The Questions People Ask Most About Lawn Fertilizing

Looking for some answers when it comes to feeding your lawn?

If you’ve struggled in the past to maintain a lush, green lawn and you find yourself eyeballing your neighbor’s with envy, it’s time to turn those tables. What we’re talking about here is lawn fertilizing — how to do it, when to do it, how often to do it, and so much more. Ready to get cracking? After all, that lawn isn’t going to feed itself!

Lawn Fertilizer FAQs

What is lawn fertilizer?

Think of lawn fertilizer this way: No matter how many glasses of seltzer you drink, you can’t live on it—you need to tuck into a few good meals each day, too. Your lawn is just the same. As much as it needs water, it also needs additional nutrients to survive, and lawn fertilizer supplies those nutrients.

What are the benefits of putting fertilizer on my lawn?

If you’re into tag football, family gatherings, and anything involving bare feet, you’ll definitely want to get in the habit of properly fertilizing your lawn. That’s how you get lush grass blades that can take a beating from heat, sun, and all the foot traffic you can throw at it, and still look like a glorious green carpet. And you know those weeds you hate? They’ll stand much less of a chance in a lawn that is well-fed.

How often should I fertilize my lawn?

This one’s easy — fertilize four times a year, in early spring, late spring, summer, and fall. Have a hard time remembering? Just download the My Lawn App to help you keep track.

When should I fertilize a new lawn?

If you have a newly seeded, sodded, or plugged lawn, you’ll want to use Scotts® Turf Builder® Starter® Food for New Grass right after seeding or laying sod. Not only will it help your grass grow 35 percent quicker and 70 percent thicker than new lawns that haven’t been fed, but you can also use it on all grass types. For more information, check out When to Feed for a Greener Lawn.

How do I choose the right fertilizer for my grass type?

First, determine whether you live in the northern or southern half of the country. That’s important because the cool-season grasses that grow in the North benefit from a different type of fertilizer than the warm-season grasses found in the South. Next, you’ll need to determine if you have other needs, like insect or weed control, because many Scotts® products address multiple issues at once. And finally, choosing the right fertilizer depends upon the time of year you are applying it, as grass has different needs during each season. Visit How to Choose Lawn Products and Spreaders for more info and specific lawn food recommendations.

What do the letters NPK on the fertilizer bag mean?

Those letters stand for the nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). The numbers you see on the bag (32-0-4, for example) let you know the percentage of the N, P, and K (by weight) that’s in the bag. Here’s why it matters: Nitrogen greens up your grass and helps it grow, phosphorus stimulates root growth and helps seeds sprout, and potassium helps your lawn withstand drought and disease. The highest number for lawn fertilizers will usually be the “N”—after all, growing green grass is the ultimate goal, right?

What is the best way to apply fertilizer?

It’s pretty simple! Just follow these steps:

1. Water your lawn a few days before fertilizing so your soil is ready to accept the fertilizer.

2. Following the directions on the bag, pour the fertilizer into your spreader and adjust the spreader settings. You can use a hand-held spreader, like the Scotts® Whirl™ Hand-Powered Spreader, for a small lawn or a broadcast spreader for a larger lawn.

3. Apply the fertilizer beginning with the perimeter of your lawn, then move inward toward the center, walking in your typical mowing pattern. Use straight, slightly overlapping lines to ensure good coverage. 4. Return any unused product to the bag and store it properly (again, check the bag for instructions).

For more details, take a moment to read this article on How to Use Lawn Fertilizer.

How do I know which spreader setting to use?

There are several easy ways to help you figure out the right spreader setting. Try one of these:

● Visit the product information page for your particular fertilizer on Scotts.com and look for the guidelines in the “Spreader Settings” under the “Learn” tab;

● Use our Spreader Settings tool;

● Or, read the spreader settings guidelines on the product package.

How long after reseeding or overseeding my lawn should I wait before fertilizing?

Your best bet is to fertilize your newly seeded or overseeded lawn with Scotts® Turf Builder® Starter® Food for New Grass directly after seeding. Then, you need to wait 6 to 8 weeks before fertilizing again. If you get over-eager and think “If a little fertilizer is good, then a lot of fertilizer is better,” let us save you from yourself. Over-fertilizing at any time, especially with newly seeded lawns, can actually damage your grass — and that is no way to win the Yard of the Month award. ( Go here for more about seeding.)

Is there a best time of day to apply fertilizer?

Late afternoon or early evening (when there’s still light, of course) is the best time of day to apply lawn fertilizer. Applying it in the heat of a scorching afternoon can cause the sun’s rays to burn your grass—and when your goal is “lush and green,” burned grass blades simply won’t cut it.

Can I apply fertilizer to a wet lawn?

Most Scotts® fertilizers can be applied to either a wet or dry lawn. If you’re applying a weed-and-feed product like Scotts® Turf Builder® Weed & Feed, though, you may need to apply to wet grass to help the particles adhere to the weeds for best results. How to know for sure? Check the package directions!

How long after fertilizing should I wait to water my lawn?

It depends on the fertilizer. Some lawn foods perform better when you water them in right after applying, while others—such as some weed-and-feed products—need to be watered a day or two after fertilizing. It all comes down to this: Check the product directions on the bag—they’ll tell you when to water.

What happens if it rains or snows soon after I apply fertilizer?

You’ll definitely want to check the weather before you plan to apply fertilizer—if rain or a heavy snowfall is in the forecast, you'll want to wait for another day. A light rain or snow after you apply the fertilizer won't hurt, but a downpour the next day could wash the fertilizer away. Keep in mind, too, that you never want to put fertilizer on frozen ground because the grass won’t absorb it.

How long do I need to keep kids and pets off the lawn after fertilizing?

A good rule of thumb here is to allow 24 hours after rainfall or irrigation has watered in the fertilizer before letting kids or pets play on the lawn. So, for example, if you fertilize on Thursday and water or have rain on Friday, then on Saturday, you can let everyone release all of their pent-up energy out in the yard.

When is it too hot or too cold to apply fertilizer to my lawn?

This depends upon whether you have cool-season grass or warm-season grass. The best time to fertilize your lawn is when the grass is actively growing, and for cool-season grasses, that’s when temperatures are 60 to 70 degrees F. For warm-season grasses, active growth will usually happen when temperatures are between 75 and 85 degrees F. If you live in an area where grass goes brown during the summer, you’ll want to avoid fertilizing it while it’s dormant. As for the deepest winter months, there’s no benefit to feeding your lawn at that time of the year in most areas of the country, as the grass is dormant from the cold weather.

How do I kill weeds while fertilizing my lawn?

Simply choose a fertilizer with weed control, sometimes referred to as a weed-and-feed. Scotts® Turf Builder® Weed & Feed, for example, kills over 50 types of weeds (including dandelion and clover) while feeding your lawn. If you live in the North, another option is to use Scotts® Turf Builder® Triple Action, which both kills and prevents weeds while nourishing your grass. In the South, Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Triple Action is the product to turn to for weeding, feeding, and all-important fire ant control. As you can see, there’s no need to apply two or three products to cover all of your lawn’s needs—and that’s a good thing, because who’s got time to waste when you’re trying to win the Turf Wars?

How long does it take to see results from using lawn fertilizer?

You’ll start to see results anywhere from 1 to 5 days afterward, depending upon the type of fertilizer you use. And because most Scotts® Lawn Food products have Scotts® All-In-One Particles®, they give your lawn an even distribution of nutrients every time you apply it—helping your grass avoid the feast-or-famine, green-to-brown rollercoaster every couple of weeks that you’d experience with poor quality fertilizers.

Do I need to mow, rake, or aerate my lawn before or after fertilizing it?

Ideally, you’ll want to mow and rake before fertilizing, so that excess lawn waste is removed and the fertilizer will have an easier time reaching the soil. Aerating your soil before fertilizing can also help; the best times to aerate are when your grass is actively growing, such as in spring or early fall. For more information, check out How to Aerate & Dethatch Your Lawn.

Can I use lawn fertilizer in the garden?

While you technically could use lawn fertilizer in the garden, it’s not ideal. That’s because veggies and flowers have totally different needs from grass. Lawn fertilizer would still feed the garden plants, but they wouldn’t achieve maximum growth and might grow more leaves at the expense of flowers and fruits since that’s what lawn fertilizer is optimized for: growing lush, green leaves. Another reason to avoid using lawn fertilizer in the garden is that many lawn fertilizers also contain ingredients meant to kill weeds. Guess what happens when you use those in your garden? That’s right, both the weeds and the garden plants bite the dust. Your best bet? Keep lawn fertilizer in the lawn.

Does fertilizer ever expire?

Fertilizer doesn’t expire, but we recommend keeping it dry and in an airtight container, and using it up within a year to get the best results. The longer the fertilizer sits unused, the more likely it is to become damp and clumpy, which could make it hard to spread.

Does Scotts offer a money-back guarantee?

Absolutely. Every Scotts® fertilizer carries the Scotts® No-Quibble Guarantee: If for any reason you, the consumer, are not satisfied after using this product, you are entitled to get your money back. Simply send us evidence of purchase and we will mail you a refund check promptly. We believe in our products and want you to have that same confidence. 

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