The Pros and Cons of Using Lawn Fertilizer

Maintaining a healthy and vibrant lawn is a goal for many of us. A well-kept lawn not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of your property but also provides a space for outdoor activities, increases property value, and contributes to a cleaner environment. 

One key aspect of lawn care is the use of fertilizers, which play a vital role in nourishing the soil and providing essential nutrients to support a healthy lawn.

In this post, we will delve into the advantages and disadvantages of using lawn fertilizer, examine alternative options, and discuss best practices for responsible fertilizer use. By understanding the various factors at play, you can strike a balance between a thriving lawn and environmental responsibility, ultimately creating an outdoor space you can enjoy with peace of mind.

Pros of Using Lawn Fertilizer

Aerial View of Big Garden Grass Field Mowing by Caucasian Gardener. Summer Time Landscape Maintenance.

Enhanced Nutrient Availability

One of the primary benefits of using fertilizer for lawns is enhanced nutrient availability in the soil which improves grass quality. Over time, the soil naturally loses nutrients, which is why a one-time fertilization won't cut it. Regularly fertilizing your lawn is needed to replenish these nutrients and sustain the health and appearance of your grass and other plants. Through regular fertilizer applications, you ensure that the soil remains rich in essential nutrients, allowing your lawn to thrive and maintain its vibrant color and lush look.

  • Improved Soil Fertility
    Fertilizers contain a combination of essential nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), along with secondary and micronutrients. These nutrients are crucial for healthy plant growth and development. Nutrient-rich soil promotes robust root development, leading to healthier and more resilient grass.

    These nutrients are abbreviated as "N-P-K" on fertilizer bags, with a number indicated above each letter. These numbers represent the percentage of each macronutrient present in the specific fertilizer. For example, a 16-0-8 fertilizer contains 16% nitrogen, no phosphorus and 8% potassium. To find out which fertilizer is the best fit for your lawn, you will need to perform a soil test.

    While macronutrients are crucial for your lawn's health, soil also needs micronutrients, albeit in smaller quantities. These micronutrients play an essential role in maintaining soil fertility and supporting optimal plant color and growth.

    To address any potential deficiencies in micronutrients, we recommend using Golf Course Lawn Micronutrient Blend. This product is designed to correct imbalances and ensure that your lawn receives all the necessary micronutrients needed to thrive.

  • Promotes Healthy Root Development 
    Granular lawn fertilizers contain nutrients that are readily absorbed by the grass roots, stimulating their growth and increasing their capacity to extract water and nutrients from the soil. Strong and extensive root systems contribute to a lusher and more durable lawn.


Related: Why You Should Start Spoon Feeding Your Lawn


Increased Grass Growth and Vigor

Using fertilizers on your lawn can result in lush, green growth and overall improved vigor of the grass. This has several desirable outcomes for the appearance and functionality of your lawn.

  • Thick and Lush Lawn Appearance 
    Fertilizers provide the necessary nutrients to support a growing lawn, resulting in a dense and visually appealing lawn. A thick lawn creates a uniform green carpet and acts like natural weed control—more on that next.

  • Efficient Weed Suppression
    By promoting healthy grass growth, fertilizers help to create a dense turf that naturally suppresses the growth of weeds. A thick grass canopy shades the soil, making it difficult for weed seeds to germinate and establish themselves. This prevents you from having to spend a fortune on weedkillers. Likewise, a healthy lawn has fewer pests, reducing the need for insecticides.

Targeted Nutrient Delivery

Lawn fertilizers come in various formulations designed to address specific nutrient requirements of the soil and grass. This targeted approach allows you to customize your fertilization program based on your lawn's particular needs. 

  • Customizable Formulations for Specific Needs 
    Fertilizers are available in different ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, allowing you to tailor the nutrient composition to address deficiencies or imbalances identified through soil testing or visual indicators.

  • Correcting Nutrient Deficiencies 
    Fertilizers can effectively address nutrient deficiencies in the soil. For example, if a soil test reveals a low phosphorus level, applying a fertilizer with phosphorus can help rectify the deficiency and promote healthier plant growth.

Environmental Benefits

While the environmental impact of fertilizers can be a concern, their proper use can yield some ecological benefits.

  • Reduced Soil Erosion 
    A healthy lawn with a robust root system holds soil in place, reducing the risk of erosion caused by wind and water. Fertilizers contribute to the development of strong roots, helping to prevent soil erosion.

  • Increased Carbon Sequestration 
    Well-maintained lawns with healthy grass actively absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Fertilizers can support this process by providing the necessary nutrients for vigorous grass growth, contributing to carbon sequestration, and other environmental changes.

Related: When Is the Best Time to Fertilize Your Lawn?


Cons of Using Lawn Fertilizer

While lawn fertilizers offer several benefits, it is crucial to consider their potential drawbacks and the associated environmental concerns. Understanding the cons can help you make informed decisions and adopt responsible practices in your lawn care routine.

Potential Environmental Hazards

Global pollution of the environment and water bodies. A man collects green water in a bottle for analysis. Water bloom, reproduction of phytoplankton, algae in the lake, river, poor ecology
  • Water Pollution from Runoff
    Improper application or excessive use of fertilizers can lead to runoff, where rainwater or irrigation water carries the excess nutrients into nearby water bodies. This runoff can contribute to water pollution, causing algae blooms, oxygen depletion, and harm to aquatic ecosystems.

  • Harmful Effects on Aquatic Ecosystems 
    Excessive nutrient runoff, particularly of phosphorus and nitrogen, can lead to eutrophication in lakes, ponds, and streams. Eutrophication promotes the growth of algae, which can negatively impact aquatic plants, fish, and other organisms by depleting oxygen levels and disrupting the ecosystem's natural balance.

Overuse and Misuse

  • Risk of Over-fertilization 
    Applying excessive amounts of fertilizer can lead to over-fertilization, causing nutrient imbalances, nutrient leaching, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. Over-fertilization not only wastes resources but also poses a risk to the environment and the health of the lawn itself.

  • Negative Impact on Soil Health 
    Over time, excessive reliance on fertilizers without addressing underlying soil health issues can lead to soil degradation. The soil may become dependent on external nutrient sources, reducing its natural fertility and beneficial microbial activity. This can result in long-term damage to the soil structure and overall ecosystem health.

Financial Considerations

  • Cost of Purchasing and Applying Fertilizer 
    Lawn fertilizers can be an additional expense in lawn care. Depending on the size of the lawn and the frequency of application, the cost of purchasing fertilizers can add up over time.

  • Maintenance and Monitoring Expenses
    To ensure effective and responsible fertilizer use, regular soil testing, monitoring, and appropriate application are necessary. These additional maintenance and monitoring expenses should be taken into account when considering the overall cost of using lawn fertilizers.


Related: Everything You Need to Know About Lawn Fertilization


Alternatives to Traditional Lawn Fertilizers

While traditional lawn fertilizers offer benefits, you may want to consider alternative approaches that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable. These alternatives provide options for maintaining a healthy lawn while minimizing the potential drawbacks of conventional fertilizers.

Compost and store-bought organic fertilizers are two options for enriching your soil. Compost is a type of organic fertilizer that you can create in your own backyard by decomposing organic matter like dead leaves and vegetable peelings. 

Making compost from organic waste in the garden. A woman stirs waste in a wooden compost bin with a pitchfork. Using kitchen waste to make compost. Increasing the fertility and aeration of the soil.

If you're looking for an instant nutrient supply for your lawn, professionally formulated organic fertilizers like Mirimichi Green's Premium Organic Fertilizer and Biostimulant are a great choice. This OMRI-listed fertilizer provides immediate nutrients to your lawn while being eco-friendly and safe for both pets and people. You can rest easy knowing that using these fertilizers won't harm nearby ecosystems through harmful runoff. They’re also slow-release, which means you won’t burn your lawn using them.

For a ready-to-use compost, consider CarbonizPN (also available in 2000 LB SUPER SACK). This product combines compost and biochar to feed your soil and increase nutrient availability.

Organic Fertilizers

  • Natural Nutrient Sources
    Organic fertilizers utilize natural ingredients such as compost, manure, bone meal, or seaweed extracts to provide nutrients to the soil. They release nutrients slowly and steadily, promoting long-term soil health and minimizing the risk of nutrient runoff.

  • Reduced Environmental Impact
    Organic fertilizers are typically less likely to contribute to water pollution or harm aquatic ecosystems. They often have lower nitrogen content, reducing the risk of nutrient leaching and minimizing the potential for excessive plant growth that can attract pests and diseases.

Composting and Mulching

  • Nutrient Recycling and Soil improvement 
    Composting kitchen scraps, yard waste, and grass clippings provide a rich source of organic matter that can be used as a natural fertilizer. The compost enriches the soil, improves its structure, and enhances its water-holding capacity.

  • Cost-effective and Sustainable Approach
    Composting and mulching are cost-effective alternatives that reduce waste and promote sustainable lawn care practices. They can help retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and reduce the need for external fertilizers.


Related: The Best Types of Organic Fertilizers for Your Lawn


Best Practices for Using Lawn Fertilizer

Using lawn fertilizer responsibly and effectively is key to maximizing its benefits while minimizing potential drawbacks. By following these best practices, you can ensure the proper application and management of fertilizers, regardless of the type you choose.

Understanding Fertilizer Labels and Instructions

Understanding Fertilizer Labels and Instructions
  • Read and Follow the Instructions 
    Familiarize yourself with the instructions provided on the fertilizer packaging. Pay attention to recommended application rates, timing, and any specific precautions or safety measures.

  • Know the Nutrient Content 
    Understand the nutrient composition of the fertilizer by reading the label. The three main nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), are typically represented by three numbers (N-P-K) that indicate the percentage of each nutrient in the product. Your soil test results will indicate the nutrient deficiencies you need to address. Use this data to guide application rates.

Proper Application Techniques

  • Calibrate Application Equipment 
    Use calibrated spreaders or sprayers such as this 4-Gallon Backpack Sprayer to ensure accurate and even distribution of the fertilizer. This helps avoid over-application in certain areas and under-application in others.

  • Avoid Heavy Overlapping Application 
    Overlapping fertilizer application areas can lead to uneven nutrient distribution and potentially harm the lawn. Heavy overlaps can lead to grass damage and uneven color. Do your best to maintain a consistent pattern during application.

Timing and Frequency of Application

  • Follow the Recommended Schedule 
    Fertilizers have specific application guidelines regarding timing. Generally, it is best to apply fertilizer when the grass is actively growing, typically during spring and fall. Avoid applying during periods of drought or high heat to minimize stress on the lawn.

    Read our articles on the best lawn fertilizers to use in spring and the best lawn fertilizers to use in fall for more information on when best to fertilize your lawn and how often.

Importance of Watering and Irrigation

  • Water After Application 
    To ensure proper nutrient absorption and minimize the risk of fertilizer burn, water the lawn after applying fertilizer (unless otherwise stated on the packaging instructions). This helps dissolve the fertilizer granules and makes nutrients available to the grass roots.

  • Practice Efficient Watering 
    Use appropriate watering techniques to prevent excess runoff and nutrient loss. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth and reduce the likelihood of nutrient leaching.


Related: How Often Should I Water My Lawn?


Regular Soil Testing and Monitoring

  • Conduct Regular Soil Tests
    Periodically test the soil to assess nutrient levels and pH. This information helps determine the specific fertilizer requirements of your lawn and enables you to make informed decisions about nutrient application.

    If you're curious about the nutrient levels in your soil, consider purchasing a soil test kit to get accurate insights. Our recommended choice is the test kit from MySoil, which offers comprehensive testing for 13 essential plant-available nutrients. These nutrients include Nitrogen (N) in the forms of Nitrate and Ammonium, Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Boron (B), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), and Sodium (Na).

    Conduct Regular Soil Tests

    In addition to nutrient analysis, the MySoil test kit provides information about your soil's pH level, which is crucial for optimizing nutrient uptake. If you discover that your soil's pH is higher or lower than desired, you can use MAG-I-CAL® PLUS from Jonathan Green to adjust and raise the pH or lower the pH accordingly. This product is designed to help you create the ideal pH balance for your soil, ensuring optimal nutrient availability for your plants.

  • Monitor Lawn Health
    Keep an eye on the overall health and appearance of your lawn. Watch for signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses, such as yellowing grass or excessive growth, and adjust fertilizer application accordingly. We recommend you use the Golf Course Lawn Carbon Kit. It consists of three products: Release ZERO™ or Release 901C™, Nutri-Kelp™, and ByoSpxtrum™, and can be mixed with fertilizer, herbicide, and growth regulator for a perfect lawn.

    Monitor Lawn Health

Ultimately, making informed decisions and adopting responsible practices in using lawn fertilizers are vital for maintaining a healthy lawn while minimizing environmental impact. By striking a balance between the benefits and potential drawbacks, homeowners can create an outdoor space that is not only visually appealing but also environmentally sustainable.

So, whether you choose to use traditional fertilizers or explore alternative options, remember to prioritize the health of your lawn and the well-being of the environment. By doing so, you can enjoy a beautiful, thriving lawn that brings joy and enhances your outdoor experience for years to come.

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.