How to Choose the Best Fertilizer for Your Lawn

Your grass is always greener with some help from the right formula.

When it comes to choosing fertilizer for your lawn, the options aren't one size-fits-all. Things like where you live, the type of grass you have, and the time of year you apply the food can all play a major role in which type of fertilizer works best for your property. Ahead, Greg Lucas, a turf scientist for DIY lawn care subscription company Lawnbright, explains how to select the best formula for your yard's needs.

modern home with lush green lawn
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Understand your USDA hardiness zone.

Before you start shopping for lawn fertilizer, Lucas says you first need to know what type of grass you have and your USDA hardiness zone. "There are many types of grasses, but it comes down to whether you have cool season grass or warm season turf-grass," he explains. "Go by your USDA hardiness zone to determine this." If you live in zone 9b or higher, for example, you most likely have warm season grass.

Nitrogen content is key—and time application right.

Lawn fertilizer is all about the nitrogen and timing, notes Lucas. "Understanding what type of grass you have helps determine the timing of your fertilizer and how much nitrogen should be in it," he says. "For example, a high dose of nitrogen can exacerbate soil-borne fungus and burn your lawn if applied at the wrong time."

If you're a novice, skip the fertilizer and focus on the dirt.

Fertilizing your lawn can be tricky, which is why those who are less knowledgeable about lawn elements—like turf type and nitrogen levels—should focus less on fertilizing and more on improving soil conditions. "Aeration is one of the most important things that you can do for your lawn, and it's often overlooked," Lucas says. "If you already have an established lawn, you should be aerating one time per year." In areas where you are trying to grow new grass from seed, it's more beneficial to rototill the soil completely, he adds. "Basically, turn it over and completely relieve all the compaction," he says. "This opens up air movement, which is more vital than applying fertilizers."

Savvy lawn-care experts can opt for more niche products.

If you're already someone who regularly feeds your lawn and are looking to up your ground cover game, Lucas suggests switching to organic fertilizers. "By applying a synthetic fertilizer, a good portion of that nitrogen is going to be water soluble," he says. "So, when the rain comes, it dissolves the granule and releases the nitrogen. With organic fertilizers, the nitrogen is released differently." Lucas notes that the microbes in the soil eat away at the granules and set off the nitrogen. "Another thing [green thumbs] might consider is getting a lawn soil test," he adds. "They could then look at the deficiencies and select a mix of products that would help restore optimal levels without over-saturating other nutrients." Regardless of your skill level, Lucas says to choose the organic yard care options whenever possible. "There is more room for error when we go organic as opposed to synthetic," he says. "By aerating frequently and applying organic fertilizers, we are essentially growing the health of the soil." After all, healthy soil is the literal foundation for a great lawn. "The microbes present in your soil contribute to this. The higher the populations of microbes, the healthier the soil," Lucas concludes.

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