label if the package contains them.

How do I determine the best lawn fertilizer?

Grass requires a different fertilizer than flowers, plants and trees, so make sure you’re selecting the best lawn fertilizer for your grass. Factors impacting your soil that determine the best lawn fertilizer for your lawn include:

  • Geography and the type of climate you’re in
  • Type of lawn what grass seeds are planted
  • How much foot traffic your lawn experiences

The healthiest grass should be a deep green, and if you buy the right fertilizer and apply it correctly, you’ll be weed-free in no time.

Composite mineral fertilizers

Types of fertilizers

Fertilization provides nutrients to soil, and it doesn’t matter if you use organic or synthetic (or inorganic) fertilizer. Think of fertilizer as a vitamin. You can get your vitamins from a glass of orange juice or from a pill. In the same way, there are several different categories of lawn fertilizers.

Organic vs. inorganic types of fertilizers

You have to make a surprising number of decisions when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn, including whether you want to go organic or inorganic.

Organic fertilizer

Organic fertilizers come from plant or animal sources, such as manure, cottonseed meal, compost, or fish emulsion. Some people consider organic fertilizers to be safer brands because they prefer to limit the amount of chemicals their children and pets are exposed to, or they don’t want man-made chemicals washing off their lawn into creeks and rivers. This type of fertilizer usually has a lower concentration of nutrients, which often have to be converted into a useable form by microbes in the soil to become useful to plants. That makes them slow acting. But organic fertilizers can help improve the soil as well as the lawn, so they have a long-term benefit.

Inorganic fertilizer

Inorganic, or chemical, fertilizers are manufactured with ingredients such as potassium nitrate. This type of fertilizer is concentrated and the nutrients are water-soluble, so they start feeding the grass as soon as you water your lawn. Because they are manufactured, you can be sure of the proportions of nutrients in the package and the formulas can be specifically designed for different needs. But it’s possible to apply inorganic fertilizers too heavily, which can damage the lawn.

Dry vs. liquid fertilizer

The form in which fertilizer is applied is another factor in selecting the best lawn fertilizer for your needs. Fertilizer can be applied as a liquid, or it can be in a dry, or granular, form. What’s the difference?

Liquid fertilizer

Usually fast acting, liquid fertilizer is used to speed up your grass growth. It absorbs quickly, but that can have drawbacks, as it means you have to mow more often. Liquid fertilizer can be more expensive than a dry grass food, and it doesn’t last as long as granular fertilizer. Some products are sold as a concentrate you mix yourself and apply with a sprayer, and others are in a package that can just be attached to your hose.

Dry fertilizer

Made from solid materials, dry fertilizer can be sprinkled over soil. It can last up to nine months, depending on your soil and the results. Generally cheaper, dry fertilizer doesn’t involve mixing, and it’s pretty easy to apply the fertilizer with a broadcast spreader. After it’s applied, you usually have to water the lawn to activate the dry fertilizer.

In the end, the choice between liquid and dry fertilizer comes down to convenience and preference on your part. “The plant doesn’t care … it’s going to be the same nutrients,” according to Dr. Nick Christians, who teaches turfgrass management at Iowa State University.

Fast vs. slow fertilizer?

You’ll find two general kinds of nitrogen fertilizers: fast release and controlled release. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, depending upon why you want to apply fertilizer.

Fast-release nitrogen

This fertilizer releases nitrogen immediately and provides of nutrients and immediate results, which means you’ll quickly see greener grass. It’s relatively inexpensive, and works even when the soil is cold. If overused, it can burn your lawn and may cause your grass to grow faster than you want. Quick-release fertilizers can deteriorate quickly, so they may only be effective for a few weeks. This is a good summer lawn fertilizer, if you need a quick fix.

Controlled-release nitrogen

Also called slow-release, this type encourages more uniform growth. It is less likely to result in burn spots on the lawn. However, it can be more costly and less likely to work well when the soil is cold, and you don’t get the fast greening that you might be looking for. You might also need to water the grass more frequently to see the results of slow-release fertilizers compared with a fast-release form of nitrogen.

Portrait of a dog in the garden.

Your grass gets a say

The grass that’s growing in your lawn is a big factor in when and how much you fertilize and what sort of nutrients you should apply. Factors to consider include the timing, kind of grass you have, and the condition of your soil. You want your soil to be at least 55 degrees when fertilizing.

Two primary types of grasses are grown in American lawns, and they have different fertilization needs. Just to make things more confusing, in some areas of the country, it is common to find both kinds of grasses planted in the same yard, typically one in the front yard and the other in the backyard.

  • Cool-season grasses—These types grow best in cooler areas, such as the Northern United States. Species include Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, ryegrass, and bentgrass. They stay green all year, and they like to be fertilized after weather cools down, typically at the end of summer but before the first frost. Some people like to do a lighter secondary fertilization in the late spring if the lawn looks like it needs a boost.
  • Warm-season grasses—These are found in warmer climates, such as the Southern United States. Species include Bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine, and buffalo grass, which all go dormant and turn brown in the winter. Because warm-season grasses focus on growth during the summer, plan on fertilizing them as the weather warms up. If the grass looks like it could use a second feeding, consider a light fertilization later in the summer.

Testing your soil

To learn more about the condition of your soil—such as what your soil’s pH levels are, how much acidity is present, and what nutrients are missing—conduct a soil test.

You can purchase a commercial test (check with local nurseries) or contact your county Extension office, which might provide the service. If you do the test yourself, you’ll need individual tubes to test for the individual nutrients, and you should take multiple soil tests from different parts of the lawn to compare. Follow directions precisely so that you get an accurate reading. The results will also vary depending on the season.

These tests are easy to do and typically include the following directions:

  1. Dig up some soil from different areas of your yard.
  2. Mail your soil samples to a testing lab. The results will show you the pH of your soil and what nutrients, including the micronutrients listed above, are available in the soil.
  3. If your soil is lacking in nutrients, you can find a specialized fertilizer to help put them back into the soil.

Regular soil tests are recommended every three or so years when you have an established lawn, so you can see if soil conditions have changed. You should also test before trying to establish a new law. If you’re trying to correct soil that was found to be low in a nutrient or to correct pH, it’s good to check progress with an annual soil test as well.

If you’d rather the professionals handle your soil analysis, suggest the best lawn fertilizer, and treat your lawn as needed, TruGreen includes a Healthy Lawn Analysis®✦ with their plans. Get a free quote from one of their representatives today.

Get a free quote from TruGreen.
Holding soil

Next steps: Watering your lawn

After you fertilize, water your lawn immediately, so the fertilizer washes off the grass and into the soil. After this initial watering, the schedule depends on your type of grass and what season you’re fertilizing. Generally, your grass will need one inch of water per week following the fertilization, unless you’re using a slow release fertilizer, in which case you only need to water once a month.

What about weed-and-feed?

Weed-and-feed products combine fertilizer with an herbicide designed to fight weeds. While the idea seems like it would save you some time and work, many experts advise against using the products. One reason is that the timing of when your lawn needs herbicide and when it needs fertilizer doesn’t always align. The products also might not have the right herbicides to fight the specific weeds in your lawns.

Fertilizer and herbicides also have different watering needs. Fertilizer typically needs to be watered to help plants start absorbing the nutrients and to prevent the chemicals from burning the grass. However, herbicide works best when it’s not watered.

Weed-and-feed products also contain toxins that you might not want to expose your children or pets to. Even if you keep the kids and dogs out of the yard for a while, you could accidentally track some of the product into the house after applying it.

Ultimately, the best way to stop weeds from growing in your yard is to nurture the grass so that it is healthy and thick. Dense grass will crowd out any weeds that want to take hold, which is one reason why proper fertilization is so important.

Should you hire a pro?

A lot goes into deciding how to fertilize your lawn, including the price. The average cost to fertilize a lawn is $222. If you plan to fertilize your grass yourself, know that in addition to buying the right fertilizer, you’ll need to apply it at the right time with the right tools, such as a spreader, which can get pricey. There are hand-held spreaders, but if you have a large lawn, this may not be practical. Spreader costs are determined by the amount of fertilizer they hold so the larger the lawn, the more expensive the spreader. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to store it throughout the year.

If you want your lawn to be healthy and attractive, but don’t want to apply the fertilizer and other chemicals yourself, bringing in an expert is a good solution. Hiring a lawn care company can save you money, time, and frustration in the long run. By leaving it up to professionals, you’re can skip the guesswork and look forward to having a luscious lawn.

Why we recommend TruGreen

When it comes to providers, House Method recommends TruGreen, which has been in business for almost 45 years and is America’s #1 professional lawn care company.* Whether you just want fertilization and basic weed control, or you want more extensive services, TruGreen has a plan to fit your needs. All work is performed by trained specialists who visit your home every four to six weeks, leave a summary of the services performed, and provide you with tips for lawn care between visits.

TruGreen lawn care plans start with a Healthy Lawn Analysis, where specialists will evaluate the soil conditions in your yard, the kind of grass you have, and how you use your yard to determine your lawn’s specific needs. All customers get the Healthy Lawn Guarantee®◆, with TruGreen promising to make any adjustments needed to be sure you’re satisfied, with no charge for the callback visits.

If you want more than fertilizing services, TruGreen offers various combined packages to meet your lawn needs that start at just $29.95. TruGreen lawn plans include these options:

  • The TruHealth® Lawn Plan covers 8 visits a year. Specialists will apply lime and a regular regimen of fertilizer, pre-emergent, and targeted weed control.
  • The TruComplete® Lawn Plan includes all of the above, plus an aeration service.
  • The TruSignature® Lawn Plan covers all of the above and adds 4 visits to care for your trees and shrubs.

The exact method of lawn fertilization is a science, which is why TruGreen takes a scientific approach. They consider “nitrogen release rate,” which means how fast nitrogen is released into the soil determines how quickly the grass will improve and how long the results will last. This is why TruGreen offer steady, controlled feedings multiple times a year, so your soil never runs out of nitrogen and your grass remains a beautiful, lush green color.

If you want the best lawn fertilizer services that are suited to your unique lawn, request a price quote for TruGreen’s services.

Fill out the online form or call 888.535.3193 for a free quote.
 
green grass

Fertilizing: DIY or Hire?

If you want the healthiest, lushest lawn in the neighborhood, House Method recommends hiring a professional service to take care of fertilizing your lawn.

DIY

  • You might save money by trying to follow a fertilization regimen yourself, but it’ll take time to determine which nutrients your lawn needs and when you should apply them. It might be costlier than you think, too. In addition to buying fertilizer, you may need to purchase tools such as a broadcast spreader.
  • Incorrectly mixing or applying the chemicals could damage your lawn.

Hire

  • A professional lawn service company can quickly and accurately analyze what your lawn needs. The company has access to the right fertilizer formulation for your lawn.
  • You won’t have to worry about working with chemicals, and you can have your weekends free for things you’d rather do.
a lush english garden in summer

Professional Lawn Fertilization

Get a quote from top-rated lawn care provider, TruGreen.

Call Now
✦Purchase of full lawn plan required for Healthy Lawn Analysis, which is performed at the first visit. *America’s #1 lawn care company based on U.S. market share of professional lawn care companies. 2016 NorthStar Partners U.S. Share Tracker ◆Guarantee applies to full plan customers only. ★Requires purchase of annual plan. Special price of $29.95 is for first application only, for new residential EasyPay or PrePay customers only, and applies to lawns up to 5,000 square feet. For lawns more than 5,000 square feet or for the regular lawn application price for a lawn of any size, please call for estimate. Valid at participating TruGreen locations. Availability of services may vary by geography. Not to be combined with or used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Additional restrictions may apply. Consumer responsible for all sales tax.

About the author

Personal finance writer Sandy John helps readers be smart about money. She is the former real estate editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has successfully completed two different kitchen remodels.

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