The 10 Best Lawn Fertilizers
This wiki has been updated 31 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Nothing makes your garden look better than a lush, healthy lawn, but keeping your grass looking its best can feel like a full-time job. Luckily, the fertilizers on this list will give your greenery the nutrition it needs to grow strong and healthy from the roots to the blades. All you have to do is apply as directed -- it's up to you whether to share your secret with the neighbors. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
February 24, 2021:
It shouldn't come as much surprise that we didn't need to make any changes to our recommendations this year. After all, it's not like there are amazing breakthroughs every year in lawn fertilizers. In fact, we are using the same types of minerals and nutrients as people have been using for a very long time. It is simply important to know what is lacking in your particular soil, which you can often find out by using a soil tester and choose the fertilizer that contains that, and in the right ratios for your type of grass. Since our selection already includes a lot of quality options in various formulations, we have decided to keep our current line up, however, if we do find a new fertilizer that is worthy of claiming a spot from one our recommended options, we will be quick to make that change.
April 19, 2019:
Although we had to remove two selections from last year's list due to availability issues and application misconceptions, we added the equally impressive Azomite Micronized and Pennington Fast Acting Lime to fill the vacancy. Pennington is great for lawns that are too acidic, while Greenway Biotech Ammonium Sulfate's 24% of sulfur will help gardens with alkaline soil and acid-loving plants, like blueberries and azaleas. Spray-N-Grow Bill's Perfect has taken the top spot from its previous #2 denomination since it continues to perform admirably and uses a manufacturing process and formula that are thoughtful and reliable. Safer Brand Ringer will find a home with users who'd prefer to eschew bio-solids in favor of something more pet and child-friendly.
Lawn Fertilizer 101: Science Meets Nature
A few bags of fertilizer will cost a lot less than starting over with another round of sod or seed if that lawn you're raising doesn't make it.
If you want to enjoy a lush, green lawn that grows evenly, covers reliably, and resists the encroachment of weeds, then you are going to want to set aside a good deal of free time and get ready for some hard work. Establishing a healthy, resilient lawn is no easy task, but choosing the right fertilizer can certainly help. Thus, the first order of business has nothing to do with elbow grease, and everything to do with research.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, just to be clear, fertilizer refers to material that provides nutrients to plants, in this case grass, that will help it grow more quickly and more robustly. You can think of it as plant food, and as with your own health, the type of food you choose to give your lawn will have a direct impact on its health.
Whether you are growing your lawn from seed or you are laying sod you hope will put down roots, giving the grass a hand is always a good idea, and it's an expense that will save you money in the long term. A few bags of fertilizer will cost a lot less than starting over with another round of sod or seed if that lawn you're raising doesn't make it.
There are many types of lawn fertilizers available, and they can be grouped according to myriad attributes, but in general, fertilizers can be assigned to three overarching categories: single-nutrient, multi-nutrient, and organic.
First we'll talk about single-nutrient fertilizers: these are rich in nitrogen, which is arguably the most effective nutrient for enhanced plant growth. These fertilizers can also cause issues, though, such as potentially damaging aquatic ecosystems when they run off into rivers, lakes, and the ocean. With careful use, they are safe and effective. You'll find plenty of nitrogen in established brands like Miracle-Gro. (As it turns out, the miracle is just good old nitrogen.)
Multi-Nutrient fertilizers are, as you probably guessed, formulated to deliver more than one nutrient. This can include things ranging from iron and calcium to copper. This type of fertilizer can help restore lawns, bringing back the lushness and greenness you want in a yard.
Organic fertilizers are made primarily from animal waste, such as chicken manure or even bat guano, and may also be made from composted plant materials. Organic fertilizers generally contain lower nutrient concentration than inorganic (AKA synthetic) options, but they are generally safer to use around people, pets, and food plants.
When Should You Fertilize?
As with comedy, so too with fertilizer: timing is everything. If you apply fertilizer too early or too late in a given season, its efficacy may be reduced. Premature applications can see poor results due to cold weather, rains, or dormant grass. Late application may simply be a waste of time and money.
And beyond the time of year, consider the age of the grass itself: if you fertilize young grass before it's hearty enough for the treatment, some fertilizers may do much more harm than good. Remember that fertilizing a lawn is hardly ever a "one and done" situation; there will likely be several applications per season, and their timing matters, so plan accordingly and plan ahead.
If you apply fertilizer too early or too late in a given season, its efficacy may be reduced.
Knowing the exact right time to fertilize your lawn depends on many variables, including the climate where you live, the age and health of your existing grass, and the type of fertilizer you have chosen to apply, but if you keep these broad strokes in mind, you'll be ahead of the game: Your soil temperature should be above 55 degrees, there should be no rain predicted for at least the ensuing 2-3 days, and other plants should have begun to grow and bloom with the season.
It can be hard to tell exactly when the soil temperature has hit (or passed) that magic mark of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but that's when grass generally revives from its winter dormancy and starts to grow, so that's when you should feed it. Ambient outdoor temperatures provide a good estimation, or you can check with a local horticultural center.
While it's important to water fertilized grass regularly, it's also important to not fertilize before rainfall, as too much water will wash away the fertilizer, wasting your money and effort, and potentially damaging the environment.
If you're having trouble telling exactly when to fertilize your lawn, just listen to the rest of nature: when other plants in the area are clearly starting to grow again, your grass is also probably entering a growth cycle and will appreciate the assistance from the first fertilization of the year.
And after that first treatment, plan to fertilize again every 6-8 weeks, depending on the temperature, your type of grass, and of course how well your lawn is doing.
Choosing The Right Fertilizer For Your Property
Choosing the right fertilizer for your lawn is partially science, partially preference. If you're okay with using synthetic, nitrogen-rich fertilizers, they will certainly make the job easier, but it might mean days where your family and pets have to avoid the grass. If you insist on organic fertilizers, then it might take you a few tries to see what your grass will prefer.
If you insist on organic fertilizers, then it might take you a few tries to see what your grass will prefer.
Really, any lawn fertilizer will help you grow a thicker, greener yard, so instead of considering the grass itself as you search for the perfect fertilizer, instead consider other factors, by considering the following:
In hotter, drier climates, consider turf builder fertilizers that can help maximize water absorption and make grass more robust and hearty.
For weeds and crabgrass, choose a "weed and feed" variety that will help wipe out the unwanted plants without harming the grass.
If people and pets frequent your yard, look for phosphate-free and/or organic formulas.
If you have drier, coarse soil that doesn't hold water well, then look for a fertilizer rich in gypsum, which can help hold water, keeping it nearer to those grass roots.
And if you want a greener lawn, then look for fertilizers rich in chelated iron; this formula helps raise the bio-availability of the iron that greens up the grass, no matter what the soil's pH level may be.