It’s no secret that liquid fertilizers have seen a large increase in popularity among homeowners and lawn care professionals in recent years.
From supplemental feedings to an “all liquid diet”, more and more people are choosing to include liquid turf products in their normal lawn care routines.
However, understanding how these products work and determining which fertilizer is right for you can be tricky and will vary based on personal goals and your lawn’s unique needs.
Below, we’ll specifically dive into what liquid fertilizer is, its benefits, and how to decide if it’s the right option for you.
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What is fertilizer and why does our grass need it?
In a nutshell, fertilizer is food for your grass. It comes in a wide range of forms, but its primary function is to deliver the nutrients your lawn needs to survive.
The key macronutrients common fertilizers provide are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
However, plants actually require 17 essential nutrients to survive, so some fertilizers also include other micronutrients, such as iron, manganese, or sulfur for added benefits.
Whether it’s from leaching or poor conditions, most soils do not offer the level of nutrients needed to give your lawn that lush, green look. This is why including fertilizer with your regular maintenance plan can be critical to the overall health of your lawn.
What is NPK?
When shopping for fertilizer, you’ll see a series of three numbers on the label of every package, bag, or bottle.
This is the “NPK,” which is the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in the fertilizer.
For example, if you purchase a 20-10-10 fertilizer, it contains 20% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, 10% potassium. The remaining 60% is usually other micronutrients, inactive ingredients, or other trace elements.
Here’s what each nutrient does for your grass.
Nitrogen promotes rapid growth and helps develop a lush, green hue.
You’d want to use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer when your grass is struggling to grow or starts losing its deep green with no sign of drought or disease.
Phosphorus helps your lawn with root growth, giving the grass a strong connection with the soil for improved nutrient and water uptake.
Because strong root systems are so critical to new grass, it’s common for starter fertilizers to be high in phosphorus. These fertilizers are a great option to use before seeding or laying sod to help with the germination process.
Potassium is great for overall lawn health and is critical in disease, drought, and cold resistance.
If you’re heading into the cold season or your grass has been battling fungal diseases, look for a potassium-heavy fertilizer to help combat the problem.
Types of Liquid Fertilizer
Generally speaking, when you walk into any lawn-and-garden store you’ll find three different categories of liquid fertilizer: water-soluble, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-use.
All liquid fertilizer types will provide an instant injection of nutrients into your lawn when applied correctly, but there are some key differences to keep in mind.
Water-soluble fertilizers typically come in powder form so that it is easily mixed with water.
More commonly packaged and formulated for houseplants, this is the least used type of fertilizer for lawns, and choices for different NPK ratios are slim.
However, water solubles can definitely be more economical than the other two types while also saving you some garage storage space. These products typically come in small, lightweight packaging and you may only need a couple of scoops of powder per application.
Liquid concentrate is a type of fertilizer that comes in a bottle or jug and is easily mixed with water for applications.
Generally regarded as a more user-friendly option, liquid concentrate works the same as water-soluble fertilizers as they need to be pre-measured and mixed with water before applying.
This is one of the most widely used liquid fertilizer types by both beginners and advanced users, however, careful calculations will still need to be made to ensure safe and accurate applications.
Luckily, since these types of fertilizers have gained popularity there are plenty of compatible sprayer equipment to pair these products with and a plethora of YouTube videos and how-to blogs to help get you started!
Perfect for beginners – and people who just need to save more time on the lawn – this fertilizer type is simple and effective.
These liquid fertilizers come in various forms but are more commonly packaged as a self-contained “hose-end sprayer”.
This allows you to simply attach a garden hose to your fertilizer bottle, and while you water, the fertilizer is diluted at the appropriate application rate as you apply.
How Does Liquid Fertilizer Work?
We’ve already established that fertilizer is food for plants, but how does that food get from the fertilizer to the plant? There are a couple of ways.
With a granular fertilizer, over time the granules begin to break down and the soil slowly absorbs the nutrients. Your grass then pulls these nutrients through the soil into its root system.
On the other hand, liquid fertilizer feeds grass in two ways: through the soil into the roots and directly through the grass blades.
Like a granular fertilizer, any liquid fertilizer that makes it to the ground will then seep into the soil where the grass roots can absorb the nutrients. However, when using liquids, the grass is primarily absorbing the fertilizer through its blades.
This is known as foliar absorption.
The absorption through the foliage happens much quicker than through the roots which is why you can almost see an immediate response when applying liquid fertilizers!
However, there is a trade-off.
Liquid fertilizer will not have the same slow-release abilities as granular fertilizer. This means liquids are best suited for light, frequent feedings, or as a supplement to granular fertilizer during the growing season.
The Benefits of Liquid Fertilizer
There are many benefits to using a liquid lawn fertilizer. Here are some of the most important advantages:
Fast-acting: Liquid applications ensure nutrients are quickly absorbed by the plant through foliar absorption making it the best way to deliver nutrients to your lawn quickly
Easy to use: With ready-to-use liquid lawn fertilizer there’s no calibrating, mixing, or measuring. Simply hook it up to a hose and start spraying.
Midseason applications: Because of its fast uptake and quick release, you can use liquid fertilizer for a midseason re-green if your lawn is needing an added boost of nutrients.
No need to water it in: Since liquids are used for foliar feedings this means you can simply spray the fertilizer on your lawn and leave it. There’s no need to water it in after application.
Limits Runoff: Because liquid fertilizers are fast drying and made for light and frequent applications, this reduces the risk of excess fertilizer runoff polluting nearby water sources.
Easy to track: 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.
Blendable: With liquid fertilizer, you can create a lawn care cocktail that checks multiple tasks off your to-do list at once. You can blend a liquid fertilizer with soil amendments, such as a liquid aerator or humic acid, to get the benefits of each product in just one application.
When Should You Apply Liquid Fertilizer?
The best season to apply any fertilizer is the growing season.
Depending on where you live and what type of grass you have will largely dictate when you will need to fertilize. It’s best to understand when your grass’s growing season is and its typical fertilizing requirements before getting in too deep with any type of product.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be applying fertilizer through the spring and summer if you have warm-season grass and the early spring and fall for cool-season grass.
If you switch to a full liquid diet for your lawn, you will also have to tweak your fertilization schedule. You should be applying a liquid fertilizer every 3-5 weeks through your grass’s growing season for best results.
The Downside of Liquid Fertilizers
Liquids are highly effective when used consistently throughout the growing season, but products can add it up quickly for homeowners trying to maintain their lawns on a budget.
For more cost-conscious buyers, we recommend testing out liquid products as a supplement to granular fertilizer before fully committing to an all-liquid maintenance plan.
What’s Best for You?
Here’s a quick rundown on which fertilizer type and formula might best suit your needs.
Liquid Fertilizer Types
Water Soluble – Best for people who are trying to cut back on packaging waste and do not mind having less variety to choose from.
Liquid Concentrate – Great for both beginner and advance users who are looking for a fast-acting fertilizer to help push their goals in the lawn forward.
Ready-To-Use – Perfect for beginners who are just learning about their lawn’s unique needs or for experienced users who just need to save more time out on the lawn.
Different Types of Formulas
All ‘Rounder – Typically has a 3-1-2 or 1-1-1 NPK ratio (eg. 16-4-8 or 10-10-10). These fertilizers are perfect for standard lawn maintenance, treating nutrient deficiencies, or a great option for beginners learning about their lawn’s specific needs.
Nitrogen Only – As the name suggests, these are fertilizers with only nitrogen. This is great if your lawn needs a large dose of nitrogen for maximum growth or for combatting deficiency.
Phosphorus Free – Some states, cities, and counties have phosphorus bans when it comes to using home fertilizers. Always check with local officials if you suspect you may live in these areas. Luckily, there are plenty of fertilizer products out there that are phosphorus-free.
Starter Fertilizer – Best used before seeding or planting new grass due to the high phosphorus content. This type of lawn food provides the optimal ratio of macronutrients to improve the establishment of new seed, sod, and plugs.
Potassium Only – Fertilizer high in potassium helps combat deficiency, but is more commonly used to improve your lawn’s stress, temperature, and drought tolerance. Generally, these fertilizers are applied just before winter.
Liquid Iron – Normally sold as an all-purpose lawn and garden solution, the popularity of liquid iron products have skyrocketed! These “iron-only” fertilizers combat iron chlorosis, but have captured the attention of lawn care enthusiasts for its ability to also give your lawn a deep greening without pushing growth.
Macro/Micro Fertilizer – These products are made to have a combo effect as they contain a significant amount of both macro and micronutrients. A common combination is a nitrogen fertilizer paired with iron to help push growth and produce a deep green color.
Micronutrient Fertilizer – For advanced users and professionals who want to manage a lawn’s micronutrients. You’ll find that these fertilizers may also contain biostimulants or macronutrients in low quantities.
Got more questions?
The lawn experts at LawnStar have got you covered. Just shoot us a note at [email protected]. We’d be happy to help!