The Best Fertilizers for Lawns and Plants (Commercial and Homemade)

shovel full of manure fertilizer
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Like humans, lawns and plants need the proper food to thrive. If you’re wondering what the best fertilizer to use for the task, you can find the answer in both homemade and store-bought options.

A lush, green, resilient lawn is a reflection of how healthy the grass is. To achieve that optimal health, rely on the best products for the job.

While that might mean making different selections depending on your location and circumstances, products like Scotts Turf Builder and Milorganite slow-release fertilizer will get the job done. Read on to find out which fertilizers to use for plants, lawns with heavy use, pets, and weeds.

We’ll start with some readily available options followed by a discussion about homemade remedies for your lawn.

For Green Lawns

Scotts Green Max Fertilizer is a reliable and ever-popular choice for greening up a lawn. The company states you’ll have a greener lawn within days.

The product features a dose of iron that supports growing grass, encouraging thickness, strength, and a green appeal. It’s also effective in the fight against weeds.

Scotts Green Max is applied every one and a half to two months for ongoing feeding.

Milorganite is another highly-rated fertilizer brand. The signature Slow Release Nitrogen Fertilizer provides nutrient support for up to twelve weeks without reapplication. Because this is a natural product, it’s safe to use around all types of surrounding landscapes, and family members.

Reviewers report it’s easy to use, easy to spread, and a good value for the money. Note that it does take several weeks to achieve noticeable effects, so it’s not as instant as the Scotts brand. However, it’s an eco-friendly option that approaches lawn care in an overall healthier way.

gloved hands holding lawn fertilizer

Best Spring Fertilizers for Lawns

An easily recognizable brand, Miracle-Gro Lawn Food is a strong choice for just about any lawn fertilizing needs. Its balance of nutrients offers support throughout the season and it’s easy to apply in a consistent pattern across the lawn.

Miracle-Gro is a long-standing and affordable brand with products for tasks across the yard. Controlling the spray is important because it can damage surrounding plants.

Another Scotts product, Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food is also a good choice for spring feeding. For about $20, the product covers 5,000 square feet of lawn, offering nutrient support during the height of the growing season.

Although you might regret the amount of mowing you’ll need to do, encouraging strong growth early in the year means your lawn will better tolerate stressors throughout the following seasons.

If you’re willing to make a larger investment, pick up a bag of Scotts Turf Builder Triple Action1 to really get your lawn off on the right growth pattern. This is a three-in-one product, providing nutrients in addition to killing weeds (like dandelions) and preventing crabgrass growth for up to four months.

Best Eco-Friendly and Organic Fertilizers for Plants/Lawns

You’ve probably heard about the many health dangers related to fertilizers. If you want to enrich your lawn without chemicals, look for all-natural fertilizers to do the job.

These products are effective without concern for surrounding plants, pets, children, or water and air pollution. They are safe to use near gardens where traditional fertilizers are questionable.

Safer Brand Ringer Fertilizer is phosphorus-free, but contains potassium and other essential nutrients. It can be used in the garden and lawn, as well as flower beds for effective overall feedings. It provides an immediate injection of healthy revitalization to mend ailing lawns.

Safer Brand fertilizer promotes swift greening without burning grass and equips lawns and plants to be resilient against droughts, heat, and cold.

Another notable organic brand, Espoma EOSR30 Organic Summer Fertilizer, gave birth to the organic lawn care market. Long-standing by its natural makeup, Espoma offers robust root support in an environmentally friendly way.

It’s a slow release product that feeds continuously for months. Void of the questionable phosphorus, Espoma is safe for use around water sources without fear of pollution.

Mentioned above, Milorganite is another organic option that you don’t have to keep children and pets away from after application.

Some users report an odor that is effective in keeping rodents and other animals out of the yard, but can linger for homeowners too. However, it’s worth mentioning the brand again because of the many strong benefits.

Best Fertilizer for New Lawns

Check out Pennington UltraGreen Starter Lawn Fertilizer. In addition to offering a nutrient-rich feeding to newly planted lawns, it’s effective for use in conjunction with overseeding too. Fill in bare spots or thicken up existing grass with grass seed and this fertilizer. The extended release lasts up to three months.

The Andersons Premium New Lawn Starter 20-27-5 Fertilizer is another well-reviewed and highly rated fertilizer for new lawn treatments. It provides nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and essential micronutrients and can be applied in the spring or the fall.

We mentioned the brand earlier, and for new lawns, the same company offers Espoma Organic Bio-Tone Starter Plus 4-3-3 not only for newly-planted grass but for all of your plant needs.

Bio-Tone is certified organic and is made in the United States. It’s environmentally friendly, safe for children and pets, and has earned an average 5-star rating from nearly 500 reviewers.

Best Overall Fertilizers for Outdoor Plants

While some fertilizers are best for lawn growth, others are intended for specific types of trees, shrubs, or flowers. Some of those listed below offer broad-spectrum nutrient support for a variety of plants throughout your landscape.

Miracle-Gro Watering Can Singles are convenient, water-soluble, and pre-measured to ensure accurate dosage. During the growing season, use it every few weeks.

Down To Earth Organic Bio-Live Fertilizer Mix takes a holistic view of plant care, earning its way onto the list of recommended organic materials by the Organic Materials Review Institute.

In a concentrated liquid form, Watch Us Grow All Purpose Liquid Plant Food Fertilizer can be used across the landscape on flowers, vegetables, trees, and more.

Homemade DIY Fertilizer Options

When you think about a thriving ecosystem, it’s easy to see the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Plants feed animals and, in return, animals fertilize plants through scat and decomposition after they die.

Rather than just reaching for the bagged products mentioned above, home gardeners can replicate nature’s benefit to plants by applying homemade nutrient-rich fertilizer to grass, vegetables, flowers, houseplants, trees, and shrubs.

While you can find fertilizer at home improvement stores, garden centers, and online, once you know what’s in them, you can easily duplicate the ingredients at home.

As a bonus, most fertilizer ingredients are waste products themselves so you get to put them to a new use. This is advantageous for homesteaders as well as both small and large scale farmers.

Benefits of Making Your Own Fertilizer

There are many benefits to making your own fertilizers, such as reduced cost and lower environmental impact. It may just be more convenient to make your own fertilizer rather than sorting through all the options and locating the one you would like to use.

While the actual ingredients of homemade fertilizer are healthier for the home and planet, it also eliminates the plastic jugs and large bags commercial fertilizers are packaged in.

Plus, if you make it yourself, you know what’s in it. This is especially important if you’re using it in your garden where it comes into contact with the food you eat.

When creating your recipe for success, it’s best to understand what each ingredient contributes and how your plants benefit. Here are some tried and true options to consider.

fertilizer in a wheelbarrow in a garden

1. Manure Fertilizer

Perhaps the most ubiquitous fertilizer comes from manure, which makes sense because it’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients. If you have a farm, you’ll have a large amount of usable manure. Create a full-circle system by recycling it into fertilizer.

To make manure fertilizer, start by composting the manure along with any straw and hay bedding. Allow the manure pile to grow large. Test the contents occasionally to make sure they stay moist. If they begin to dry out, add some water to the pile.

The goal is to get the pile steaming hot--at least 130 degrees. Once it has reached the optimal temperature, move the pile to another area where it can cool and continue to break down.

Leave the compost for two to six months while it breaks down. With two piles, you’ll be able to continuously produce fertilizers on an ongoing basis. When ready, apply it to the garden in thin layers, no thicker than one-half inch deep.

Manure can result in water pollution. Avoid this by keeping your piles away from water sources. Also cover the pile during heavy rains to avoid runoff.
It can also produce an unpleasant smell (surprising!) so keep the pile away from common areas.

2. Compost

Adding leaves and other natural materials to your manure is a form of composting. However, if you maintain a compost pile that includes grass clippings, food waste, and paper products you can turn that into a useful fertilizer too.

In addition to mixing compost into your planting soil, make a liquid version you can use throughout the season. This is easily done with an old shirt and a bucket of water.

Start by wrapping the shirt (or other fabric) around a ball of compost. Secure it into place around the compost and place the entire ball into the bucket of water.

Allow the mixture to steep for three or four days and then remove the fabric ball. The leftover water is now called compost tea and you can use it to spray leaves or water plants at the root level.

3. Coffee Grounds

Plants love coffee as much as you do. Make use of spent grounds by sprinkling them around your plants. Keep it light. If you use a coffee filter, tie the filter closed at the top and place the entire thing into a gallon of water to steep.

Use the resulting coffee water on your plants. They’ll love the nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium. This is particularly good for soil that needs a boost of acidity or plants that prefer high acid levels.

4. Ash

If you have a wood stove or fireplace, apply the cooled ashes to your garden soil before planting. Layer it a few inches deep and rake into the soil. Ash fertilizer is rich in potassium and calcium carbonate and will help balance pH levels in acidic soil.

5. Epsom Salt

Who doesn’t enjoy an Epsom salt bath? To make Epsom salt fertilizer, simply add one tablespoon of salt to one gallon of water and shake to dissolve. Apply the mixture about once each month during the growing season. This mixture is great for indoor plants as well as those in the garden.

6. Eggshells

Most gardeners have heard eggshells are good for plants. Yet, when distributed whole, even in the compost pile, they just never seem to break down.

To take advantage of the calcium and phosphorus in eggshells, wash out any egg remnants. Then place the shells in the microwave for one minute. This will dehydrate the shells.

A few pulses in a food processor will turn them into a powder you can then use around plants. Use eggshell fertilizer in place of lime.

7. Banana Peels

Prepare banana peel fertilizer much in the same way as the eggshell fertilizer. Dehydrate your peel in the microwave until they snap when you bend them. Then send them through the food processor or blender to turn them into powder.

As an alternative, soak banana peels in a pitcher of water for a few days. Then strain out the water and use it on houseplants or outdoor plants.

Wrap up

Like us, plants are living things. Therefore they need the proper balance of nutrients to perform their best. Fertilizer is one piece of that equation in keeping lawns lush and plants thriving. Whether you buy it or make it, your landscape will thank you through higher resilience and improved production.

Learn more about What to Compost and What Not to Compost to create optimally nutrient-rich material. Also consider the benefits of Garden Composting: Vermicomposting.