Having a healthy lawn can seem deceptively simple. After all, grass only needs water and fertilizer, right? So how hard could it be? If you’ve been wondering, “How often should I fertilize my lawn?” you’re in the right place.
Learning how often to fertilize a lawn is an important step towards having the best-kept lawn on the block.
In most cases, fertilizing your lawn should not be done frequently.
Most lawns should only be fertilized up to two (maybe three) times per year. How often your lawn specifically needs fertilizer depends on what type of grass grows on it, among other factors. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about planning your lawn fertilizing schedule.
Most Lawns Only Need Fertilizer Once or Twice a Year
With some exceptions, your lawn likely only needs to be fertilized one to three times per year. If that’s a surprising number, you might have confused fertilizer with “plant food.” It’s a common misconception, especially among those who are new to lawn care.
Where Fertilizer Fits Into Your Grass Care Cycle
Like any other plant, grass makes its own food from sunlight and water. In contrast to the plant food that you might add to potted plants, fertilizer is really meant to improve the soil.
Whether you’re using natural or synthetic, the reason you fertilize your lawn is to add micronutrients that improve the soil quality and help the grass grow.
When and Where Plant Get Their Essential Nutrients
Plants tend to grow in cycles, and grasses are no different. When your lawn is in a growing phase, the grass draws essential minerals like fertilizer, potassium, and phosphate from the soil. Although sunlight and water are the basic ingredients needed for grass growth, these minerals help produce structural and functional components that keep them healthy and strong.
When Fertilizer Comes In
Before or during the next growing cycle, which may not be until the next year, you’ll need to add another round of fertilizer to replenish the minerals that have been removed from the soil. That’s why many species of grasses don’t need frequent fertilization.
Overfertilizing is wasting money on excessive minerals for your lawn and may risk damaging it, which we’ll go over later. First, to decide exactly when and how often to fertilize your lawn, you need to identify what type of grass it has.
Know What Type of Grass Is on Your Lawn
To fertilize your lawn properly, you need to know if you have warm or cool-season grass growing on your lawn. Which category a species of grass belongs to depends on its growing cycle. Some grasses are dormant (meaning their growth rate slows down) during the fall, spring, and winter months.
These are cool-season grasses, which include:
- Tall fescue
- Fine fescue
- Perennial ryegrass
- Kentucky bluegrass
These species are most common in regions that experience large fluctuations in temperature. In the US, that means roughly the upper two-thirds of the country. In the middle, there’s a transition zone where both types are common. Warm-season grasses, which grow actively during the summer and early fall, are most common in the southern half.
Common warm-season grasses include:
- Bermuda grass
- Bahia grass
- Centipede grass
- Zoysia grass
Whatever overall type you have growing on your lawn, your grass is likely a blend of two or more species chosen based on what’s right for your area, whether that’s excessive shade, sun, or foot traffic.
So, assuming you have the right grass for your situation, you can plan your fertilizing schedule around what type of grass you have.
Fertilize Your Lawn on the Right Schedule
Your lawn needs fertilizer when it will make the most difference to your lawn’s growth, which means you should plan it around the growing cycles of the grass you have.
Fertilizing Cool Season Grasses
Cool-season grasses can grow across three seasons, late fall, spring, and sometimes winter. As a result, you might need to fertilize your cool-season grass lawn up to three times per year.
However, most lawns will become completely dormant in the winter, especially if you live somewhere with relatively harsh winters (temperatures regularly below 60º F).
For most lawns with cool-season grass, plan to fertilize your lawn in the fall and spring.
If you notice that your lawn continues to grow in the winter, adjust and fertilize it three times per year; twice in the fall and one in the spring.
Fall months will be when grassroots intake the most nutrients to prepare for winter, so the lawn only needs a light application of fertilizer in the spring.
Fertilizing Warm Season Grasses
Warm-season grasses grow best when the temperature range between 80 and 95 degrees, which means their window for growth tends to be a lot narrower than their cool-season counterparts.
Plan on fertilizing this kind of lawn once a year in the spring, which will prep your grass for its relatively fast summer growth.
A Fertilizer Need Most Grasses Have in Common
Whether you have warm or cool-season grass on your lawn, most grasses need nitrogen-rich fertilizer. But you can run a soil test kit to see whether your soil needs more nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium.
Avoid Fertilizer Burn from Overfertilizing
If you have a lawn with only one species of grass, be careful that you’re not overfertilizing your lawn, even if you stick to a once-a-year schedule.
Certain species, like Zoysia and Centipede grass, are incredibly slow growing, even during peaks in their growth cycle.
Remember, the purpose of fertilizer is to replenish minerals that have been removed from the soil.
If you apply fertilizer with too heavy a hand or you add it too often, you risk causing fertilizer burn on your lawn.
Why Too Much Fertilizer Is a Bad Thing
When more fertilizer is added than a lawn needs, the salts in the mixture will accumulate in the soil and potentially kill the grass. Living in an environment with too much salt makes it difficult for plants to absorb much-needed water from the soil.
How to Spot Fertilizer Burn
If you’ve ever seen an unhealthy lawn with patches or stripes of brown grass, you likely already know what fertilizer burn looks like. Fertilizer burn can be more of a concern when:
- You haven’t added enough water after fertilizing.
- You use a quick-release fertilizer.
- You apply fertilizer in extremely hot weather.
To avoid these issues, make sure to apply fertilizer during a cooler part of the day and water your lawn right after applying fertilizer.
Not only will the latter protect against fertilizer burn, but you’ll also be helping it be absorbed in the soil, which is right where you want it to be anyways.
You can also purchase fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen, which will avoid overwhelming your grass with salts before they’re needed.
What to Do After You’ve Fertilized Your Lawn
After you’ve fertilized your lawn, you’ll need to observe its growth to make sure you’ve done the job properly and take proper steps, depending on what you find.
- Know what minerals you need to add. Make sure you have essential tools on hand like soil mineral and pH test kits, which will tell you what minerals are lacking and if the pH is too high or low.
- Another late-season application. Based on its growth, you may need to add more fertilizer later in the season, especially if you’re dealing with cool-season grasses in the fall.
- Retest after heavy rain. While following fertilizer with water will protect your lawn and improve your soil quality, too much water is not a good thing.
If there’s heavy rain within a day or two of fertilizing your lawn, make sure your lawn hasn’t lost everything you just added. Retest and apply fertilizer one more time, if needed.
Conclusion: How Often Should I Fertilize My Lawn?
Fertilizing your lawn isn’t something you do more than 2-3 times a year.
Overfertilizing a lawn can lead to fertilizer burn and is difficult to recover from. Following a schedule that suits the type of grass you have is essential to keeping a healthy lawn.
Sometimes, if your fertilizer doesn’t seem to be doing its job, other factors may be at play, so don’t be afraid to do some homework and find out if the type of grass, the soil quality, or the soil Ph are hampering how effective your fertilization schedule is.