If you’re thinking about fertilizing your lawn and feeling like you’re in over your head, it’s time to call in the professionals. Lawn care companies know exactly what type of fertilizer your lawn needs, how much to apply, and when and how often to apply it. Your specialist can set your lawn up for success with all the nutrients it needs—and may even guarantee the treatment will take.
There are many lawn companies out there that offer lawn fertilizer services, but they aren’t all equal. This Old House Reviews Team recommends TruGreen, an industry leader with nationwide reach and a variety of annual packages for comprehensive lawn care.
4 Types of Lawn Fertilizer
Lawns need fertilization because over time, grass may suck all the nutrients out of the soil. The right type of fertilizer for your lawn can restore it to its green glory. The main nutrients in fertilizer are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
The NPK value shows the percentages of each nutrient in the fertilizer. For example, a fertilizer with an NPK value of 18-20-10 is 18% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 10% potassium.
Different fertilizers release these nutrients at different rates and have their own benefits and disadvantages. Here are the main types of fertilizer.
1. Quick-Release Fertilizer
Quick-release fertilizer is made up of synthetic materials and shows quick results, providing plants with nitrogen immediately after it’s applied. It can up your lawn’s aesthetics as soon as you need it.
However, releasing nutrients into the soil too quickly can leach the soil and harm the environment, and applying too much of this fertilizer can burn your lawn. Unlike other fertilizers, the results only last two to four weeks.
2. Slow-Release Fertilizer
Slow-release fertilizer can be natural or synthetic. It releases nutrients at a gradual pace, based on the outside temperature and moisture levels. Slow-release fertilizer won’t show immediate results, but its effects will last longer—up to six to eight weeks, or more.
By releasing nutrients slowly and consistently, this fertilizer doesn’t stress your grass. This type of fertilizer is better for the environment than quick-release, because it is less likely to leach the soil.
3. Organic Fertilizer
Organic fertilizer is composed of organic materials as opposed to synthetics. Microbes and fungi break down the matter, slowly releasing the nutrients into the soil. Common ingredients include compost, bone meal and blood meal, feather meal, fish, kelp, and bat guano.
Organic fertilizers cost more than traditional types, and using them means it takes longer to see results. But the results can last for roughly six weeks. Overall, organic fertilizer is good for soil health, adding structure and improving water flow.
4. Granular vs. Liquid
Granular fertilizers are “dry fertilizers” that come in small pellets. They come in both synthetic and natural forms and are spread on the ground. The pellets must break down before they can release nutrients. In general, granular fertilizers are cheaper than liquid fertilizers.
Liquid fertilizers are popular for several reasons. Each drop of the liquid concentrate has exactly the same proportions of nutrients, while granular fertilizer pellets may have more variety. Nutrients can move more easily through liquid fertilizers, so the soil can absorb the nutrients faster. You can apply liquid fertilizer to the ground or directly onto the foliage.
Types of Fertilizer Spreaders
Those are the products. But what about the equipment? You can spread your fertilizer using multiple types of tools. Here’s a breakdown.
- Hand-held spreaders: Best for small lawns, hand-held spreaders are powered by a crank or battery and spread fertilizer while you walk.
- Broadcast/rotary spreaders: These are the most common. As you push a broadcast spreader, it releases the fertilizer in an overlapping pattern across a broad swath of grass. They’re best for medium and large lawns, because they allow you to spread a lot of fertilizer in a short amount of time. Pull-behind spreaders are a subset of broadcast spreaders that you pull instead of push.
- Drop spreaders: These spreaders are better for precision, especially if you have tighter turns or sophisticated landscaping. Instead of spreading the fertilizer ahead, drop spreaders drop the fertilizer directly beneath them as you push.
When to Fertilize Your Lawn
Different types of grasses should be fertilized at different times of year for optimum growth and health. Warm-season grasses, like Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, and St. Augustine grass, should be fertilized in spring—when they bounce back from winter dormancy and begin to green again. Cool-season grasses, like fescues, ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass, should be fertilized between late summer and fall.
How Often To Fertilize Your Lawn
There are different schools of thought when it comes to how often you should fertilize your lawn. Some people recommend once a year, or twice max, while others recommend up to four times. It depends on your lawn’s condition and needs. Always be sure to test your soil to get the best sense of your lawn’s requirements.
Lawn Fertilizer Service vs. DIY
Now you’ve got a good idea of the types of fertilizers available, how to spread them, and when to spread them. If that info seemed overwhelming, it might be a sign that hiring a professional lawn fertilizer service is the way to go.
Let’s take a look at some pros and cons of hiring a professional lawn fertilizer service versus doing this the DIY way.
Pros & Cons of Fertilizer Services
✔ Saves time and energy: Hiring a professional service saves you time and effort. Instead of toiling away in your yard, you can spend time with your family, on hobbies, or anything you want.
✔ Diagnostics: A professional service can perform a high-quality soil test to diagnose any issues your lawn may have. That way, you can have the best fertilizing strategy and not waste any time with guesswork.
✔ Avoids confusion: Product labels can be very confusing, breaking down the values of various elements. Professionals know the ins and outs of all the products and can apply everything efficiently and correctly.
✔ Consistent schedule: If you hire professionals, they can develop the ideal fertilization schedule for your lawn, so you don’t have to puzzle over the best time of year or weather and growing conditions.
✔ Professional-grade products and equipment: Professionals have access to tools and fertilizers you may not be able to get as a homeowner.
✔ Guarantee and better results: If you tackle this on your own, you risk getting poor results. Professionals do this for a living, and have the experience to fertilize the right way every time. Many service providers even offer guarantees to ensure your satisfaction.
✘ More expensive: Even though DIY means purchasing products and tools, it often comes out cheaper than hiring a professional service.
✘ Risk with company: If you don’t do your research, you might end up with a company that doesn’t deliver what it promises.
Pros & Cons of DIY Fertilizers
✔ Budget-friendly: Doing it yourself is less costly than hiring a professional, so if your budget is your top priority, DIY is your friend.
✔ Health and exercise: Fertilizing can be good for fitness, since you do the labor yourself. You want to do some curls with the fertilizer bag? Go for it.
✔ Time outdoors: Often, we don’t take enough advantage of the sunshine. Fertilizing is a good excuse to get outside and get your hands dirty.
✘ Investment in equipment and products: Even though the DIY approach may be cheaper, you may end up spending money on equipment and products that you use so rarely that it’s not worth it.
✘ Time and effort investment: Fertilizing takes time and energy you could spend on something else.
✘ Risk of poor results: Without experience, you could see poor results, or worse, over-fertilize and hurt your lawn’s health.
Lawn Fertilizer Pricing
It’s up to you to decide if you want to do it yourself or hire professionals. We know budget is a big factor. Here’s a rough estimate of some of the costs you could expect.
Cost of Lawn Fertilizer Services
The amount you pay for your lawn fertilizer service will depend on a few factors, including where you live, the type of treatment you choose—organic tends to be more expensive—and the size of your lawn.
According to Homewyse.com, the average cost of a lawn fertilizer service in Raleigh, N.C., would be $.06 per square foot on the low end, and $0.11 on the high end. So fertilizer service for a 1,000-square-foot lawn could cost you anywhere from $63 to $115 per application. That’s the total cost, including the labor, products, and job supplies. Improvenet.com has $0.08 per square foot as the minimum national cost, and $0.44 per square foot as the maximum cost.
Cost of DIY Fertilizers
This one might be more challenging to calculate, because there are many different brands and types of fertilizers, and you can’t simply buy a bag of fertilizer that will be the exact amount you need for your lawn.
According to Costowl.com, a bag of fertilizer could set you back $6 to $26 depending on the pounds per bag and type of nutrients included, a walk-behind broadcast spreader could cost anywhere from $100 to $300, and a hand spreader goes for $10 to $75.
In the end, DIY always shakes out as more budget-friendly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more cost-effective. If you do a bad job or don’t get the results you want, that’s money down the drain.
Professional Fertilizer Service Recommendation: TruGreen
As part of its plans, TruGreen will visit your lawn every four to six weeks. Depending on your lawn’s specific needs, your TruGreen lawn care specialist will determine whether you need fertilizer during each visit.
The specific fertilizer TruGreen uses for its core packages has an NPK value of 20-10-10, or 20% nitrogen, to help grass grow lush and green, 10% potassium to boost nutrient intake and root development, and 10% phosphorus to help your grass to absorb oxygen. The rest is filler.
TruGreen uses liquid fertilizer in the cooler months and switches to granular once it warms up.
You can find TruGreen’s three core annual plans below:
TruGreen Lawn Care Plans
|Plans||TruHealth℠ Lawn Care Plan||TruComplete℠ Lawn Care Plan||TruSignature℠ Lawn Care Plan|
|Plans||TruHealth℠ Lawn Care Plan||TruComplete℠ Lawn Care Plan||TruSignature℠ Lawn Care Plan|
|Lime Soil Amendment||✓||✓||✓|
|Pre-Emergent and Targeted Weed Control||✓||✓||✓|
|Tree and Shrub Services||–||–||✓|
Every plan comes with the TruGreen Healthy Lawn Guarantee® for full-program customers, promising that a TruGreen specialist will return to your home as many times as needed to resolve your issues. You can find TruGreen’s fertilizer services available everywhere except for Alaska.
Our Rating Methodology
To provide readers with the most objective, accurate, and detailed recommendations, the This Old House Reviews Team continually researches lawn care service companies on the market. We take the following steps to obtain up-to-date information about the industry and each company we review:
- Analyze more than 100 customer reviews from third-party review sites, such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Google Reviews, for each company
- Secret-shop for lawn care plans and packages to get a sense of cost, offered services, and the overall shopping experience for prospective customers
- Speak with representatives on the phone to simulate the customer service experience from each provider
- Update information on a regular basis to ensure the most accurate information when plans or services change with each company
We use the data from our research to build an in-depth rating system that allows us to score lawn care providers on a 100-point scale. Here are the factors in our evaluation and their designated scores:
- Plan options (30): As one of the most important factors for homeowners shopping for a lawn care service, this one is weighted heavily based on each company’s lawn coverage. Companies that offer more options, such as irrigation, weed control, seeding, and aeration services in addition to a general plan, score higher than others.
- Trustworthiness (30): Each company’s reputation is another significant factor for homeowners to consider before signing up for a plan. We scored providers based on their BBB score, accreditation, and offered guarantees available with each purchase.
- Additional Benefits (20): We gave extra points to companies that provide a few additional services and benefits with their offered plans, such as organic treatments, pest control services, and a mobile app for digital communication and plan management.
- Customer Service (10): In this rating category, we awarded points to customer-focused lawn care service providers who offer weekend availability and easy communication through phones, online chats, and online resources.
- Availability (10): We also scored companies based on their overall availability, rewarding those that are nationally available over local companies only operating in select cities or ZIP codes.
To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.