Granular vs. Liquid Fertilizer – Which is Better?


Jul 24, 2020

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It’s that time of year again — time to feed your lawn. But when you walk into the lawn and garden center, you’re not only bombarded with dozens of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) options, but you also have those mixed with post-emergent herbicidespost-emergent herbicides and the option of granular or liquid fertilizer.

While the NPK and herbicide options depend on your lawn’s specific needs, the choice between granular or liquid fertilizer isn’t nearly as black and white. Each has its pros and cons, and your personal preferences will also influence the granular vs. liquid debate.

Below we dive deep into the granular vs. liquid fertilizer battle to see the benefits and drawbacks of each and which is better for you.

Granular Fertilizer: Pros and Cons

Granular fertilizers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and mixtures. However, they all have one thing in common: they’re solid chunks of product you spread around your yard and water into the soil.

Here are the pros and cons of granular fertilizer.

Granular Fertilizer Pros

There are plenty of benefits to using granular fertilizer. Here are the most important ones.

Cheaper to Buy in Bulk

Go to any home improvement or lawn and garden store and compare the price per pound of nutrients. Almost every time, you’ll find granular fertilizer is less expensive than liquid.

Easy to Store

So long as you keep it dry, granular fertilizer is suitable for long-term storage. So, if you find a great deal on the granular fertilizer you prefer, you can buy multiple seasons’ worth and store it in your garage or shed.

More Effective for Slow Release

While there are slow-release liquid fertilizers, granular fertilizer’s solid form simply has a better structure for slowly releasing nutrients into your soil. This helps prevent fertilizer burn and reduces the number of feedings you must do each year.

Granular Fertilizer Cons

Though there are good reasons to use granular fertilizer, there are some disadvantages to using it too.

Nutrients May Not Reach the Roots

Because granular fertilizer requires water to get it into the soil, there’s a possibility the nutrients won’t make it to the roots if you’re not watering enough. This can lead to those valuable nutrients sitting near the soil’s surface and not doing their job effectively.

Need Special Equipment to Apply

To effectively apply granular fertilizer, you need either a broadcast or drop spreader. On the cheaper side, these can run about $30. For a high-quality one, you could spend $60-$150. If you have a large yard, you may need a tow-behind spreader, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Even Application is Not Easy

Even with a spreader, applying a granular fertilizer evenly is difficult for a few reasons. First, you may need to calibrate your spreader to match the fertilizer and walk or drive at the right speed to spread it properly. Second, it’s sometimes difficult to see where you’ve already fertilized, especially in thick grass.

Harder Work

Spreading granular fertilizer requires a lot of work. Not only do you have to dump that heavy bag into the spreader, but you must also walk your entire yard in a precise pattern, then water the fertilizer into the soil.

Higher Salt Content

Slow-release granular fertilizer generally has a higher salt content. This can cause lawn burning, especially in newer grass or if you mistakenly over-fertilize.

Liquid Fertilizer: Pros and Cons

Like granular fertilizer, there are many liquid fertilizer options, but they all have the same pros and cons.

Liquid Fertilizer Pros

There are many benefits to using liquid fertilizers. Here are some of the key benefits of using liquid fertilizer.

Easy to Use

By far the most significant benefit of liquid fertilizer is its ease of use. Whether you’re using a hose connected to a hose-end bottle, a standard spray bottle, or a backpack sprayer, it’s simpler to spray liquid fertilizer than push or pull a clunky spreader through your yard.

No Special Tools

If you opt for a hose-based spray bottle, the only tool you need is a garden hose and access to running water. Connect the hose to the bottle, turn the hose, and spray your yard.

Easily Mixes With Other Products

Liquid fertilizer is easy to mix with other liquids. For example, if you want to fertilize and apply a pesticide or selective herbicide simultaneously, mix the products together in a spray bottle or spray backpack and scratch two items of your to-do list at once.

Easy to Track Where You’ve Fertilized

You can mix a liquid fertilizer with a pattern indicator dye that temporarily colors the grass in the areas you’ve fertilized. This way, you always know where you’ve fertilized and where you haven’t, preventing over- or under-fertilization.

Gets to the Roots

Because liquid fertilizers get absorbed into the soil almost immediately, the nutrients quickly make their way to the roots. This means there’s no guessing how much watering is enough to get the nutrients into the soil. Plus, you’ll see your lawn regreen quicker.

Liquid Fertilizer Cons

Liquid fertilizers are great options for most homeowners, but they aren’t without a few cons. Here are some of the key downsides to keep in mind when using liquid fertilizers.

May Separate in Storage

If you leave your liquid fertilizer sitting in your garage or shed through the cold winter, it may separate, leaving the inactive liquid near the top and nutrients on the bottom. If you use this separated product the following season, it can lead to over- or under-concentration, causing havoc to your lawn.

Doesn’t Last as Long

Granular fertilizer can last an entire season or longer, but liquid fertilizer generally doesn’t. You may have to fertilize more often if you opt for liquid fertilizer.

Higher Cost

Generally, liquid fertilizer costs more than granular. Add to that the potential for more frequent fertilization, and you may end up paying more each year to keep your lawn green with liquid than granular fertilizer.

The Weather Can Affect Application

Because it comes out as a spray, high winds can impact the effectiveness of liquid fertilizers. If the winds blow too hard while applying liquid fertilizer, it can blow the product into an area you’ve already fertilized and potentially cause burning from over-fertilization.

Which is Best for You: Granular or Liquid Fertilizer?

With it being so easy you use, easier to mix, and more effective at penetrating your soil without watering, liquid fertilizer is a virtual no-brainer when you’re looking to regreen your lawn or just maintain its lush appearance. However, if you have a limited budget or live in an area with consistent heavy winds, granular fertilizer may be the best route for you.