When to fertilize your lawn in fall – a few weeks is the only difference between healthy grass and a "waste of money"

Fertilizing is the key to a healthy lawn, even during the fall. But you could be doing it at the wrong time

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fall is an important time for the backyard. Many bulbs are being planted in preparation for spring, while some plants are entering dormancy before the harsh winter. All areas of the garden are recuperating after a long dry summer, including the lawn which undoubtedly suffered the most. Every gardener knows fertilizing your garden is important, but timing is crucial, leaving us to wonder when we should be fertilizing our lawns.

Knowing what your lawn needs and what time can be a whole art in itself, leaving us guessing most of the time. These assumptions can lead to many fall gardening mistakes, but luckily there are experts on this that can help us understand what is and isn't necessary. Fertilizing is a non-negotiable for the healthiest of lawns. Here we spoke to lawn experts who revealed when you should be fertilizing your lawn and with what.

Why should I fertilize my lawn?

So we know we should be fertilizing our lawns, but do we know why? Understanding the reasoning behind the need allows us to make better sense of the timings and ingredients needed.

'Fertilizing your lawn is essential preparation for winter,' says lawn expert and CEO of GreenPal, Bryan Clayton. Like many plants during fall, your lawn takes the time to recoup and store up energy to survive winter and then grow during spring. 'Fertilizing in the fall gives your lawn the nutrients to withstand winter stress, and helps to develop strong roots for a lush lawn in the spring,' he explains.

Fertilization is one of the pieces of fall lawn care you should be paying attention to, along with aeration and overseeding. Altogether this will help to nurture a strong healthy lawn ready for all the spring activity to come.

When should I fertilize my lawn?

raking leaves on a lawn in fall

(Image credit: Getty Images / Pannonia)

Timing is everything with fertilizing. Do it at the wrong time and 'it's a waste of money' according to Bryan. Generally, it is thought that the sweet spot is between September and Thanksgiving, however, you need to pay attention to your environment.

'It's important to understand the growing season in your area,' says Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love. Depending on your climate you will need to fertilize at different times. 'For those with year-round growing seasons, fertilizing in the fall as well as the spring makes sense,' says Jeremy, 'but people that get harsh winters will want to avoid late fall fertilizing in order to help their lawns go dormant for the winter.'

Fertilizing too late in the season can have a detrimental effect on your lawn, and is one of the biggest gardening mistakes made by beginners. Doing it too late will encourage new growth and an expenditure of energy when it should be storing its nutrients for spring. Take these factors into consideration when you are thinking about fertilizing your lawn. If possible try to fertilize at least two weeks before the first freeze of the season.

What should I use to fertilize my lawn?

getty front yard lawn

(Image credit: Getty)

'The type of fertilizer depends on your goals,' says Bryan. 'If you're reseeding, go for a starter fertilizer, otherwise, a slow-release granular fertilizer is perfect.' When purchasing a fertilizer, consider your goals and your grass type and environment, this will have a big impact on what you should select. 

Generally, for fall fertilizing you want to look for slow-release options that give a steady nutrient supply rather than a quick fit.

Lawn fertilizing mistakes to avoid

To achieve the most effective fertilizing, our experts advise avoiding these common mistakes. 'Excess nitrogen,' says Lindsey Hyland, founder of Urban Organic Yield, 'is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Too much nitrogen can lead to excessive top growth at the expense of root development, making the lawn more susceptible to diseases and drought stress.' This is a particular issue for fall fertilizing as this is not the time you want to encourage dramatic plant growth. 

In the same vein, fertilizing too late is a big mistake to avoid. 'It is a mistake to leave the fertilization too late as it can encourage new growth that may not have time to harden off before winter, making the grass vulnerable to cold damage,' explains Lindsey.

If you follow this guidance your lawn will not suffer from these mistakes. A pristine lawn is the staple for so many modern garden ideas. Come spring you will have a lush lawn and you will be thankful for this expert advice and grateful that you followed it.

You will need

Amy McArdle
News writer

Amy recently completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London, with experience writing for Women’s lifestyle publications across arts, culture, and beauty. She has a particular love for the minimalist aesthetic mixed with mid-century furniture, especially combining unique vintage finds with more modern pieces. Her previous work in luxury jewellery has given her a keen eye for beautiful things and clever design, that plays into her love of interiors. As a result, Amy will often be heard justifying homeware purchases as 'an investment', wise words to live by.