How to Fertilize Your Lawn

Man using a fertilizer spreader to spread fertilizer on his lawn

The grass is always greener where you fertilize it. If you want the kind of thick, dark green lawn that makes all the neighbors jealous, follow LawnStarter’s step-by-step advice on how to fertilize your lawn, whether you’re using liquid or granular fertilizer. 

How to Prepare Your Lawn for Fertilization 

Don’t jump straight to fertilizing your lawn – not if you want it to work. First, you have to find out what’s going on with the soil beneath your lawn and make any necessary changes. 

Step 1: Test your soil

Testing your soil lets you know your soil pH and what nutrients your soil is lacking. Since fertilization is all about feeding your lawn the nutrients it needs, a soil test will help you choose the right fertilizer for your grass. 

You can test your soil at home using pH strips from the store, but that kind of test will only indicate soil pH and won’t tell you anything about important plant nutrients.

Get a more in-depth test by sending a soil sample to a laboratory. You should be able to get a soil test from your state university’s local county extension office, which you can find on the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s university directory

Step 2: Adjust soil pH as needed

Your soil test might reveal that your soil pH is too acidic (meaning too low) or too alkaline (meaning too high). With acidic or alkaline soil, your grass will have a hard time absorbing the nutrients from the fertilizer, no matter how much of it you apply. 

The ideal pH range for most grasses is 6.5 – 7. If your soil pH is lower than that range, add agricultural lime to raise it before fertilizing. If your soil pH is higher than that range, add elemental sulfur to lower it before fertilizing. Your soil test results should include advice on how much lime or sulfur to apply for your specific needs.

Step 3: Water the lawn a few days before fertilization

About three to four days before fertilizing, water your lawn as you normally would. That way, by the time you add your chosen fertilizer, the soil will be moist – but not too wet – and ready to absorb nutrients. 

How to Apply Granular Lawn Fertilizer 

Some lawn fertilizers come in the form of granules, which are tiny, dry particles that usually come in a bag. These are called granular fertilizers. 

Step 1: Use a lawn spreader 

For granular fertilizers, you’ll need a fertilizer spreader, so the first step is to choose the right spreader for your yard:

  • Handheld spreaders hold a small amount of fertilizer and are best for smaller yards.
  • Broadcast spreaders, aka rotary spreaders, throw the fertilizer in a wide radius for faster application. 
  • Drop spreaders fertilize one small spot at a time, so they’re good for accuracy. 

Once you’ve chosen your fertilizer spreader, set it to the right application rate setting. The label on your fertilizer bag will tell you which setting to use for that specific product.

Put the spreader on the driveway or another hard surface – not your grass – to fill it with fertilizer. That way, any spilled product won’t get into the soil, potentially burning your grass. Make sure the hopper is closed, then pour as much fertilizer into the spreader as you’ll need to cover your entire yard. 

Step 2: Fertilize the perimeter first and work your way inward

First, walk the spreader around the outside edge (perimeter) of your lawn. Walk at a slow, steady pace to ensure even coverage. 

When you’re done with the perimeter, walk the spreader back and forth across the lawn in straight lines, similar to the pattern you follow when you mow. Overlap a few inches on each pass so you don’t miss any spots. Continue until you’ve covered the whole lawn. 

Step 3: Water the lawn immediately 

Right after spreading fertilizer, thoroughly water your lawn by hand or with sprinklers. The water will push the granules down into the soil and help the soil absorb them.

Step 4: Clean up after yourself

After fertilizing the lawn, sweep up any excess granules on the driveway and other hard surfaces and throw them in the trash. If you leave excess fertilizer out, rainwater will eventually carry it into natural bodies of water, polluting them with chemicals. 

Remove the leftover fertilizer from the spreader and put it back in the bag, then store it in a cool, dry place far from the curious reach of pets and children. 

Once the fertilizer spreader is empty, open the hopper and spray down the whole machine with a hose. Store your fertilizer spreader inside so it doesn’t rust. 

Or you could have fertilizer, custom selected to match your yard’s needs, delivered to your door. All you would need to do is attach the pouch to your garden hose and spray your fertilizer on your lawn. That’s what Sunday does, and you can learn about its lawn care treatments and subscription programs by following the link below:

Get Sunday Lawn Care ad

How to Apply Liquid Lawn Fertilizer 

Instead of granules, some lawn fertilizers come as a liquid in a bottle or as a water-soluble material that you mix with water. You spray these fertilizers across your lawn. 

Step 1: Attach or fill your sprayer 

Many liquid lawn fertilizers come in a “ready-to-spray” hose-end sprayer that attaches to your garden hose. You don’t have to dilute these with water yourself because the hose will automatically do it for you. Just screw the bottle securely onto the hose and spray.   

If your fertilizer doesn’t come in a “ready-to-spray” bottle, you’ll have to mix it with water before using it. The product label will tell you the proper ratio of fertilizer to water. Once you’ve diluted the fertilizer, pour it into a handheld or backpack sprayer. 

Step 2: Apply fertilizer evenly over the whole lawn

Walk slowly across your lawn in straight lines, spraying from side to side across your body as you go. Pay attention to how far your sprayer reaches so you can pick up on the next pass where it leaves off. 

Try not to miss any spots, and try not to overspray any spots. Applying liquid fertilizer evenly can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. Many homeowners have found that liquid fertilizer results in a patchy lawn. 

Step 3: Wait a few hours to water 

Don’t water your lawn immediately after spraying liquid fertilizer. The water will wash the fertilizer off your grass before it has a chance to soak into the soil. 

Give the fertilizer time to dry, which should take about two to four hours. Once the lawn seems mostly dry, water thoroughly to help your grass absorb the nutrients in the fertilizer. 

Step 4: Clean out your sprayer 

If you used a handheld or backpack sprayer, empty any leftover fertilizer back into the original container and rinse out the sprayer with a hose. Store the container of fertilizer in a climate-controlled place indoors, outside the reach of pets or small children. 

More Advice on Fertilizing Your Lawn

Now you know how to fertilize your lawn, but there’s more to the job than that. For the best lawn possible, you have to apply the right fertilizer at the right time of year. 

When to fertilize your lawn: The best time to fertilize your lawn is during its active growing season, which varies by type of grass. Fertilize warm-season grasses in early spring, early summer, or early fall. Fertilize cool-season grasses in early spring, early fall, and late fall. Learn more in our guide to When to Fertilize Your Lawn.

Choosing the right fertilizer for your lawn: Different fertilizers are suited for different lawn needs. First, you have to find a fertilizer with the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for your soil. You also have to choose between immediate-release or slow-release fertilizers and synthetic or organic fertilizers. Learn more in our guide on How to Choose the Right Fertilizer for Your Lawn

FAQ About Lawn Fertilization

1. How much does it cost to fertilize a lawn?

If you choose to buy fertilizer to fertilize your own lawn, you’ll spend about $10 to $30 per bag of fertilizer. How much fertilizer you need depends on the size of your lawn. 

If you hire a professional lawn care company to fertilize your lawn instead (LawnStarter offers fertilization service), you should expect to pay between $75 and $500 per service, depending on labor rates where you live, the size of your lawn, and the type of fertilizer you want the pros to use.

2. How much lawn fertilizer do I need?

How much fertilizer you need varies from product to product. Check the fertilizer label for information on how much ground you can cover with one package. In most cases, about 14 – 20 pounds of granular fertilizer will cover 5,000 square feet. 

If you don’t already know the square footage of your lawn, there are a couple of easy ways to figure it out:

1. If you know the square footage of your overall property and the square footage of your home, subtract the size of your home from the size of your property. What’s left is approximately the size of your lawn. 


2. Measure around the perimeter of your lawn with a measuring tape or measuring wheel. Multiply the length times the width for your lawn area. 

3. How do you reverse fertilizer burn?

Flush your soil with LOTS of water if you notice the grass turning yellow, tan, or brown after fertilizing. The discoloration could be a sign of fertilizer burn, which means that spot received too much nitrogen from your fertilizer. Watering in excess will cause some of the nitrogen to leach out of the soil so your grass can recover.

Once the grass completely dies from fertilizer burn and turns brown, you can’t bring it back to life. But you can replace it with new, healthy grass by following these steps:

Remove the dead grass with a lawn rake. You should be able to see the bare soil. 

Water the dead patch and surrounding areas thoroughly to flush the excess nitrogen out of the soil. 

If you have a spreading grass type such as Bermuda or Kentucky bluegrass: You’re done. Your self-repairing grass will spread on its own through rhizomes or stolons to cover the bare patch. 

If you have a bunching grass type such as fescue or perennial ryegrass: Reseed the bare patch with new grass. 

4. What’s the best way to fertilize a lawn with dogs?

Homeowners with dogs (or other pets that spend time in the yard) should use organic lawn fertilizer for two reasons. 

First of all, organic fertilizers are non-toxic. Your pets will be perfectly safe if they nibble on the treated grass, even right after you fertilize. 

Second, most organic fertilizers have a low nitrogen content. You have to be extra careful about applying nitrogen to your lawn if you have dogs because when your dog pees in the grass, they add even more nitrogen to the soil.

The combination of a high-nitrogen fertilizer and dog urine often results in fertilizer burn and brown patches in the lawn. 

5. Can you mow and fertilize the lawn on the same day?

Yes, you can mow and fertilize the lawn on the same day, as long as you mow first. However, this is not ideal. The best way to time your mowing and fertilizing is to mow the lawn a few days before fertilization.

How a Lawn Care Service Can Help 

When you fertilize your grass on a regular schedule, it will grow faster than ever, which is great … unless you want to spend your weekends on something other than mowing the lawn. 

Want a thick, healthy lawn with lots of new growth without the hassle of keeping it cut? Weekly lawn mowing service and routine fertilization from LawnStarter’s local lawn care pros are only a click away. 

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and editor with a passion for sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and lawn care practices. When she isn't sharing her knowledge about lawn care and landscaping, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cat in her lap.