How To Fertilize Your Lawn

How To Fertilize Your Lawn

Just like any other living creature, your lawn requires specific resources to survive and thrive. Grass requires adequate sunshine, water, and aeration to maintain its health and vitality. Nutrients are supplied through high-quality food sources. In other words, your lawn requires regular feedings through fertilization.

Fertilizing your lawn is simple, once you know what you are doing. In fact, most you can fertilize most lawns in half an hour. However, there are several difficulties that lawn owners typically have with the process.

The following procedures and points of focus will outline the critical aspects of lawn fertilization. Read on to discover more about:

  • How to prepare your lawn for the feeding process.
  • What types of fertilizer you can choose.
  • The proper tools necessary for dropping the fertilizer. 
  • What an optimal feeding schedule looks like. 

Let’s dive in…

Preparations For Fertilization


Before proceeding with the feeding process, there are a number of preparatory steps and bits of information you want to consider. First, your lawn’s fertilizer requires a specific ratio of nutrients to provide optimal and thriving conditions. The three primary nutrients that your lawn needs are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Each nutrient plays a critical role in your lawn’s health. Nitrogen is there to support the grasses color and growth, while potassium enhances the grasses’ ability to utilize nitrogen properly. Phosphorus ensures optimal root growth and grounding, as well as supporting flowering. Each of these nutrients are extremely important and are required in the proper proportions.

Fertilizers contain a variety of different ratios of these nutrients. Why, you might ask? Because lawns often require different nutritional needs to establish balanced soil chemistry. To find out which fertilizer ratios your soil needs, you can conduct a simple soil test at many garden and lawn stores. 

Types of Fertilizers

Now that you know which nutrient ratio works best for your lawn’s soil, you want to choose which type of fertilizer will best suit your needs. There are four primary types: Time-release, Slow-release, Granular, and Water-soluble/liquid forms. 

Despite the variety of fertilizers, most homeowners choose to utilize granular fertilizers for their lawns. Granular fertilizers are quite simple to apply and do not require equipment that is best left in the hands of professionals. Granular fertilizer also comes in time-release and slow-release varieties. 

Slow-release variations are often most popular with homeowners, due to their capacity to prevent nutritional leeching. Their gradual absorption from the roots prevents lawn scorching, and application only happens once every six – eights weeks rather than the standard four weeks. 

Mowing and Watering

Once you have selected the fertilizer that suits your needs, you’ll want to prepare your lawn for the optimal feeding. To do this, you should plan to mow and water your lawn before using fertilizer.

Homeowners are encouraged to mow their lawn before fertilization because the lawn will be entering a new growth stage. Once the grass is cut, it will require adequate nutrition to regrow. Applying fertilizer after mowing gives the grass the longest window of absorption between cuts.

On top of mowing, you’ll want to water the lawn a few days before applying fertilizer. Watering the lawn prepares the soil for accepting new nutrients, and many granule fertilizers require water to activate their feeding potential. As such, homeowners may also want to give a light watering of the grass after fertilization. This will also help ensure that any stray granules wash into the soil and not on the blades of grass themselves.

Tools For Fertilization

If you want to distribute your fertilizer properly, most homeowners will be using a spreader if they choose to use granular fertilizers. There are two primary types of spreaders: rotary/broadcast and dump spreaders.

Dump spreaders can often be difficult for homeowners to use. The reason is that dump spreaders have a limited range of distribution, and it makes it easier for homeowners to leave certain parts of their lawns unfertilized. Broadcast spreaders cover a much larger area of coverage when distributing fertilizer granules, allowing homeowners to cover their lawn more evenly in shorter periods of time.

Dump spreaders can be very useful when covering small lawns, preventing lawn owners from casting fertilizer onto sidewalks and causing unnecessary waste.

Knowing How Often To Fertilize

The final preparatory point to cover is the timing of feeding. Be sure to avoid neglect when feeding your lawn. You should also avoid the temptation to overfeed your lawn, as this can kill the grass.

There are several methods that homeowners choose to follow with feeding, but most slow-release fertilizers recommend application once every 6-8 weeks.

Homeowners should plan for five feedings in total. The first of which starts in early spring. After this first spring feeding, a second spring feeding is set to begin in mid-May, about one month after the first feeding. After these two feedings, the lawn owner applies fertilizer every 6-8 weeks, terminating in early-to-mid-fall. 

Feedings should be based on grass type. Though there are many different species of grass that homeowners use for their lawns, they generally fit into two categories: cold-season grass and warm-season grass. 

Cold-season grasses generally grow in the northern half of the United States, while warm-season grasses grow more in the south. There is a small, central gap in the country where both cold-season and warm-season grasses grow. It is helpful to figure out what type of grass you have before fertilizing.

Both grass types suggest a minimum of three, but no more than five, feedings throughout the year. For cold season grasses, there are two feeding applications set in the beginning and middle of the fall season, with the most critical feeding happening in early spring. Warm-season grasses have two feed sessions in spring and a final feeding in late summer.

No matter the method, it is clear that early spring, typically at or before mid-April, is the most critical feeding period. This is right at the first flushes of growth, and the grass will be in critical need of vital nutrition as it starts the new growing season. 

Now that you have prepared your lawn, acquired the right fertilizer and spreader, and mapped your feeding schedule, it’s time to apply the fertilizer.

Applying Your Fertilizer

Now that the lawn is properly prepared for fertilizing, the next step is to actually apply the fertilizer. Some people attempt to apply fertilizer by hand, but this is not recommended. Instead, using a spreader for your granular fertilizer ensures proper coverage for your lawn’s needs.

Using a spreader is much like operating a lawnmower, and does require much more than your average walking pace to perform. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make happens when filling their spreader with fertilizer. Many will attempt to fill the spreader without first closing the hopper, causing the fertilizer to spill directly on the ground. Therefore, make sure to close the hopper before filling the spreader. Filling your spreader on tarp also allows you to capture any spilled granules.

Broadcast spreaders and dump spreaders have different procedures to operate them effectively. They are both simple to perform, but knowing the difference beforehand ensures that you make the most out of the spreader you are using.

Dump Spreaders

As suggested earlier, dump spreaders are controlled spreaders that cover a narrow distribution trajectory. Although this coverage is small, it is beneficial for small-to-somewhat-mid-sized lawns. They cover lawn perimeters very well, and can even be used in covering the perimeter for rotary spreaders.

When operating dump spreaders, you distribute the fertilizer by making up and down the length of your lawn. As you proceed along the width of your lawn, you will make a slight overlap on the previous pass, about 6 inches in. This method ensures that there is no space for unfertilized gaps in your lawn.

At the end of each pass, it is crucial to close the hopper before proceeding to the next pass. This step avoids excessive, uneven fertilizer dumping and ensures even distribution. You reopen the hopper once you are ready to make your next pass.

Dump spreaders are typically more expensive than rotary spreaders, sometimes being over 3x the price of its broadcast counterpart. However, this expense can be worth it when considering lawn care for small lawns, avoiding unnecessary cleanup or accidentally spreading fertilizer onto a neighbor’s lawn.

Broadcast/Rotary Spreaders

Broadcast spreaders work well in larger yards but are very simple to use. You begin by covering the perimeter of your lawn first with fertilizer. Most rotary spreaders have a side shield which allows the spreader to only distribute from one side of the spreader. 

You proceed by having one wheel on the edge of the lawn and one wheel in the grass. Once this is in place, you can begin to apply fertilizer along the perimeter, moving at a steady walking speed. 

Once this is finished, you want to fill in the interior of your lawn with the spreader. Disengage your side shield, and proceed to make passes throughout the interior of your lawn. Slight overlap is suggested with this process to ensure even granule distribution.

Clean Up 

While spreaders can ensure careful and proper distribution, stray granules always find their way into driveways, sidewalks, and streets. It can be helpful to your neighbors and the environment to sweep up excess granules. They can always be placed back into the bag for further use, and it helps reduce environmental pollution.

Other Considerations

The above guidelines set the stage for you to be able to care for your lawn’s nutritional needs properly. However, additional considerations can be useful for you to know so that you can stay on top of your lawn’s feeding requirements.


Water is vital to your lawn’s health, and many homeowners practice frequent watering to maintain their grasses health. However, despite what you may think, the more you water your lawn, the more you have to fertilize it. 

When you water your grass frequently, it grows at a faster rate than if watered less regularly. Because of this, the fast-growing grasses are eating more, as they are growing at a quicker pace. 

Since they are eating more, they require more frequent feedings to accommodate this. As such, lawn owners with automatic sprinklers should fertilize their lawn every six weeks, while those without them can extend that feeding cycle by two weeks. 

Organic Fertilizer

Organic fertilizers are often sought after by environmentally-conscious landowners. While using organic or conventional fertilizers are a personal choice, Turnbull suggests that at least one feeding cycle should be exclusively organic fertilizer. 

Organic fertilizers are available in the same forms as conventional, so you don’t need to worry about needing special equipment for it. We recommend using an organic fertilizer during the fall feeding session, regardless of whether you use conventional fertilizers for the previous feedings.

Final Words

There you have it! Fertilizing your lawn is one of the most critical aspects of your lawn’s well-being. Fortunately, it does not require a lot of heavy lifting or excessive tools, nor does it require a lot of time.

With that said, the guidelines above ensure that you have the proper knowledge and preparation to maintain your lawn’s nutritional requirements. With a simpler spreader and the right food for your lawn, you can quickly provide the resources your lawn needs to thrive and flourish.

Sara Butler

Sara Butler has written scores of articles for Lawn Love -- everything from how to revive your dead lawn to how to start to lawn care tools every homeowner should have.