Step 3: Selecting Fertilizer

Read the Label


All fertilizer labels have three bold numbers. The first number on the label represents nitrogen, the second number represents phosphorus and the third number represents potassium. These are the three major nutrients your lawn needs to thrive.

In general, select a fertilizer where the first and third numbers on the label are equal or in a 2:1 ratio and the middle number is zero or as low as possible.

Look for a fertilizer where the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus (the first to second number) is a minimum of 4 to 1. For example, a 12-3-10 and a 15-0-15 fertilizer would follow this recommendation.

Choose Slow-Release Fertilizer

Most home lawn fertilizers contain some slow-release nitrogen. It takes longer for your yard to benefit from slow-release nitrogen, but the effects will last longer. Many of these fertilizers provide fertilization for 60 days or longer, depending on environmental conditions. As a result, fewer nutrients may be wasted or lost as pollutants.

To find a slow-release fertilizer, look for these terms on the product or fertilizer tag for nitrogen:

  • Timed-release, slow-release or controlled-release
  • Water insoluble nitrogen
  • Isobutylidene diurea (IBDU)
  • Ureaform (UF)
  • Nitroform
  • Sulfur-, polymer-, plastic- or resin-coated urea

Tips for Newly Planted Turf

  • Do not fertilize newly planted lawns (whether seeded or sodded) until 30–60 days after planting. This ensures that there is an active root system to absorb the nutrients. Apply a complete (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to provide 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
  • After the initial fertilization, follow UF/IFAS guidelines for your grass species for fertilizing established turf.

Additional Tips

  • Do not use weed and feed products. They may harm landscape plants if roots extend into the lawn area.
  • Consider applying a soluble or chelated iron source to green the lawn without increasing growth in the summer.
  • Avoid liquid and soluble nitrogen fertilizer. These products should be used only by professional turfgrass managers.

Labeling Requirements Rule

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services passed a rule regulating labeling requirements in the state for urban turf fertilizers. The new labeling requirements will make it easier for homeowners to find lawn fertilizers with both slow-release nitrogen and low phosphorus. This rule is intended to reduce potential pollution that might result from application of excess fertilizer to lawns.

  • Rule for phosphorus — application rates are not to exceed 0.25 pound per 1,000 square feet per application and are not to exceed 0.5 pound of phosphorus per 1,000 square feet per year.
  • Rule for nitrogen — application rates for slow-release nitrogen are not to exceed 1 pound per 1,000 square feet per application. Application rates for quick-release nitrogen are not to exceed 0.7 pound per 1,000 square feet per application.

Watch the How to Read a Fertilizer Bag and Chose a Fertilizer Video »


Step 4: Applying Fertilizer »