Just as the human body needs certain nutrients to remain healthy and perform at an optimum level, your lawn also requires nutrients for the same reasons. While soil often has adequate amounts of many micronutrients that lawns need, an actively growing stand of turfgrass may deplete the soil of the major nutrients, especially nitrogen. That’s why fertilization is primary component of proper lawn-care maintenance.

However, different lawns have different needs, depending on grass species, soil type and amount of irrigation applied. Below are a few tips to guide you in feeding your lawn.

Grass species

Some grasses are just “hungrier” than others. Most cultivars of bermudagrass, for instance, typically require more nitrogen (3 to 4 lbs./1,000 ft2 per year) than other warm-season grasses, such as zoysiagrass (usually about 2 lbs./1,000 ft2 per year), St. Augustinegrass (2 to 3 lbs./1,000 ft2 per year) and centipedegrass (only 0.5 to 1.5 lbs./1,000 ft2 per year). Cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass have similar nitrogen needs as bermudagrass (3 to 4 lbs./1,000 ft2 per year).

Just because a grass needs three pounds of nitrogen a year, however, doesn’t mean the lawn needs all three pounds at one time — in fact, applying too much nitrogen at once can “burn” the grass.

Instead, divide those pounds by the months of the species’ active growth, and space out your applications accordingly. If you have zoysiagrass lawn, for instance, apply 1/2 lb. nitrogen three weeks after it has completely greened up and then again once a month through September. By the end of the season, you’ll have applied 2-1/2 lbs., just what it needs for the year.

Soil type

Heavier soils tend to retain nutrients from fertilizer longer than sandy soils, which can leach out nutrients (with rainfall or irrigation) before the grass can use them. Also, sandy soils are often deficient in organic matter. So, you may need to fertilize a sand-based lawn more often than one that’s mostly clay or loam.

On the other hand, a heavy soil can become compacted more quickly (from foot traffic and mower tires), preventing fertilizer nutrients from moving down to where the grass roots can access them. If your soil is heavy in clay, be sure to aerify it annually.


Do you irrigate your lawn regularly during dry spells? If so, your grass will grow more and therefore need more nutrients to maintain that growth.


Some people prefer to use natural, organic fertilizers such as compost, but unless you have your compost tested, you don’t really know how much of the key macronutrients needed by grass — nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) — that it contains. Often, a simpler approach is to purchase fertilizer with a known composition.

On the label of any fertilizer bag, you’ll see three numbers separated by hyphens, such as 20-5-10. The first number represents the fertilizer’s percentage of N. The second number is the percentage of P, and the third number is the percentage of K. So, our hypothetical bag of fertilizer contains 20% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Fillers, which help ensure even application, typically make up the rest of the bag. Depending on your soil-test results, you may or may not need a product with P and K, but almost all grasses need supplemental N.

Whenever possible, select a fertilizer product that contains at least some slow-release nitrogen. With this type of fertilizer, which will feed the lawn for an extended period of time, you can go longer between applications.