When is the Best Time to Fertilize Your Lawn?

Fertilizing plants, lawns, trees and flowers. Gardener in gloves holds white fertilizer balls on grass

Apart from mowing and watering, applying fertilizers is also necessary if you want to have a lush, vibrant, and healthy lawn. But when is the best time to fertilize your lawn?

Lawn care pros agree that the best time to fertilize a lawn is when the grasses are actively growing. However, this is a very general answer. Before deciding on the actual time frame, there are other things to consider, such as the type of lawn you have.

The most optimal time to fertilize your lawn

Having a vibrant lawn goes beyond curb appeal. “A healthy lawn resists invasion by moss, weeds, insects, and diseases,” said Weston Miller, associate professor and horticulturist at Oregon State University.

If you fertilize your lawn to make it more resilient to pests, diseases, and weeds, you won’t have to stress about maintaining it. You’re also less likely to incur emergency expenses due to lawn diseases or pest problems.

To determine the best time to fertilize your lawn, you must first find out whether your grass is cool-season or warm-season.

Is your lawn cool-season or warm-season?

The best time for fertilizing is dependent on the type of grass. Your geographical location can be a clear indicator of whether you have cool-season or warm-season grass. Cool-season grasses thrive in the Northern states, while warm-season grasses flourish in the Southern states.

Map of the United States showing cool-season grass, warm-season grass, and transition zones.
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

To help you determine whether your grass is warm-season or cool-season, here’s a list of the most common grass varieties in these two categories.

Cool-season grasses:

  • Creeping bentgrass
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Fine fescue
  • Tall fescue

Warm-season grasses:

  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Centipedegrass
  • Bermudagrass
  • Buffalograss
  • Carpetgrass
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Bahiagrass

Cool-season grasses grow actively in late winter to early spring and start their dormancy stage under the heat of the summer season. On the other hand, warm-season grasses remain dormant during winter and only start to develop when spring comes. In summertime, these grasses thrive until the first sign of fall.

The states that fall in the transition zone can have a more tricky setup in their lawn as they can grow both cool-season and warm-season grasses. If you’re unsure of the type of grass on your lawn, you can always hire a pro. Lawn fertilization services cost around $289 on average or anywhere from $103 to $343, depending on the type of fertilizer and project size.

When to fertilize a cool-season lawn

growth of cool season grass
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Cool-season grasses, as its name implies, grow more actively when the weather is still cool. As such, your fertilizing schedule should start even before winter arrives.

Winterize your lawn before winter

In late fall (mid-October to mid-November), start applying a winterizing fertilizer to help your grass endure the winter and give them a boost of nutrients as soon as spring starts. In fact, if you’re able to do this step, there may be no need for you to apply fertilizer in early spring.

Use fertilizer in the spring

Depending on your local climate conditions and soil test results, you can fertilize your lawn as early as March (early spring). But if you winterize your lawn effectively, you can wait until May (late spring) to apply fertilizer.

The important thing is to apply this round of fertilizer before summer arrives so you can take advantage of your lawn’s continued growth. Feeding your lawn with the right fertilizer can help the grass survive the summer heat.

Add the last batch in late summer to early fall

When your cool-season grass is at its last growth spurt for the year, it’s best to give it a little more push with another round of fertilizer. You can do this in September (late summer to early fall) to ensure your lawn has the essential nutrients throughout the coming season.

When to fertilize a warm-season lawn

growth of warm season grass
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

If you have a warm-season lawn, you will only have to do two rounds of fertilization throughout the year. Here’s how you can time your lawn feeding:

Fertilize in late spring to early summer

When the temperature begins to rise in late spring to early summer (May to June), consider it as a signal to apply the first fertilizer of the year. This also coincides with the time when your warm-season grass starts to break out of dormancy.

Feed your lawn in late summer to early fall

After your lawn has successfully survived the heat, fertilizing in late summer to early fall (August to September) is just as important. This is the best time to add the second round of fertilizer for the year as an added boost to their recovery.

Things to avoid when fertilizing your lawn

person rertilizing lawn
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Some homeowners think that fertilizing a lawn is as simple as following the instructions on the label. While this is essential, there are other things to consider so you and your lawn can reap the most benefits.

Here’s a list of things to avoid if you want to see good results when fertilizing. Following these tips also can help you be responsible when using fertilizers:

  1. Don’t apply fertilizer without soil testing first. Following the recommendation in your soil test result can help ensure that you use the correct dosage of fertilizer. On the same note, never assume that what your neighbor is using as fertilizer will work on your lawn as well.
  2. Avoid fertilizing your lawn during severe heat and drought. While it’s recommended to do it in late summer, remember that it could lead to fertilizer burn if you choose to fertilize in days of extreme heat and dryness.
  3. Fertilizing before a heavy rainstorm is not a good idea. It might not directly harm your lawn, but heavy rains would just wash away the nutrients, wasting the time, effort, and money spent on the fertilizer.
  4. Avoid applying fertilizer on a windy day. If you spray liquid fertilizer or spread granular fertilizer on a windy day, they might get blown away. You wouldn’t want your fertilizer to get spread to areas that don’t require it.
  5. Don’t fertilize too early in the spring. Once you start fertilizing, the grass will start to direct its focus on developing its blades. That’s why it’s strongly advised not to do it too early in the season, or you’ll prematurely stop the root development of your grass.

What type of fertilizer is best for lawns?

The battle between organic vs. inorganic fertilizers has never truly subsided because both are valuable.

Organic fertilizers have always been available since they’re made of natural ingredients like cow manure. You can either make your own organic fertilizer or purchase one from your local garden center or home improvement store.

Inorganic or synthetic fertilizers, while deemed to be harmful to the environment if used improperly, have their own merits because they revolutionized modern agriculture.

Some people swear by using organic fertilizers because they are supposed to be the only pet-friendly solution, while others go for inorganic fertilizers due to their fast-acting properties. However, choosing only one type is never a good idea. It’s all about using the right type of fertilizer when it’s actually needed.

If you need to deliver nutrients to a dying patch of grass quickly, selecting inorganic fertilizer is the right approach. On the other hand, organic is better if you need a long-term solution to help maintain the nutritional balance in your soil.

FAQ about lawn fertilization times

Should I water my lawn immediately after fertilization?

No. Watering your lawn after fertilizing can help the nutrients get infused into the soil. However, try to wait up to 24 hours before doing it to give the fertilizer some time to settle. Also, don’t just sprinkle water on your lawn – give it a good soak instead.

Can I fertilize my lawn before it rains?

Yes, you can fertilize your lawn before it rains, as long as you’re only expecting light to moderate rain. Light rainfall is like a natural way of watering. However, if heavy rainfall is looming on the horizon, remember not to fertilize your lawn because the fertilizer will just get washed away.

Should I have my lawn mowed before applying fertilizer?

Yes, lawn mowing should be done before fertilization. However, don’t try to do both tasks on the same day. Otherwise, it could stress your grass, making it vulnerable to damage. Instead, try to fertilize your lawn at least a day after mowing it.

Use the right timing when fertilizing

You might have the correct fertilizers ready and the most optimal tool to apply them. But without proper timing, you’ll just waste your effort and money. You could even damage your lawn. If you find that fertilizing a lawn seems quite overwhelming, call for help.

If you want to avoid stressing yourself and your grasses, you can have Lawn Love lawn care professionals handle this delicate process for you.

Main Image Credit: Adobe Stock

Melanie Joseph

After discovering her passion for writing through her beauty blog, Melanie left her engineering job in California, became a writer, and never once looked back. When she isn't writing, she loves dipping in the pool, tending to the garden, or doing simple home improvement projects.