The Complete Guide to Lawn Fertilization

19 Sep

Fertilizing your lawn seems like a pretty basic task. You buy the fertilizer, spread it on your lawn, hose it down, and wait for results, right? Wrong. Although it’s not rocket science, fertilizing your lawn is a more involved process than you probably think. Understanding what your lawn needs, applying it at the right intervals, and monitoring for effectiveness are all important parts of the process.

To help you understand the ins and outs of lawn fertilization, we’ve put together a complete guide to the process. You’ll find information on fertilizer types, how to read and understand fertilizer labeling, tips on when to fertilize, organic fertilizer alternatives, and some safety measures too.

Using this guide, you’ll be enjoying a healthy, lush lawn before too long, and it’ll garner serious envy from your neighbors!

Freshly Mowed and Landscaped Yard

Vital Nutrients

Your lawn needs over a dozen different nutrients, but three stand out as the most important: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Each of these three macronutrients play a critical role in the health of your lawn.

Nitrogen encourages new plant grown, meaning it results in thicker turf with more robust blades. It’s also a central piece of the chlorophyll molecules in every plant, which is why nitrogen deficiency causes yellowing of foliage.

Phosphorus is an integral part of the photosynthesis process. By helping to carry energy within the circulation system of the plant, phosphorus is responsible for root development and blooming.

Potassium accents both nitrogen and phosphorus by regulating plant metabolic processes and water pressure surrounding plant cells. Hardiness and plant resilience are directly related to phosphorus levels.

Secondary Nutrients

Although they’re necessary in lower concentrations, calcium and magnesium are still important for optimal turf health. Both nutrients are building blocks for plant growth, helping to form plant tissue, produce chlorophyll, and perform other metabolic functions


An assortment of nine micronutrients, iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), boron (B), and chlorine (Cl), end the list of necessary nutrients for your lawn. Since they’re required in such low concentrations, you don’t usually need to worry about supplementing them in your lawn’s feeding schedule.

Whatever you need will likely already be found in your soil naturally. If not, many standard fertilizers include micronutrients.

Types of Fertilizer

There are two major types of fertilizer: granular and liquid. Each type has its benefits and disadvantages.

Granular fertilizer is convenient, because it can be easily measured and applied. By choosing between standard, sulfur coated, and polymer coated varieties, you can control the rate of nutrient release into your lawn. Standard pellets will dissolve in three and four weeks, while polymer and sulfur coated pellets will break down over 12 and 8 weeks. Granular fertilizer is most commonly applied with a mechanical spreader.

Liquid fertilizer has the advantage of quick absorption; once applied, it goes straight to the source. Most liquid fertilizers come as a concentrate contained in a hose attachment, which can be sprayed over your lawn.

Understanding Fertilizer Labeling

Since nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the three major nutrients needed for plant health, they’re the nutrients you’ll find represented on the front of most bags of fertilizer. They’re annotated with the letters N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus), and K (potassium). Each letter has a percentage beside it, indicating how much of each nutrient is in the fertilizer.

To calculate the weight of each nutrient out of the total weight of the bag, simply multiply the percentage of the nutrient by the weight of the bag. After calculating each nutrient and adding them together, you’ll be left with a remainder that accounts for the fillers in the blend. Don’t be put off by the level of fillers. They’re important for promoting even distribution and preventing chemical burn.

Weed and Feed

On the home improvement store shelves, you’re going to find another type of fertilizer – weed and feed. The blend is pretty self-explanatory. Weed and feed contains a mixture of both fertilizer and weed killer.

The two major categories of weed and feed have to do with the type of weed killer blended in. They are post-emergent and pre-emergent. Post-emergent weed killer kills on contact but does not prevent weeds from sprouting. Pre-emergent weed killer keeps weeds from germinating, nipping problem plants in the bud.

You or your lawn care professional must pay special attention to the timing and strategy used with post and pre-emergent weed killers. Knowing how to choose and when to apply weed killer is crucial for keeping your lawn free of unwanted plants.

Starters and Winterizers

Another two types of fertilizer you’ll find on the shelf are starters and winterizers. Even though they’re named for two separate purposes, they’re very similar. Both blends are intended to jump start root growth and instill maximum nourishment.

When preparing a lawn for winter or starting it from scratch, a lot of nutrients are needed to prime the turf and keep it healthy. Starters and winterizers have the extra kick you need in those circumstances.

When to Fertilize

Knowing when to fertilize is easier than you’d think. The best regimen calls for fertilization in early spring (February-April), late spring (April-June), summer (June-August), and fall (September-November). In each one of these seasons, your lawn can benefit from fertilization.

One fertilization per each increment of the timeline mentioned above will be sufficient for most, if not all, lawns. Just be sure to space out your fertilization.

It is recommended, especially if your lawn is nutrient-deprived or otherwise unhealthy, to apply a monthly application.

Healthy Turf

Going Organic

With kids, pets, and summer vegetable gardens in and around the lawn, many homeowners opt to use organic lawn products. Thankfully, there are many organic alternatives for fertilization.

A mixture of cottonseed meal, green sand, and blood meal will provide your lawn with the three major nutrients it needs – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. For additional treatment, consider fish emulsion, super phosphate, and regular compost.

Final Considerations

As you go forward with your new-found fertilization knowledge, keep a few basic cautions and considerations in mind. First, always wear the appropriate protective gear when handing fertilizers, weed killers, and other treatment products. Some products can be hazardous, causing irritation and other problems.

Also, never dump excess fertilizer or weed killer on your lawn or elsewhere, no burying either. Dumping excess product causes high concentrations of unhealthy chemicals to seep into the ground water supply, even your home’s well.

A little guidance and practice is all you need to cultivate a gorgeous lawn. Now that you’ve got the guidance, start practicing to get the best lawn on the block!

Lastly, remember that the exact timing of fertilizing, what your lawn needs and other factors are dependent on where you live and your lawn’s soil type. Contacting a specialist may be necessary to understand what is best.

Healthy Fertilized Striped Turf


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