Liquid vs Granular Fertilizer: Which Is Best for Your Lawn Needs

Everyone loves the look of a vibrant green lawn, and one of the key ingredients for achieving this is proper fertilization. However, with so many options available, choosing the right type of fertilizer can be overwhelming. Among the most common choices are liquid and granular fertilizers, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

By the end of this guide, you'll have a clearer idea of which fertilizer will help you achieve the lush, green lawn you desire.

Understanding Fertilizer Basics

Fertilizers are essential in lawn care because they provide the nutrients that grass needs to grow lush and green. Without the right nutrients, lawns can become thin, patchy, and susceptible to weeds and diseases. To choose the right fertilizer, it's important to understand some basic concepts.

Fertilizer and Its Role in Lawn Care

Fertilizers are substances that supply essential nutrients to plants, promoting healthy growth and development. The primary nutrients in fertilizers are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), often referred to as NPK. Each of these nutrients plays a crucial role in the health of your lawn:

  • Nitrogen (N): Promotes vigorous growth and a lush green color.
  • Phosphorus (P): Encourages strong root development and is vital for seedling growth.
  • Potassium (K): Enhances overall lawn health, helping grass resist diseases, drought, and cold.

The Importance of Soil Testing before Choosing Your Fertilizer

Conducting a soil test is a crucial step before deciding between liquid and granular fertilizers. A soil test provides a comprehensive analysis of your lawn's current nutrient levels, pH balance, and overall soil health. This information is essential for making an informed decision about which type of fertilizer to use.

Soil testing helps identify specific nutrient deficiencies or excesses, allowing you to select a fertilizer formulation that precisely meets your lawn's needs. Without this knowledge, you might apply a fertilizer that exacerbates existing imbalances, leading to suboptimal growth or even damage to your lawn.


Related: Soil Test Kit Results Back: What Next?


Differences Between Liquid and Granular Fertilizers

Fertilizers come in two main forms: liquid and granular. Each form has its unique characteristics and benefits:

  • Liquid fertilizer: This type is either a concentrated solution mixed with water or a ready-to-use formula. Liquid fertilizers are applied using spray equipment, which allows for quick and even distribution across the lawn. They are known for their fast absorption and often immediate results, making them ideal for situations where quick green-up is desired.
  • Granular fertilizer: These are small, solid particles you spread across the lawn. Granular fertilizers can be either slow-release or quick-release. Slow-release formulas provide nutrients gradually over time, reducing the frequency of applications. Quick-release formulas, on the other hand, offer a faster nutrient boost but need to be applied more frequently.

Understanding these basics will help you decide which type of fertilizer best suits your lawn's needs. 

Liquid Fertilizer

Liquid Fertilizer

Liquid fertilizer is a nutrient-rich solution that can be either a concentrated formula needing dilution with water or a ready-to-use product. It is applied directly to the lawn using various spraying equipment, such as hose-end sprayers, backpack sprayers, or even irrigation systems. Liquid fertilizers are designed to provide immediate nourishment to the grass, making them ideal for situations where a faster response is desired.

Advantages:

  • Fast absorption and quick results: Liquid fertilizers are quickly absorbed by the grass through both the roots and the leaves, leading to growth and color response within 2 days. This makes them perfect for situations where a rapid improvement in lawn appearance is needed.
  • Ease of application: With the right equipment, applying liquid fertilizer is generally straightforward. Spray equipment ensures an even distribution of nutrients across the lawn, reducing the risk of uneven feeding that can occur with granular fertilizers.
  • Foliar feeding: Liquid fertilizers can be absorbed directly through the grass blades, known as foliar feeding. This method can be particularly effective in providing nutrients directly to the plant, bypassing the soil and ensuring that the grass receives the nutrients it needs promptly. This feature also makes liquid fertilizers ideal for mixing with plant growth regulators and biostimulants.
  • Lower cost per application: Liquid fertilizers can be less expensive per application than granular fertilizers, especially when more frequent applications are needed.

Disadvantages:

  • Frequent applications needed: Because liquid fertilizers are quickly absorbed and used by the grass, they often need to be reapplied more frequently than granular fertilizers. This can mean more time spent on lawn care and potentially higher costs over time.
  • Higher potential for uneven application: If not applied correctly, liquid fertilizers can lead to uneven coverage, which can cause patchy growth and potentially burn the grass in areas where too much fertilizer is applied. The trick here is to mix a marker dye with your liquid fertilizer so you can see where you have already sprayed.

Liquid fertilizers offer a fast-acting solution for lawn care, providing immediate results and easy application through spraying. They are particularly useful for spoon feeding programs where foliar feeding is ideal. However, the need for frequent applications and the potential for uneven coverage are important considerations.


Related: Why it's Great to Spoon Feeding Your Lawn


Granular Fertilizer

Granular Fertilizer

Granular fertilizer is composed of small, solid particles spread across the lawn using a spreader. These particles come in various formulations, including slow-release and quick-release options, allowing for flexibility in how and when nutrients are delivered to the grass. Granular fertilizers are known for their ease of storage and application, making them popular among homeowners and lawn care professionals.

Advantages:

  • Longer-lasting effects with slow-release options: Slow-release granular fertilizers provide nutrients over an extended period, reducing the need for frequent applications. This steady feeding helps maintain consistent lawn health and minimizes the risk of nutrient burn.
  • Ease of storage and less bulky: Granular fertilizers are easy to store and handle, often coming in bags that can be kept in a garage or shed without taking up much space. Unlike liquid fertilizers, they are less sensitive to temperature and only require a broadcast spreader to apply.
  • Cost-effective over time: While the initial cost of granular fertilizer might be comparable to or slightly higher than liquid fertilizer, its long-lasting nature means fewer applications are needed. This can make granular fertilizers more cost-effective for extended feeding, especially for large lawns.

Disadvantages:

  • Slower absorption and results: Granular fertilizers release nutrients more slowly than liquid fertilizers, meaning it can take 5-7 days to see visible improvements in lawn health and appearance. This slower release can be a disadvantage when you want quick results.
  • It requires even application to avoid burn spots: Proper application of granular fertilizer is crucial to prevent over-concentration in certain areas, which can lead to burn spots on the lawn. Using a broadcast or drop spreader can help achieve an even distribution, but it requires accurate calibration and operation.
  • It can be difficult to dissolve into the soil without adequate watering: Granular fertilizer must be watered into the soil to be effective. Without adequate watering, the granules can remain on the surface, leading to uneven nutrient distribution and potential waste. We recommend applying to a dry lawn and watering into the turf within 48 hours with 1/4" of irrigation or rainfall. Using fertilizers with a smaller particle size speeds up nutrient uptake and reduces the chance for burning the lawn.

Granular fertilizers provide a long-lasting and cost-effective solution for lawn care, with the convenience of easy storage and handling. While they require careful application and sufficient watering to be effective, their extended nutrient release makes them ideal for maintaining steady lawn health.


Related: How to Read Fertilizer Numbers


Application Techniques

Liquid Fertilizer Application

Liquid Fertilizer Application

Methods:

  • Hose-end sprayers: These devices attach to your garden hose and mix the concentrated liquid fertilizer with water as you spray, providing an easy and efficient way to cover large areas. However, hose-end spreaders offer less control for an even application.
  • Backpack sprayers: Ideal for precision application, backpack sprayers, like this  4-gallon battery sprayer, allow for targeted spraying and are great for treating specific areas that need extra attention.
  • Irrigation systems: Some irrigation systems can be adapted to distribute liquid fertilizer, ensuring even coverage with minimal effort. This more niche process for applying liquid fertilizer is called fertigation.

Tips for Even Coverage:

  • Read the instructions: Always follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding dilution ratios and application rates to avoid over-application or insufficient feeding.
  • Move at a consistent pace: Walk at a steady pace while spraying to ensure even distribution. Overlapping slightly with each pass can help prevent missed spots.
  • Check the weather: Apply liquid fertilizer on a calm day to avoid wind drift, and aim for early morning or late afternoon applications to reduce evaporation and ensure better absorption.

Granular Fertilizer Application

Granular Fertilizer Application

Methods:

  • Broadcast spreaders: These spreaders distribute granules in a wide, even pattern. They are suitable for large lawns and provide quick coverage.
  • Drop spreaders: Drop spreaders release granules directly below the spreader, offering precise control and reducing the risk of granules landing on unintended areas such as driveways or flower beds.

Tips for Avoiding Over-Application and Burn Spots:

  • Calibrate your spreader: Before starting, calibrate your spreader according to the fertilizer's instructions. Proper calibration ensures the correct amount of fertilizer is applied. Use our fertilizer calculator to work out how much you need for your lawn size.
  • Overlap slightly: When using a broadcast spreader, slightly overlap each pass to ensure complete coverage without missed spots.
  • Apply on dry grass: Spread granular fertilizer on dry grass to ensure the granules don't stick to the blades. Water the lawn immediately after application to help dissolve the granules and move nutrients into the soil.
  • Follow a consistent pattern: Apply the fertilizer in a consistent, systematic pattern to avoid uneven application. Consider applying in two perpendicular directions for thorough coverage.

Proper application techniques are crucial for maximizing the benefits of both liquid and granular fertilizers. Whether using a backpack sprayer for liquid fertilizer or a broadcast spreader for granular fertilizer, following these tips will help ensure even distribution and effective nutrient delivery to your lawn.

Situational Use Cases

Choosing between liquid and granular fertilizer often depends on your lawn’s specific needs and circumstances. Understanding when to use each type can help you achieve the best results for a healthy, vibrant lawn.

When to Use Liquid Fertilizer

  • Early spring for quick green-up: After the winter dormancy, lawns often need a quick boost to start the growing season strong. Liquid fertilizer provides immediate nutrients, helping your lawn green up faster.
  • Mid-season boost for a stressed lawn: During the hot summer months, lawns can become stressed due to heat and drought. A quick application of liquid fertilizer containing potassium can provide immediate relief and nourishment, helping to revive and sustain your lawn through the stressful period.
  • Foliar feeding in nutrient-deficient areas: If you notice specific areas of your lawn showing signs of nutrient deficiency, liquid fertilizer can be applied directly to the leaves for immediate absorption. This targeted feeding can quickly correct deficiencies and promote even growth.

When to Use Granular Fertilizer

  • Regular, long-term feeding schedules: Granular fertilizer is ideal for ongoing maintenance and consistent lawn health. Slow-release granular fertilizers provide a steady supply of nutrients over an extended period, reducing the need for frequent applications.
  • Preparing lawn for winter dormancy: In the fall, applying a granular fertilizer can help prepare your lawn for winter. The slow release of nutrients supports root development and strengthens the grass, making it more resilient to the cold and ready to thrive in the spring.
  • Base feeding in new lawn establishment: When establishing a new lawn, using a granular fertilizer can provide a stable foundation of nutrients. Slow-release options ensure that young grass plants receive a consistent supply of essential nutrients as they establish their root systems.

Related: Top Tips for Fertilizing Your Lawn: Choosing the Right Lawn Fertilizer



Our Top 3 Liquid Fertilizers

Selecting the right liquid fertilizer can make all the difference in achieving a lush, healthy lawn. We’ve curated a list of the top three liquid fertilizers that cater to various lawn care needs, ensuring you have the best options at your disposal. Here’s our selection of the best liquid fertilizers available:

1. Golf Course Lawn 20-2-3 Liquid Fertilizer with Kelp and Fulvic Acid

1 Gallon 20-2-3 coverage



Golf Course Lawn 20-2-3 Liquid Fertilizer is a powerhouse formulation designed for comprehensive lawn nutrition. With a balanced NPK ratio of 20-2-3, this fertilizer provides a robust supply of nitrogen for vibrant growth, phosphorus for strong root development, and potassium for overall health and stress resistance.

Key Benefits:

  • High nitrogen content promotes rapid green-up and vigorous growth.
  • Kelp and fulvic acid enhance nutrient uptake and improve soil structure, leading to healthier roots and increased resilience.
  • Suitable for various lawn types and ideal for use during the growing season.

 

2. Golf Course Lawn Micronutrient Liquid Fertilizer with 2% Iron

Golf Course Lawn Micros 1 Gallon



For those looking to address specific nutrient deficiencies, Golf Course Lawn Micronutrient Liquid Fertilizer with 2% Iron is an excellent choice. This product is formulated to deliver essential micronutrients that might be missing from your soil, ensuring your lawn has everything it needs to thrive.

Key Benefits:

  • Supplies critical trace elements such as iron, manganese, and zinc, vital for plant health and vibrant color.
  • Liquid form allows for quick uptake by grass, rapidly correcting deficiencies.
  • It enhances metabolic functions and boosts the lawn's resistance to diseases and environmental stressors.

 

3. Release 901C™ Biostimulant with Fertilizer

Release 901C 1 gallon jug on lawn



Release 901C™ is a cutting-edge liquid fertilizer that focuses on providing essential nutrients in a highly efficient manner. With a unique formulation designed for maximum absorption and effectiveness, Release 901C™ stands out as a premium choice for serious lawn enthusiasts.

Key Benefits:

  • It features 9% nitrogen for immediate impact on lawn health and appearance.
  • 10% liquid carbon and micronutrients to boost soil biology
  • The formulation promotes quick greening and sustained growth, ideal for maintaining a pristine lawn. 

Our Top 3 Granular Fertilizer Choices

Granular fertilizers offer long-lasting and consistent nutrient delivery, making them a staple for many lawn care routines. We've selected the top three granular fertilizers that excel in performance and value, ensuring your lawn gets the best care possible. Here are our top picks:

1. Country Club 16-0-8 Humic Max by Lebanon Turf

16-0-8 on lawn


Country Club 16-0-8 Humic Max is a premium granular fertilizer designed for superior lawn health. A balanced NPK ratio of 16-0-8 provides ample nitrogen for growth and potassium for stress tolerance, while the inclusion of humic acid and MESA® technology enhances nutrient uptake and efficiency.

Key Benefits:

  • It improves soil health and nutrient absorption, promoting stronger roots and healthier grass.
  • MESA® Technology ensures a consistent slow release of nitrogen, reducing the risk of nutrient burn and providing sustained feeding.
  • A balanced NPK ratio supports overall lawn vitality and resilience.
  • Delivers a fast green-up without causing overgrowth.

 

2. Lebanon Country Club Complete Fertilizer 14-7-14

14-7-14 Fertilizer on Lawn


Lebanon Country Club Complete 14-7-14 Fertilizer offers a well-rounded nutrient profile with an NPK ratio of 14-7-14, making it ideal for comprehensive lawn care. This formulation provides balanced feeding, ensuring that your lawn gets the essential nutrients it needs for robust growth and root development.

Key Benefits:

  • A complete nutrient profile delivers a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, catering to all aspects of lawn health.
  • Smaller granules ensure even distribution and better soil integration.
  • It is suitable for various lawn types and conditions, making it an excellent all-purpose fertilizer.
  • Ideal for both warm and cool-season lawns
  • Delivers a fast green-up within 5-7 days.

 

3. Lebanon Country Club Stress 12-0-24 Fertilizer

12-0-24 fertilizer on lawn


Lebanon Country Club Stress 12-0-24 Fertilizer is specifically formulated to help lawns withstand and recover from environmental stressors. With a high potassium content (12-0-24 NPK ratio), this fertilizer enhances the lawn’s ability to resist disease, drought, and temperature extremes.

Key Benefits:

  • High potassium content boosts lawn resilience to stress factors such as drought, disease, and extreme temperatures.
  • It helps lawns recover more quickly from adverse conditions, maintaining health and appearance.
  • It is ideal for areas where soil phosphorus levels are already sufficient or where regulations limit phosphorus use.
  • Contains iron, magnesium, and manganese for a richer green color
  • Fast green-up within 5-7 days using 12% nitrogen.

Related: The Best Types of Organic Fertilizers for Your Lawn


Environmental Impact

Using fertilizers responsibly is crucial not only for maintaining a healthy lawn but also for protecting the environment. Both liquid and granular fertilizers have unique environmental impacts, and understanding these can help you make more eco-friendly choices and apply them responsibly.

Liquid Fertilizer

Potential for Runoff

If applied excessively or immediately before heavy rain, liquid fertilizers can easily run off into nearby water bodies. This runoff can lead to nutrient pollution in lakes, rivers, and streams, promoting algae blooms and negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems.

Rapid Absorption

While the quick absorption of liquid fertilizers is beneficial for lawn health, it also means that any excess nutrients not absorbed by the grass can leach into the soil and potentially contaminate groundwater.

Granular Fertilizer

Potential for Leaching

Granular fertilizers, especially quick-release ones, can leach into the soil if over-applied or not adequately watered in. This leaching can introduce excess nutrients into groundwater, contributing to water quality issues.

Risk of Over-Application

Granular fertilizers, if not spread evenly, can lead to areas of over-application. This can result in nutrient hotspots, which are more likely to contribute to runoff and leaching during rain or irrigation.

Best Practices

Using Slow-Release Formulas

Opt for slow-release fertilizers whenever possible. These formulations release nutrients gradually, reducing the risk of runoff and leaching. They provide a steady supply of nutrients to your lawn while minimizing environmental impact.

Proper Application Timing

Apply fertilizers during periods of active grass growth when the lawn can best utilize the nutrients. Avoid fertilizing before heavy rains, as this increases the risk of runoff. Early morning or late afternoon applications are generally best.

Accurate Application Rates

Always follow the manufacturer's recommended application rates to avoid over-fertilizing. Using a properly calibrated spreader for granular fertilizers and correctly diluted solutions for liquid fertilizers ensures that you apply the right amount.

Responsible Watering Practices

After applying granular fertilizers, water the lawn lightly to help dissolve the granules and move nutrients into the soil. However, avoid over-watering, which can contribute to nutrient runoff.

Both liquid and granular fertilizers have environmental considerations that must be managed to protect surrounding ecosystems. By choosing slow-release options, timing applications wisely, and adhering to recommended application rates, you can minimize the environmental impact of your lawn care practices. Responsible fertilization not only promotes a healthy lawn but also contributes to the overall health of the environment.


Related: The Pros and Cons of Using Lawn Fertilizer


Liquid Gold or Granular Greatness?

Ultimately, the decision between liquid and granular fertilizers boils down to your lawn care goals, preferences, and budget constraints. Whether you opt for the rapid results of liquid fertilizers or the long-lasting benefits of granular fertilizers, prioritizing proper application techniques and environmental stewardship will ensure the health and vitality of your lawn for years to come.

Remember, the success of your lawn care regimen relies not only on the type of fertilizer you choose but also on consistent maintenance practices, including twice-weekly mowing, watering, and soil management. By combining the right fertilizer with diligent care and attention, you can enjoy a lush, green lawn that enhances the beauty and value of your home.

Golf Course Lawn Store is the expert in lawn maintenance. Browse our full range of products, or enroll in the Golf Course Lawn Academy to put you on the path to achieving a stunning, vibrant lawn today.