Spring and fall are the best times to fertilize your lawn. Depending on the grass type and the amount of use the yard gets, you might apply nutrients up to 4 times a year. Of course, you want those applications to make the grass as green and lush as possible without burning it.
There are many nutrient products on the market, so how do you select the best one for your lawn? While budget may be a consideration, much of your decision depends on what type of grass you have, the environmental conditions in your area, and how much wear your lawn gets. Plus, you may want to protect your pets and children from toxic chemicals. To help you find the right one for your needs, we researched the top grass fertilizers for the money and covered them in this review.
Let’s begin with a quick overview of the basics of lawn fertilization.
What kind of fertilizer do you need for your grass?
First, how much fertilizer do you actually need for your lawn? If it looks green and healthy and doesn’t get a lot of use, you may get by with just leaving grass clippings on it. Or you may apply nutrients only once a year.
If you have a yard that gets more use from your family, you may find yourself applying fertilizer from two up to four times a year, especially if you don’t leave grass clippings on the lawn after mowing.
When to fertilize?
If you have northern turf like Bluegrass, ryegrass, or fescue, you can lay down fertilizer around Memorial Day in May. If you have Southern grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, Centipede and Zoysia, you can fertilize early in April when the grass begins to grow.
Nitrogen, the base nutrient for grass
The single most-needed nutrient for grass is nitrogen (N). The typical dose is 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per application time. Grass clippings break down into nitrogen, so you can save money by simply leaving them on your lawn. Clippings can cut down the amount of fertilizer you need by up to half. Shaded parts of your yard also need less nitrogen.
Nitrogen makes grass grow thicker and faster and gives it a nice dark green color. If your yard doesn’t get enough nitrogen, you can find yourself battling erosion from thin turf. Too much nitrogen and you’ll increase the number of weeds in your yard. Over time, this nutrient’s levels change depending on grass growth and soil conditions. If you have sandy soil, use turf fertilizers that have slow-release nitrogen so you don’t leach too much into the groundwater.
P and K
Healthy lawns also need phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Phosphorous is usually only needed if you’re planting new grass. It helps seedling roots grow quickly. If you have your soil tested, you may find that you already have enough phosphorous in your ground. Don’t overdo it with this nutrient because it can cause algae blooms and kill fish if your runoff gets into water supplies.
Potassium helps grass resist environmental stress (like cold winter weather) and take in enough water. If you add potassium to your soil, many times it comes in the form of potash.
A complete package–N P K fertilizers
If you have a new lawn, you’ll probably invest in an NPK fertilizer. The proportions of each nutrient are designated on the bag or bottle. It could show something like “10-6-4” (10 parts N, 6 parts P, 4 parts K).
10-6-4? How to read the proportions?
If you have a 50-pound bag of lawn fertilizer and it’s marked 10-6-4, this is what it contains:
- 5 pounds of nitrogen, or 10%
- 3 pounds of phosphorous
- 2 pounds of potassium
The rest of the weight in the bag is sand or clay to help you spread out the nutrients.
Other nutrients for healthy grass
Too much or too little acid in your soil is bad for grass. If you test the pH level, you can see if it’s in the ideal zone of 6.5, slightly acidic. If it’s too low, or acidic below 6.5, you can add lime. If it’s too high above 7.5, or alkaline, you can lay down an acidic fertilizer like sulfur, ammonium nitrate, or ammonium sulfate.
Water-soluble? Granules? Organic? Synthetic? Which is best?
Water-soluble simply means you need to mix it with water before you apply it to your lawn. Miracle Grow is a well-known example. You may have a sprayer that you attach to a garden hose or a tank pulled by your lawn tractor.
Organic fertilizers have a slower release rate than most water-solubles, but they may be safer for use around your family and pets. They may also cost more than a synthetic fertilizer.
Granulated nutrients need to be sprinkled across your lawn, or mixed into the soil when you plant seed. You may use a spreader for granules.
The best lawn fertilizers for lush, healthy grass
Now it’s time to reveal our top picks for feeding your lawn.
Milorganite 62036-MW Organic Milorganite Fertilizer, 36-Lb
Our review begins with Milorganite’s 36-pound bag of organic fertilizer with iron. It’s a slow-release granule that doesn’t burn grass if you accidentally over-apply it, and it doesn’t stain pavement. It’s even used on golf courses that demand strong turf and tender-loving care.
This fertilizer is not straight manure. Instead, Milorganite captures waste water, treats it with microbes, then heat-dries the microbes. Their process is basically recycling. And their products are regulated by the EPA for safety.
Milorganite recommends applying one bag to a 2500 sq. ft. lawn four times a year. If you lay down new seed, mix one-part seed with four-parts fertilizer. Typically, each bag is 5-4-0, with 5% nitrogen, 4% phosphorous, and no potassium. It works on both clay and sandy soils, and the phosphorous in it is “slow-moving” so it doesn’t leach into groundwater. Just don’t apply it within 10 feet of any waterway.
Although Milorganite is more expensive than some synthetic products, it’s less likely to burn your grass because it has no chemical salts. It has a loyal fan base and lots of positive reviews from customers.
Scotts Turf Builder EdgeGuard Mini Broadcast Spreader
When you need to spread granulated fertilizer, this spreader from Scotts makes the job a lot easier. This is one designed to work for yards up to 5000 square feet in size. The Edge Guard keeps fertilizer off driveways.
Scotts Wizz Hand-Held Spreader
The hand-held Wizz Spreader from Scotts is even more fun to use than the spreader cart. While it only holds enough for a 2500-square-foot lawn, it’s got a battery-powered sprayer. All you have to do is hold it and walk. Plus, you can use it to spread ice melt in the winter.
Safer Brand 9333 Ringer Lawn Restore II Fertilizer
If you liked Milorganite’s organic products but are wary of using phosphorous, take a look at Safer Brand’s Lawn Restore II. It has no phosphorous content so can use it near wells, creeks, and other waterways. In fact, after you apply it to your lawn, it’s important to water it and keep it moist for three or four days to activate it.
Like many organic fertilizers, you can use it any time during the growing season once the grass begins to grow until the early fall.
Safer Brand is made from plant-based nutrients, not manure. They use non-GMO soybean meal, sulfate of potash for potassium, and dried distiller’s grains from ethanol production. This combination of nutrients results in a greener lawn in just a few days. Its NPK ratio is 10-0-6.
You can use the Lawn Restore II on any type of grass, northern or southern. It won’t burn your lawn because it has no chemical salts. It’s safe for kids and pets, too. One bag covers up to 5000-square-feet, double the square footage of Milorganite, or the Scotts Turf Builder below.
Espoma ELF20 20-Pound Organic All Season Lawn Food
This organic 15-0-5 formula comes from a company that’s been in business for almost a hundred years. Espoma knows their stuff, and their All-Season Lawn Food is proof. It’s safe to use around kids and animals, plus it contains iron to green your grass without staining your concrete.
This is their all-season fertilizer for any type of grass. They have other related products for boosting your lawn at specific times of the year. This one is made from sulfate, urea, sulfate of potash, ferric oxide, and elemental sulfur. It has 7.70% slow-release nitrogen from pasteurized poultry manure, methylene urea, amonium sulfate and urea—animal waste products.
Users comment that their lawns are lush and green when using the Espoma products. It doesn’t burn their grass and doesn’t smell bad. It does need a light watering after application.
Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food
If you live in North America, you’ve probably heard of Scotts products. Most garden centers sell them. The Turf Builder is one of their most popular products. One bag covers up to 2500-square-feet of lawn. You can buy it in different varieties to tackle problems like crab grass, weeds, and for specific seasonal applications and Southern grasses.
The Turf Builder we’re reviewing is for any kind of grass at any season. You can apply it up to 4 times a year if needed. The ratio of nutrients listed on the package is 32-0-4, so it contains lots of nitrogen but no phosphorous. It also has 7% sulphur and 2% iron. It seems to work well, and isn’t very expensive compared to some organic products.
A look at the fine print on the package reveals that Scotts uses urea nitrogen, Ammoniacal nitrogen, and “other water soluble nitrogen” for the bulk of their fertilizer. We weren’t able to discover the source of their ingredients.
If you have Southern grasses, you might prefer to use their Southern Lawn Fertilizer described below.
Scotts Turf Builder Southern Lawn Fertilizer with 2% Iron
The Turf Builder for Southern Lawns has a ratio of 26-2-13 and includes 2% iron. You can apply it in any season on either a wet or dry lawn.
Scotts Natural Lawn Food
If you’re interested in an OMRI-listed organic fertilizer, Scotts Natural Lawn Food is made from hydrolyzed feather meal, meat, bone, and blood meal, and sulfate of potash. It’s safe for pets, children, and you can walk on the grass right after you apply the granules It’s for any kind of grass at any season. But this is a product with sales restricted in several jurisdictions like Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food
It’s super easy to use the Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Lawn Food. It’s a 32-ounce bottle that attaches directly to your garden hose. Just be careful to not lay down too much at one time so you don’t burn the grass.
Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Lawn Food
Did you know that Miracle-Gro is part of the same manufacturing group as Scotts? You may know Miracle-Gro already because they sell liquid food for house plants.
Their Soluble Lawn Food is made of granules designed to It’s made for all lawn types and covers up to 4000-square-feet per box. Be sure to follow mixing directions because it can burn your lawn if it’s too strong.
If it’s applied properly, users say Miracle-Gro can revive your nearly dead lawn and keep it looking healthy. You can put it on your lawn every 2 to 3 weeks while grass is growing. Its ratio is 36-0-6 and it also contains a small percentage of iron.
If you want to have a healthy green lawn, you’ll most likely need to fertilize it even if you leave clippings or mulched grass on it after mowing. It’s a great idea to have your soil tested once a year, too.
Your choice of fertilizer may be restricted by local laws. Be careful to not contaminate water sources. Synthetic formulas are more likely to burn your grass if you over-apply them. Organic formulas are generally safe to use if you have animals and children.
Happy gardening! We wish you a lush green lawn this year! Check back soon for more helpful product reviews with the best value for the money.