10 Best Fertilizers for New Grass (And How to Use Them)

Whether you’re starting a patch of new turf or just aiming for lush grass on a well-established lawn, getting the right fertilizer is your best chance for good lawn health. 

It can be hard picking the best product for the job when there are so many different fertilizers on the market, promising everything from improved soil conditions to new grass growth year-round. 

But it’s easy to guard your lawn’s health once you know what fertilizer is right for you. 

Let’s look at how to get a lush lawn by choosing the best fertilizer for new grass and explore our top 10 choices for the best grass fertilizer.

Lawn Fertilizer Basics

lawn fertilizer in fertilization tool in garden lawn

All plants, from the lushes lawn to the most delicate orchid, need the same set of essential nutrients to thrive.

Understanding NPK in Fertilizers

The most important of these are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These main nutrients are present in every good grass fertilizer.

  • Nitrogen is arguably the most important nutrient for growing new grass. It promotes leafy growth and that gorgeous emerald green that all turf enthusiasts crave.
    • Lawns need a constant supply of nitrogen. When a lawn is mowed and the trimmings removed, the nitrogen goes with it.
  • Phosphorus is key for root growth and establishment. It also supports energy transport and helps plants reach maturity.
    • Plants need less phosphorus, as it binds readily to soils and is used in lower quantities.
  • Potassium is most critical for flowering and fruiting plants, essential for forming big blooms and ripe fruit. It also plays a role in disease resistance and winter hardiness.
    • While plants need less of it than nitrogen, ensuring enough to support growth is still important.

Every fertilizer worth applying will have something called the NPK ration somewhere on its packaging. It’s your guide to what’s inside and how much.

The first number represents the percentage by weight of nitrogen, the second represents the percentage of phosphorus, and the last represents the percentage of potassium.

How to Choose the Best Fertilizer for New Grass

fertilizer bag placed on lawn grass with garden shovel and gloves

Know Your Grass Type

Understanding the needs of what type of grass you’re growing is the difference between a healthy lawn and dead grass. 

Different species of grasses have different needs. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescue require a higher potassium level for disease resistance and winter hardiness.

In contrast, warm-season grasses such as St. Augustine and Bermuda need more nitrogen for rapid growth and a deep green color.

Young grass and new turf have different needs, too.

A fast-releasing high-nitrogen fertilizer can cause real problems for delicate new growth, as the main ingredient tends to burn delicate roots.

A more gentle lawn starter fertilizer is generally better.

Know Your Soil

The other big half of the equation is the soil.

Surprisingly, many soils will already have many nutrients required for lush grass, so best to see what your lawn needs before you start buying fertilizer you may not need.

I always recommend a soil test. Most county extension services offer low-cost laboratory testing no more complex than providing a few soil samples in the post.

If you like, you can run a few tests yourself at home. Home soil kits are available on Amazon for very little and will give you all the info you need to make good, informed choices about your garden.

A good test will check the soil’s pH and the level of essential primary nutrients.

New grass needs mildly acidic to neutral conditions, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If the pH level of your soil is out of this range, it can be adjusted with lime or sulfur to create a more suitable environment for healthy grass.

Know Your Lawn Fertilizer

Each type of fertilizer will have its NPK and other ingredients listed on the packaging. This will help you determine if it’s the right fertilizer for your needs.

Once you’ve tested your soil you’ll be able to tailor the fertilizer to ensure you replace what’s been lost and not overdo it with other minerals.

For example, fertilizer with a ratio of 20-10-10 contains 20 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium.

This ratio is suitable for lawns, providing more nitrogen for leafy growth and color but less phosphorus and potassium for root development and disease resistance.

Know the Size of Your Lawn

The amount of fertilizer you need to apply varies, depending on the size of your lawn. Obviously, a small lawn will require less fertilizer than a large lawn!

While it seems simple, you really don’t want to overdo it. 

Too much fertilizer can cause damage to the delicate root system beneath the lawn itself, and excess has a habit of washing away altogether in the rain or during irrigation.

Luckily most reliable fertilizers will list how much you need to apply per square foot somewhere on their packaging. It takes a lot of the guesswork out and can save you a few bucks down the road.

Know the Time of the Year

Every gardener knows that the grass shoots up in warm weather and meanders along when it’s cool. Your lawn will need additional support at the right time when it’s actively growing.

A good rule of thumb is to fertilize your lawn every 6 to 8 weeks during the growing season and to lower the frequency with cooler weather. This does depend a little on your turf, too.

Cool-season grasses will be happier with an earlier start, and warm-season grasses will need support further into the year.

Choosing the Best Type of Fertilizer for New Lawns

lawn fertilizer in hand with lawn grass in background

Once you know what grass you have, the area you have to work with, and an idea of what your soil contains, it’s time to choose your blend.

All of the main types of fertilizers have their benefits and drawbacks, and what might make a good starter fertilizer may not help an established lawn.

Standard Fertilizer

Commonly found in your local garden center, the average bag of quick-release, standard fertilizer is easy to find and apply.

The main ingredient is quick-release nitrogen to promote green color and fast leafy growth.

The nitrogen in regular fertilizer is in a form that is easily taken up by the grass, but it is also quickly used up and will need to be reapplied frequently.

The other downside is that they’re almost always synthetic, made from mined minerals or industrial processes.

This gives them a predictable nutrient ratio but means they’re totally devoid of other micro-nutrients like iron, calcium, or magnesium that new grass sometimes needs during establishment.

They’re often not the best starter fertilizers, as they’re very strong and can damage the emerging roots of new seed.

Slow-Release Fertilizer

For more sustained nutrition, consider a slow-release fertilizer. They’re also known as controlled-release fertilizer, which releases additional nutrients over time, usually several weeks to a few months.

Many contain slow-release nitrogen, and others balance the ratio of nitrogen with slow-releasing forms of phosphorus and potassium.

The big benefit of slow release is that it allows the grass to take up the nutrients at an even pace.

It’s especially beneficial for warm-season grasses that benefit from a more uniform release of nutrients over their long growing season.

Slow-release fertilizers are also better for the environment as they reduce the risk of nutrient runoff finding its way into storm drains and streams.

They’re especially good to lay under a new lawn of fresh turf, providing the entire lawn with ongoing support.

On the downside, slow-release fertilizer is more suitable for an established lawn. There’s generally not enough immediate support for fragile new roots.

Like standard blends, they also tend to be synthetic and light on supplemental nutrition.

Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are often touted as an environmentally friendly, sustainable alternative to synthetic fertilizers.

The main ingredients are derived from organic material like plant cuttings, compost, or animal waste.

Organic fertilizers are a wise option to improve the soil’s overall health and promote a more sustainable lawn. They’re generally gentler on the roots, less prone to runoff, and contain a host of added benefits.

Slaughterhouse materials like blood meal are rich in nitrogen but contain iron, calcium, and a bewildering host of natural fats and proteins that work wonders on your overall soil health.

Teas derived from seaweeds contain natural plant hormones that promote growth and root development, and compost encourages worms and other beneficial microbes to take up residence beneath your lawn.

On the downside, organic lawn fertilizers may not be as concentrated as synthetic fertilizers, so they may require more frequent applications.

Certified organic products also tend to be more expensive per gram.

Starter Fertilizer

Many lawn care companies produce specialist fertilizer targeted at newly planted lawns.

It’s generally formulated to provide a higher dose of phosphorus than nitrogen or potassium and is sometimes called ‘law starter fertilizer.’ Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food is one such example.

If your soil test has indicated you need extra phosphorus, starters are a solid option.

When to Fertilize Your Lawn for Best Results

lawn fertilizer bag with fertilization instruments in lawn

New Grass

The best time to fertilize new sod is immediately after it has been laid and watered in. This will give the grass the nutrients it needs to take root and establish itself quickly.

Be mindful of the fertilizer’s NPK ratio because a leveled ratio is essential for new sod. Using a fertilizer with a higher percentage of phosphorus will help the new sod to develop deep roots and become well-established.

The best time to fertilize new grass seedlings is shortly after germination. This will give the young grass the nutrients it needs to develop strong roots and healthy foliage.

Be mindful of the amount of fertilizer used, as over-fertilizing can damage the youngest seedlings.

It’s also important to apply the fertilizer in the early evening, when the temperature is cooler, to avoid the risk of burning the grass.

You’ll need to water in well and avoid using overly rich blends like 20-10-10, especially known for damaging young plants when used over-enthusiastically.

Warm-Season Grasses

The best time to fertilize warm-season grasses is during the growing season, commonly from early spring to late summer.

Applying fertilizer during the active growth lets the grass make the most use of the nutrients, resulting, if done correctly, in a lush green lawn.

Be mindful of the NPK ratio, as warm-season grasses need more nitrogen to promote rapid growth and maintain a deep green color. 

Bermuda grass and St. Augustine are good candidates for early spring fertilization to provide necessary nutrients and help the grass recover from winter damage.

While it’s generally best to avoid too much summer fertilizer, some warm-season grasses, such as Zoysia grass, Centipede grass, or Bahia grass, benefit from some late summer feeding.

In some cases applying a fertilizer with a higher percentage of potassium can help the grass recover from the stress of the hot weather and prepare for the next growing season.

Cool-Season Grasses

The best time of year to fertilize cool-season grasses is during the fall and early spring when the grass prepares for active growth.

Fertilizing during these times ensures the grass has enough nutrients to establish strong roots and prepare for cold weather.

Early spring is an ideal time to fertilize cool-season grasses such as Rye-grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and fescue as the weather starts to warm up and the grass emerges from dormancy.

Fertilizing during this time gives the grass the necessary nutrients to establish strong roots and prepare for active growth. 

Depending on the health of your lawn, it may be prudent to give supplemental fall fertilizer.

Topping up levels of potassium in the early fall will help support disease resistance and promote winter hardiness.

How to Fertilize New Grass

gardener operating lawn fertilization spreader in newly sodded lawn

Amount of Fertilizer to Use

The amount of fertilizer to use depends on the square footage of your lawn and the type of fertilizer you are using.

The most important thing to remember is to follow the fertilizer bag instructions for the appropriate application rate.

Be careful not over-fertilizing or cause nutrient imbalances in the soil. A general rule is to use 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

Too much nitrogen can damage plants by scalding leaves and damaging roots, so paying attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations is a good idea.

Broadcast Spreader vs. Rotary Spreader

Among all the lawn spreaders available, a broadcast spreader and a rotary spreader are good options for applying fertilizer to your lawn.

A broadcast spreader is best for large lawn areas, as it can cover a wide area quickly. A rotary spreader is better for smaller areas, allowing for more precise application.

Liquid vs. Granular Fertilizer

While folks have strong opinions about which is best, choosing between liquid and granular fertilizer is a personal preference. Both types of fertilizer can be effective, but they have different pros and cons.

Liquid fertilizer is easier to apply and can be applied in very specific lawn areas. However, it tends to be absorbed quickly, with any leftovers being lost to irrigation runoff or washed away the next time it rains.

On the other hand, granular fertilizer is more long-lasting and can be spread over a wider area. It has a slower release, so it remains active in the soil for longer with less nutrient loss in runoff.

I personally prefer slow-release granules for my initial seasonal fertilization and liquid for any top-ups the turf may need through the growing season.

It also allows me to add other amendments to the roster late in the season, like kelp meal, humic acid, or other beneficial additives that may interact with strong doses of commercial lawn food.

Reading Your Fertilizer Label

I can’t stress enough how important it is to really know your product. Always read the label and ensure you understand what it says before you start.

The label provides valuable guidelines for use, like the N-P-K ratio, the percentage nutrient content, the application rate, and other significant details relevant to that particular blend.

Here in Australia, it’s common for lawn food to have restricted quantities of phosphorus, as many of our native plants are sensitive to overdose.

I always check that data, particularly when feeding lawns, to ensure the product is up to snuff.

Safety instructions should not be ignored either. Fine granules can release dust when used, so some brands recommend you use eye or breathing protection, for example.

There’s also information about storing your product to retain its effectiveness.

Best Fertilizer for New Grass: Top 10

top lawn fertilizers in retail store

1. Pennington Ultragreen Starter Fertilizer

Who doesn’t love a lush, deep green, grassy lawn with just one fertilizer application in three months? I’m sure we all do, and Pennington Ultragreen Starter Fertilizer’s 22-23-4 NPK ratio guarantees it.

Its fast-release nitrogen yields quick greening, while slow-release nitrogen ensures a continuous feed for up to three months. Moreover, its 5% iron content provides the grass with a deep, vibrant color.

It’s an excellent choice for a new lawn with seeds, sod, or even an existing lawn.

2. Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass

Scotts has always been with us throughout our lawn care journey.

This new Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass, with a 24-22-4 NPK ratio, not only enhances the growth of newly sown grass but also aids in developing strong roots.

The application of Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food establishes new grass that is 70% thicker and grows 35% quicker.

For the best results, apply this fertilizer two weeks after seeding.

3. The Andersons New Lawn Starter

If you are hoping to establish your new lawn grass robustly with unwavering strength and thriving roots, Andersons New Lawn Starter is the go-to option.

With a superior 20-27-5 NPK, iron, and other essential micronutrient composition, it not only stimulates the development of greener grass and healthy roots but also enhances its overall vigor.

Its fast, intermediate, and slow-release nitrogen provides a quick and long-term feed to your lawn.

This fertilizer can be used for both seed and sod in the spring and fall seasons.

4. Lesco Professional Starter Fertilizer

A strong foundation guarantees a strong building same goes when establishing a new lawn.

Lesco Professional Starter Fertilizer’s exclusive blend of nutrients helps develop roots that are deeper and stronger.

Lesco’s 18-24-12 NPK ratio with slow-release nitrogen technology assures feeding for up to 12 weeks, providing extended greening while also improving the hardiness of your new lawn grass.

Lesco Professional Starter Fertilizer has been providing remarkable results for years for both seeding and sodding of our new lawns. 

5. FertiLome New Lawn Starter Fertilizer

When it comes to fertilizing newly seeded or sodded lawn grass, fertilome is a must.

Besides having a rich amount of NPK ratio (9-13-7), this fertilizer is also packed with some essential micronutrients that provide a lush green lawn in no time.

A unique mixture of these macro and micro nutrients accelerates the growth of new lawns, encourages the development of deep roots, and enhances the overall vigor of the newly established lawn.

It comes in 4 LBS packs which cover up to 1000 sq. ft. of the lawn. 

6. GreenView Starter Fertilizer

As a lush, vigorous green lawn depends on the number of grass seeds germinated, GreenView Starter Fertilizer is formulated with a high amount of phosphorus to make it successful.

A 10-18-10 NPK composition enriches the soil with vital nutrients that, as a result, develop stronger roots and thicken the lawns.

Its Greensmart technology feeds the lawn grass for up to 8 weeks and reduces the need for watering newly developed lawn grass.

It is intended for one-time application just before the spread of grass seeds to increase germination percentage and speed up the process of root growth. 

7. Sustane Organic Turf Starter Fertilizer

In case you need a break from all the chemically formulated fertilizers, a USDA-certified biobased product is here on our list.

The granular composition of this organic fertilizer comes with a 4-6-4 NPK ratio that provides a healthy growing habitat to newly seeded grass and overseeded lawns.

This turf starter and overseeder is a combination of organic phosphorus and high-quality compost mixed in a way to establish new lawns quicker with an anchoring root system.

Moreover, this product is OMRI listed for organic use.

8. Yard Mastery Starter Fertilizer

While caring for our new lawn, we often neglect the most crucial and delicate unit of a successful lush green lawn, the soil microbes.

When a balanced 12-12-12 NPK ratio, 3% iron, and other micronutrients like copper, zinc, and magnesium ensure the dense greener grass with strong and deep roots, the presence of Bio-Nite in this fertilizer takes care of the soil microorganisms.

Yard Mastery Starter Fertilizer is applicable to a wide range of cool-season and warm-season lawn grasses. 

9. Sta-Green Lawn Starter Fertilizer

Whether you are seeding, sodding, or reseeding your lawn, Sta-Green’s Lawn Starter Fertilizer, with its exceptional 18-24-6 NPK ratio, is always there to provide you with deep green grass possessing strong roots.

In all four seasons and with all types of lawn grasses, this fertilizer always manages to yield unmatchable results.

The combination of fast and slow-release nitrogen quickly establishes the lawn while making sure to feed it for up to 3 months.

It comes in an 18 lb pack which can cover 5000 sq. feet of your lawn.

10. Espoma Organic Lawn Starter

Is your place home to kids and pets, and you are exploring a safer fertilizer option that is also packed with all the macro and micronutrients?

Worry no more, as Espoma Organic Lawn Starter Fertilizer is a CDFA-registered and USDA-certified organic biobased product that is absolutely safe for your kids and pets.

Its guaranteed analysis of 3-6-3 NPK ratio alongside bio-tone microbial properties makes sure to help your new grass build a strong network of roots and produce seedlings that are thick and lush green in color.

Its organic constitution produces no burning effects, and the granular formulation makes it easy to spread throughout the lawn.

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