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select the right fertilizer
select the right fertilizer


How Do I Choose a Fertilizer? (Complete Guide)

How to Choose a Fertilizer

The right fertilizer can be instrumental in growing a gorgeous flower garden, cultivating tasty vegetables, or just establishing a healthy front lawn. But how can you pick the right fertilizer for your landscape? And do you even need one in the first place? These questions are heard at garden centers everywhere, and not just in Spring. The answer, no matter where you live, is always yes! You need to pick the right fertilizer depending on various factors, and knowing your needs makes it less complicated to choose a fertilizer. 

Let’s look at how to choose a fertilizer based on your needs.

You Need to Know This to Pick the Right Fertilizer

The first thing to notice in a gardening store is the overabundance of fertilizers available. Yes, it’s a challenge to choose a fertilizer, but it’s also more complicated than simply too much selection.  

But that’s not bad news! There are scientific and technical ingredients to creating suitable fertilizers to deal with specific lawn and soil conditions, like patchiness where grass has a hard time growing. Here are some tried and true tips you need to know to choose a fertilizer.

It’s Elementary

A common misconception is that grass or plants need only a sufficient amount of watering and a sprinkling of plant foods to survive. While water is the primary component in successful and flourishing greenery, plants and lawns also need essential elements in fertilizer like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium to flourish. 

You will notice these elements listed on bags of fertilizer, but to pick the right fertilizer, let’s dig a little deeper.

Phosphorus works behind the scenes (or, in this case, underground!) to strengthen lawn and plant roots. While some gardening enthusiasts consider phosphorus to be the least important element, it’s still crucial to choose a fertilizer with the right amount of this element for your location and soil conditions.

Nitrogen is number one of the three elements. When you pick the right fertilizer for a lush green lawn, you’ve selected a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen to increase the health and natural defenses of your greenery. It’s vital to choose a fertilizer with nitrogen if you live in a buggy environment or pests frequently invade your plants. 

Potassium works alongside nitrogen in stabilizing foliage and lawn roots. Choose a potassium-rich fertilizer if your location is in a drought zone or more prone to colder weather.

Using Numbers to Pick the Right Fertilizer 

To choose a fertilizer, you need to get familiar with the numbers regarding nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. Every bag of fertilizer from a reputable manufacturer will list the amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) contained in their products in that order. The three N-P-K elements are listed as three-digit numbers on fertilizer bags (for example, 12-6-8). This three-digit combination is the percentage of each element in the fertilizer, and these percentages will vary by product. It’s easier to choose a fertilizer when you know what your soil conditions require.

N-P-K Fertilizer Infographic
Does it matter what fertilizer you use?

Yes, it’s important to find a fertilizer that will work with your soil and lawn to produce a lush green lawn. With so many fertilizers to choose from, make sure to pick the right fertilizer based on what kind of soil you have, your climate, the season, the specific type of grass or plants you have, or what type of grass you want to have. It’s also good to know that some fertilizers are better for plants and others strictly formulated for lawns. 

Choose a Fertilizer With Other Nutrients

To pick the right fertilizer, remember that fertilizer is plant food, and it’s formulated for different stages in the life of your greenery—the seed stage, juvenile stage, and flowering stage. For example, a ratio of Ammonium-N to Nitrate-N is often found in fertilizers designed for early growth in greenery, and you should choose a fertilizer that’s calcium-rich for plant and grass health in the early stages.

Different Types of Fertilizer

In addition to what’s actually in that bag of fertilizer, you now have more options to pick the right fertilizer based on what type it is. The main types of fertilizer are granular or liquid. Here’s how to choose a fertilizer based on its type.

Granular fertilizers are long-lasting, easy to use dry pellets in bagged form. You’ll need a tool (like a spreader) to apply granular fertilizer. Granular fertilizers generally come in two formulations: slow-release or fast-release, so when you choose a fertilizer in this category, determine which formulation is best for you.

granular fertilizer for lawn

Liquid fertilizers are concentrated formulations, but it’s important to remember that these are not long-term solutions when you’re looking to pick the right fertilizer in this category. Liquid fertilizers do offer immediate nutrients to roots and leaves. 

how to choose the right fertilizer

How to Choose a Synthetic or Organic Fertilizer

Fertilizers are also manufactured in two distinct ways: chemically or naturally. If you want to pick the right synthetic fertilizer, look for a product that offers quick soil penetration and immediate results. Be careful, though, because some synthetic fertilizers burn greenery if misused.

To pick the right organic fertilizer, look for an all-natural product that is easily applied, even by hand. Organic fertilizers improve lawn texture and soil density but often smell unpleasant. 

Completely organic fertilizer

100% Organic Fertilizer



By following our guide, you should be able to choose a fertilizer that suits your needs. If you’re looking for more tips, check this out for more great information on lawn and garden care!

Written By

Matt's passion for yard care began at an early age when he started mowing the lawns of his neighbors. Nowadays, he often writes about his love for lawns and is the founder of Yard Smart, a lawn and yard services company based in Southern Ontario, Canada.