When To Apply Winter Fertilizer To Your Lawn

A lawn with an autumn leaf resting on it

The application of winter fertilizer onto your lawn is one of the most important care tips you should consider in order to achieve a lush and soft green lawn.

And guess what? Figuring out when the optimal time is to feed your lawn in winter is not as hard as it seems.

Lawn fertilizer will help your grass look lush and tidy. And it will significantly increase the value of your property.

Besides, it improves air quality and reduces heat as they regularly generate oxygen.

Tips on How and When To Apply Winter Fertilizer

According to lawn care experts, the application of fertilizer in the winter is the most critical in the entire year.

The roots will absorb and store nutrients as they continue to grow until the ground freezes in the winter. These nutrients become available when the temperatures start to warm again in the spring season.

When To Fertilize Your Lawn For The Winter

  • Fertilize in the Fall

The best time to fertilize cool-season lawns should be in the fall. At this time, the temperatures are starting to cool off, yet the grass is still growing. The milder temperatures will help the grass maintain green color in the winter.

Moreover, this promotes healthy root growth and allows the grass to get off to a good start for the spring.

Fall fertilizer works best when applied as the temperature drops down to 70°F. But potency lessens when the soil temperature dips below 55°F during the application.

However, do not fertilize your lawn when the soil is frozen. This does not serve the purpose, and the fertilizer will only wash away.

  • Fertilize in Winter

Bare trees and lawn grass in winter.

Getting the right timing is important when feeding your lawn in the winter. And to ensure winter survival and early-spring green-up, you must prepare the grass for the harsh winter ahead.

Winter fertilizers are best applied about four to five weeks after the application of the fall fertilizer, around October or November. At this point, new roots will form when the ground is not yet frozen.

There are lawn fertilizers specifically designed for the winter season. These fertilizers have high levels of nitrogen.

These fertilizers help the grass store carbohydrates before the soil freezes. Plus, nitrogen makes a reserve nutrient throughout the coldest months in preparation for the spring growing season.

Moreover, winter fertilizers also contain more potassium than the regular ones. Potassium boosts the grass’ tolerance for the cold and strengthens the rooting systems.

This will help your lawn look gorgeously rich green and make the grass soft and denser, particularly when the spring season rolls around a few months later.

  • Avoid Feeding Too Early

In the winter months, grass goes dormant and when you fertilize too early, you’re providing nutrients before the grass has woken up from dormancy. And the grass won’t take advantage of the nutrients you have provided.

On the other hand, chances are there a few cool-season weeds just waiting for the meal. If you fertilize too early, you’re feeding the invading weeds, giving them a head start over the grass.

Also, the grass sacrifices root growth and focus on shoot growth which is another disadvantage of feeding your lawn too early.

A well-established rooting system is essential to support the plant’s tolerance against the harsh weather of winter.

Also, monitoring the air and soil temperature is another excellent way when determining when to fertilize your grasses.

  • When to Fertilize Cool-Season Grasses

Fescue grass

While fertilizing your lawn in winter can help grasses make it through the cold season, the type of grass and the climate of the region you live in also matters.

Knowing the types of grasses you have allows you to figure out when is the exact time your lawn needs fertilizer.

For the cool-season grasses such as cool-season bluegrass, fescue, or ryegrass, the grass most active root growth happens in the early fall.

Feeding your cool-season grasses in July is a waste of effort and money because, in high summer, those grassroots are on standby for the temperatures to go back down so they can spread out some more.

  • When to Fertilize Warm-Season Grass

Six palm trees and bermudagrass

However, the warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass, zoysia, and St. Augustine will do best with a fertilizer boost in spring.

However, don’t fertilize a dry lawn. You have to either water the lawn generously or wait after the rain when the soil is moist. And make sure the fertilizer is not washed away at least a few days before the next rain. Moreover, fertilize the entire lawn as evenly as possible.

Essential Nutrients For Your Lawn

Rich-green grass

Your lawn needs three essential nutrients which are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). Each has separate responsibilities to make the grass healthy and attractive.

The right amount of nitrogen can make the grass greener and denser, while phosphorus is responsible for the grass root growth and establishes a sturdy rooting system. Potassium, on the other hand, is responsible for the grass’s overall health.

  • Nitrogen

Nitrogen is part of chlorophyll, which is responsible for a lush and thick, soft lawn. However, the soil requires nutrients in large amounts to avoid plant deficiency.

Although nitrogen is abundant in our atmosphere, many plants can’t use it until it is processed in the soil in the form of fertilizer.

One thing to keep in mind is that excessive usage of nitrogen may lead to groundwater contamination through runoff and leaching.

You may prefer organic sources of nitrogen, but if you do use synthetic nitrogen, make sure to read the label and follow the directions exactly as indicated.

  • Phosphorus

Phosphorus is essential when the grass is first establishing a growth root, and when the new blades of grass continue to grow.

The presence of phosphorus helps roots absorb nutrients from the soil. It keeps the grass growing faster and helps make the lawns become soft and thick. Any less in the soil will result in weaker grassroots and your lawn will eventually end up dying.

  • Potassium

Potassium helps to strengthen and harden plants and makes them more tolerant to cold and stress. Besides, it helps a plant absorb micronutrients, making it one of the most essential components of balanced feeding, whether for your garden or lawn.

And the three numbers you’ll find at the back of the bag of fertilizer showing the N-P-K values represent the percentage of each nutrient, but they do not add up to 100%.

  • Micronutrients

The micronutrients like iron, manganese, boron, copper, and zinc also contribute to the overall health of the lawn.

The Right Amount of Fertilizer

Green grass lawn

Feeding with the right amount of fertilizer will increase your grass aesthetic by becoming softer and greener when the spring season rolls around a few months later.

Each grass variety has different nitrogen needs to stay vigorous and healthy. The amount of fertilizer you’ll consider should matter in the space of your lawn. And all recommendations are based on 1,000 square feet of space.

However, these fertilizer recommendations are often based on the actual nitrogen need of your lawn for the entire year.

Here are the lists of the following annual nitrogen needs and the corresponding percentage of the most common lawn grasses for every 1,000 square feet.

Types of Grass Pounds of Nitrogen Every 1,000 Square Feet
Cool-Winter Range Summer Range
Bahiagrass 2 4
Bentgrass 4 6
Bermuda grass, Common 2 6
Bermuda grass, Hybrid 4 6
Blue grama 1 2
Buffalo grass 0 2
Centipede grass 1 2
Fine fescue 2 3
Kentucky bluegrass 4 6
Ryegrass 2 4
St. Augustine grass 4 5
Tall fescue 2 6
Zoysia grass 3 4


The Percentage of Nitrogen in the Fertilizer Bag Pounds of Fertilizer to Apply to Every 1,000 Square Feet
1 100.0
2 50.0
3 33.3
4 25.0
5 20.0
6 16.7
7 14.3
8 12.5
9 11.1
10 10.0
11 9.1
12 8.3
13 7.7
14 7.1
15 6.7
16 6.3
17 5.9
18 5.6
19 5.3
20 5.0
21 4.8
22 4.5
23 4.3
24 4.2
25 4.0
26 3.8
27 3.7
28 3.6
29 3.4
30 3.3
31 3.2
32 3.1
33 3.0
34 2.9
35 2.9
36 2.8
37 2.7
38 2.6
39 2.6
40 2.5
41 2.4
42 2.4
43 2.4
44 2.3
45 2.2
46 2.2

The list of recommended nitrogen ranges has to do with the actual length of the entire growing season.

The lower range of nitrogen in the list is suitable in a cold-winter climate. However, if you live in regions where summers are long with mild winter, you better consider the higher range in the table above.

The reason is that the longer the growing season, the more nitrogen your grass will require.

  • Excessive Fertilizer Can Burn The Grass

Considering the right amount of nitrogen for your grass is critical. When you give more than necessary, you will likely burn the grass.

  • Less Amount of Fertilizer Won’t Achieve Desired Effect

On the other hand, when you give any less, you will probably not achieve your desired results.

However, the percentage of nitrogen also varies depending on the types of fertilizer you’ll use.

  • Dry Fertilizer
Spreading dry fertilizer to the lawn.
Image by: pennington.com

The percentage of nitrogen in urea in the most potent fertilizer available in the market per bag ranges at 46. The figures above are based on dry fertilizer since this is the most used type of fertilizer on lawns. 

  • Water-Soluble Fertilizer
Man fixing the hose to a spray bottle.
Image by: backyardboss.net

Water-soluble fertilizer is also available in the market, but some property owners find it hard to apply on the grass evenly. Besides, you have to refill the hose repeatedly when completing the task.

And if you prefer to use liquid fertilizer, follow the directions provided on the label. Otherwise, you won’t achieve the desired result.

And one more thing, nitrogen leaches through sandy soils very quickly. If the soil is too sandy, you can either use slow-release fertilizers or increase the fertilizer’s potency by feeding the grass in less amount of nitrogen per application but this should be done more often.

Also, if you mow frequently, the clippings left on the lawn can contribute about 25% of nitrogen to the soil. This means that the amount of fertilizer you should apply should be less by about 25%.

Final Thoughts on Applying Winter Fertilizer

Maintaining lush and beautiful grass to ensure your lawn looks gorgeous demands effort. And providing grass fertilizer in winter is one of the essential care you can give to your lawn to make it ready for spring. However, there are a few factors to consider to achieve such success.

Choosing the right type of grass that is right for your climate is another factor you have to consider to achieve your desired results.

And the preparation you need to consider all depends on the type of grass you grow and where you live.

Also, knowing the climate and the soil conditions will help you figure out the best care, whether you’re starting to establish a new lawn or maintaining an existing one.

Healthy grass requires the three essential macronutrients and other micronutrients to achieve denser, soft, and rich-green lawns.

Warm-season lawns respond well to fertilization when the grass is actively growing. However, avoid giving fertilizer too early.

Feeding the grass earlier than necessary will promote the top growth of the lawn instead of establishing a healthy rooting system. And what makes it worse is that you’re also encouraging weeds growth.

The application of fertilizer evenly in the fall and the winter a few weeks after will help your grass survive the cold weather.

It will promote healthy root growth and help the grass to be ready once the warm temperature in spring begins to roll.

However, you have to keep in mind that giving fertilizer to the frozen soil serves no purpose, and most likely, the fertilizer will be washed away when it rains the next day.

Also, moist soil absorbs the nutrients properly. So spread the fertilizer only when the soil is moist.

You can either do it after the rain or water the lawn lightly after the application to wash off fertilizer from the blades of grass down to the soil.

It is especially beneficial when you prefer to use synthetic fertilizer in granular or powder form.

Moreover, an excessive application might burn your grass, and any less won’t give you the desired result.

And when the period of application is too far apart, the lawn will look fine, but its vigor will gradually slow down and will speed up again in the next application.

Overall, when and how you should apply fertilizer depends on the type of grass you grow on your lawn, the climate you live in, and your soil conditions.


About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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