5 Best Fall Fertilizer for Grass | How to Apply to Lawn

Did you know that a healthy lawn starts the previous fall? For most lawns, fall is the optimal time to apply nutrients to the soil. 

The right fertilizer will prepare turf grass for winter dormancy so that it can come back strong, lush, and green the following year. However, investing in a high-quality fertilizer is only the first step. For the best results, you also need to know when and how to apply fertilizer in the fall.

Fall fertilization is a basic part of lawn care that practically any homeowner can do themselves. While I’m sure you have a lot of questions, I’ve taken the time to simplify the process and review some of the best fall fertilizers available so you can tackle this task with confidence. 

Best Fall Fertilizers for Lawns

The most important part of fall fertilizing is your timing. But if you’re just here to learn which formulas I recommend, you’ll find everything you need right here:

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food 

Best Fall Fertilizer

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food 

Suitable for all grass types, this 32-0-10 fertilizer helps repair summer drought damage, ready for the challenges of winter

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed and Feed 3

Best Fall Weed and Feed

Scotts Turf Builder Fall Weed and Feed

A convenient way to tackle weeds and help your lawn’s roots recover from summer damage. This 28-0-10 is an all-in-one option

By the way, our site is supported by visitors like you. Some links on this page may be affiliate links which means if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! You can find out more here.

Choosing Fall Fertilizers for Grass

Knowing when and how to fertilize your lawn in fall requires first knowing what kind of grass you have. Turf grass is typically categorized as either warm- or cool-season, and this seemingly small distinction plays a big role in general maintenance and nutrition timing.

Regardless of grass type, the role of fall fertilizer is to repair summer damage and build strength for winter. A rich source of nitrogen, as well as phosphorus and/or potassium, is the best way to achieve this. 

Applying a slow-release fertilizer in fall will provide a steady supply of nutrition throughout much of the dormant season without overwhelming the grass. You can also opt for a fertilizer containing an herbicide to control weeds during the cooler months.

Fall Fertilizer N-P-K Ratio

Understanding N-P-K ratios are essential to shopping for fertilizer. An N-P-K ratio is a sequence of 3 numbers that shows the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a given formula. For example, a fertilizer labeled 16-0-8 contains 16% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus, and 8% potassium.

Turf grass almost always requires a high-nitrogen fertilizer. When comparing N-P-K ratios, look for a ratio that starts with a large number. The second and third numbers may vary.

Grass needs access to all three macronutrients to survive winter unscathed. However, many fall fertilizers can have a low percentage ratio of either phosphorus or potassium. 

My recommendation is to prioritize nitrogen and potassium during fall applications. For a more detailed analysis of the soil your lawn is growing in, then a soil test is the best way to determine if your lawn is deficient in any nutrients.

Importance of Nitrogen and Potassium

Nitrogen is key for early fall recovery from summer drought. Turf grass often goes into dormancy during the hottest part of summer, and it requires nitrogen to heal itself and put out new growth.

Potassium is essential to root growth, so is very important for winterizing your lawn. Applying a heavy dose of potassium shortly before frost will ensure your grass lives through winter and returns at full force come springtime.

Controlled Release Lawn Fertilizer

The best fertilizer to apply in the fall is a slow- or controlled-release one. These formulas deliver nutrients over several weeks or even months and will feed your lawn through fall, winter, and maybe even early spring. 

Using a fertilizer containing slow-release nitrogen (versus instant-release nitrogen) could also prevent unwanted growth late in the year.

Lawn Fertilizer Spray

Spray fertilizers can be effective in the fall when used correctly. These fertilizers work almost instantly but only stay in the soil for a short time.

Personally, I recommend using a spray formula if you want to quickly address known nutrient deficiencies in the soil before winter. This application method works quite well for micronutrients in particular.

Another time you might want to use a spray fertilizer versus a slow-release one is if you live somewhere that stays warm year-round. 

Since overwintering is not as stressful for the grass — your lawn may even stay active through winter — there’s less need to apply a long-lasting fertilizer. 

If the grass appears underfed at any point, you can simply re-apply as needed as long as it is actively growing.

Granules Vs Liquid Concentrate

In general, slow-release fertilizers are sold as granules and instant-release fertilizers are sold as liquids. When comparing different formulas for your lawn, it’s safe to assume this is the case unless otherwise advertised.

Nutrient timing aside, granules are my preferred format for lawn care. It’s much easier to evenly distribute granules over a large area than it is a liquid concentrate. For larger areas of coverage, I recommend investing in a walk-behind fertilizer spreader if you don’t already own one.

Avoiding Fertilizer Burn on Grass

Fertilizer burn is most likely to occur when using nitrogen-rich fertilizers. Always follow the manufacturer’s measuring and application guidelines to prevent overfeeding. 

You will also need to ensure the grass receives adequate water before and after fertilizing to further reduce the risk of burning.

Fertilizer burn can also occur when the grass is fertilized too late in the year. If the grass is already entering dormancy, it won’t be able to absorb the same amount of nutrients it would during active growth. This can lead to unintentional overfeeding.

Fall Fertilizer Vs Spring Fertilizer

Many of my favorite fall fertilizers are also appropriate for spring. In most cases, it’s fine to use fall fertilizer in the spring and vice-versa. However, there are some common differences.

Spring fertilizer tends to be higher in nitrogen than fall fertilizer. They also contain less phosphorus on average than their fall counterparts.

These differing formulas make sense if you consider each macronutrient’s role in grass development. In spring, grass needs lots of nitrogen to grow new blades. It also needs potassium to fight off disease, pests, and environmental stressors. But high quantities of phosphorus aren’t needed in the spring since root growth is not a priority.

Another thing to consider is whether or not your chosen fertilizer contains an herbicide. These chemicals are often designed to work during a specific time of year and won’t be effective — some may even cause harm — when used contrary to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Best Lawn Fertilizers for Fall Reviews

Most experts agree that fall is the prime time to fertilize most turf grasses. To get the most out of each application, you want to ensure you’re using a formula that will repair summer damage while simultaneously preparing the lawn for winter. 

While I believe there are many high-quality fertilizers on the market today, there’s no denying that some are better than others. Based on my own research and experience, I recommend investing in one of these 5 formulas for your own fall lawn maintenance.

scotts turf builder.
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 32-0-10
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq.ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster


  • Helps grass recover from summer stressors
  • Ideal for all grass types


  • High nitrogen ratio is not ideal for young lawns

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard promises to do exactly what you want from a fall lawn fertilizer. Its formula prioritizes quick recovery and deep root development to prepare the grass for winter weather.

This fertilizer is a great option for nearly all lawns and can be applied to all popular turf grasses. However, you may want to use a more balanced fertilizer if your lawn was planted within the last year.

Although this fertilizer is advertised for use at any time in the fall, I personally recommend using it earlier rather than later. You want to avoid the high nitrogen triggering unseasonable growth when the year’s first frost is just around the corner.

How To Use: Apply evenly to wet or dry grass using a calibrated broadcast spreader. Water the area lightly to activate granules and work nutrients into the soil.

2. Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed and Feed 28-0-10
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 28-0-6
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq.ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster


  • Kills over 50 common weeds
  • Repairs heat and drought damage


  • Not appropriate for all grass types

If fall and winter weeds are plaguing your lawn, I recommend using a multi-purpose fertilizer like this one. It offers many of the benefits of the average Scotts WinterGuard formula but with added herbicide.

This fertilizer kills over 50 common turf weeds but must be applied when the weeds are actively growing. It will not, however, control the emergence of weeds the following spring. Applying this product to St. Augustinegrass, Floratam, Dichondra, Lippia, Carpetgrass, or Bentgrass will damage your lawn.

In my opinion, this fertilizer is a good option if your lawn is struggling to compete with dandelions, clover, or other aggressive weeds. The combination of herbicide and fertilizer will allow your grass to choke out these weeds as it prepares for winter.

How To Use: Evenly distribute granules using a broadcast spreader. For the best results, apply fertilizer to wet grass. The granules must stick to weed leaves to take full effect. Allow at least 24 hours before rain or irrigation.

3. Milorganite Fertilizer for Fall 5-4-0

Best Fertilizer for Bermuda

3. Milorganite Fertilizer for Fall 5-4-0
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 5-4-0
  • Coverage: 2,500 sq.ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster


  • Highly sustainable
  • Appropriate for spring, summer, and fall


  • Not a source of potassium
  • Not very concentrated

As far as fertilizers go, Milorganite is definitely one of the more interesting products on the market. It comes from a sewage recycling program based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That might sound unappetizing to you but I find the entire project to be very exciting!

Milorganite is a good source of nitrogen and phosphorus. Admittedly, this fertilizer is far less concentrated than most others recommended for fall feeding. However, I find that it produces quality results regardless.

While we’re focusing on fall fertilizers right now, Milorganite is appropriate for year-round use and is particularly suited to Bermuda grasses. It also works well for overseeding when mixed with your favorite grass seed.

How To Use: Using a broadcast spreader, evenly distribute granules over the area. Watering immediately is not necessary but is recommended for the best results.

4. Ferti-Lome For All Seasons II Lawn Food Plus Weed Preventer 16-0-8
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 16-0-8
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq.ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster


  • Can be used in spring and fall
  • Controls common lawn weeds


  • Prevents grass seed germination

This is an excellent slow-release fertilizer that also includes a preventative herbicide. If your lawn typically struggles with crabgrass, knotweed, and other common weeds in spring or summer, applying this fertilizer in fall could make a big difference.

One application of this fertilizer will feed for up to 5 months, making it ideal for fall use. It may be re-applied in spring if desired.

Since the herbicide in this fertilizer works by preventing seed germination, I don’t recommend using this formula if you plan to oversee your lawn before winter. You must wait several months after using this product before grass seed can be planted.

How To Use: Apply to grass using a broadcast spreader. Activate the granules with ½ inch of water immediately after. Do not use it before planting grass seed or within 60 days of overseeding.

5. Jonathan Green & Sons Winter Survival Fall Fertilizer
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 10-0-20
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq.ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster


  • Promotes deep-root development
  • Save for use on new grass


  • Lower in nitrogen than other formulas

While most lawn fertilizers prioritize nitrogen above all other nutrients, this formula from Jonathan Green & Sons is a clear exception. If you’re looking for a high-potassium fall fertilizer for turf grass, this is my top recommendation.

As I mentioned, potassium is essential to healthy root development prior to winter. A formula like this one is especially effective later in the season when large amounts of nitrogen aren’t as ideal.

Unless your lawn is deficient in potassium, you’ll probably see better results using this fertilizer on cool-season grasses. However, a boost of potassium can also help prepare warm-season lawns for overwintering.

How To Use: Apply to dry grass using a broadcast spreader. If overseeding, apply this fertilizer at the same time. Activate with 1 ½ inch of water following application.

Fertilizing Grass In Fall

Fall is regarded as the best time to apply fertilizer to grass for a number of reasons. If you only plan to fertilize your lawn once per year, fall is the ideal time to do it.

If you have a cool-season lawn, then fall (along with spring) is when your grass is at its most active. Applying fertilizer at this time ensures that the grass has access to key nutrients so it can grow as much as possible before winter.

In terms of health throughout the year, fall fertilizer applications fulfill multiple roles:

  • Applying fertilizer at this time helps the grass recover from summer stressors like heat and drought.
  • Fall fertilizer prepares turf grass for winter dormancy.
  • According to Purdue University, nitrogen applied in late fall improves spring color, growth, and disease resistance.

Keep in mind that fall fertilizers are not always intended to encourage blade growth and color. With the exception of applications in late summer and early fall, fall fertilizer should instead prioritize deep-root development that will protect the grass throughout winter.

When to Apply Lawn Fertilizer In Fall

For cool-season lawns, I recommend fertilizing between August and November. In most regions, September is the ideal month to fertilize. You want to avoid fertilizing when daytime temperatures are too hot but before the soil is frozen. If you fertilized in the summer, you should plan your fall application at least 6 weeks later. 

While cool-season grasses accomplish most of their growth during spring and fall, warm-season varieties are the most active in summer. To get the most out of your fall fertilizer application, I recommend feeding earlier in the season. Fertilizing 6 to 8 weeks before your area’s first frost date is ideal for these grasses.

Regional Climate and Grass Dormancy

To get the best results from your fall fertilizer application, you need to know your area’s first frost date. This date can vary by days or even weeks depending on your location.

Knowing your region’s first frost date is important because it’s one of the best indicators of when the grass will enter winter dormancy. As a rule, the colder your local climate the earlier in the year you will need to fertilize and vice-versa. It’s not safe to assume that everyone who grows a certain type of grass will need to fertilize at the exact same time.

When Is It Too Late to Fertilize in Fall

You can technically fertilize cool-season grass any time that the soil is not frozen. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same results fertilizing in late November versus, say, late September. I recommend fertilizing well before your lawn is at risk of freezing and going dormant.

If your area experiences an early frost there’s no need to panic. You may still have time to fertilize your cool-season lawn as long as the soil temperature remains above freezing. 

Be careful fertilizing warm-season grasses several weeks before the scheduled frost. Feeding late in the fall can trigger unseasonable growth that hampers your lawn’s natural winterization process. While you might think that providing nutrients right before winter will keep the grass healthy, the opposite is more likely to be true.

How to Apply Fall Lawn Fertilizer

The absolute best resource for determining how to apply a given fertilizer is always the product package. With that said, most lawn fertilizers can be applied using the following methods:

I recommend applying liquid fertilizer with a hose-end sprayer. My preferred sprayer is one with an adjustable nozzle that lets you easily control the rate of application. Apply the fertilizer evenly to a clean, recently cut lawn for the best results. Liquid fertilizer can typically be applied to damp grass but shouldn’t be used when the soil is soaked.

A broadcast spreader is a must-have if you plan to use granular fertilizers on your lawn. While handheld spreaders are available, they produce hit-or-miss results on all but the smallest lawns. I recommend investing in a walk-behind spreader that can be easily calibrated.

Most granular formulas work best on dry grass. However, those containing herbicides often advise applying to damp grass for the best results. Again, check the product label of your chosen fertilizer before use.

Calculating How Much Fertilizer You Need to Apply

Recommended feeding rates are often prescribed based on total nitrogen weight. When calculating how much fertilizer you need, remember that N-P-K ratios show the percentage of nutrients in a formula. 

As an example, a fertilizer labeled 25-10-15 is 25% nitrogen. If you wanted to apply 1 pound of nitrogen to your lawn, you would actually need to apply 4 pounds of this specific fertilizer to get the desired results.

However, the most reliable way to measure fertilizer is by following the manufacturer’s application guidelines. All major brands provide detailed instructions on how much fertilizer to use in a given area. I suggest measuring the area of your lawn prior to purchasing fertilizer so you know exactly how much to buy.

How Often to Apply Fertilizer in Fall

Depending on your lawn’s nutritional needs, I recommend fertilizing once or twice in the fall. If you opt for two applications, be sure to spread them out according to your chosen fertilizer’s guidelines.

Fall Fertilizer and Overseeding

Fall is one of the best times to oversee your lawn. Whether you’re repairing bare patches or planting winter turf over your existing lawn, you’ll want to take the new seeds’ nutritional needs into account when fertilizing. Avoid using a fertilizer high in nitrate salts as they can damage seedlings.

It usually doesn’t matter whether you fertilize or oversee first. I find most people prefer to fertilize either before or immediately after planting grass seed. You can also use grass seed with fertilizer built in.

Verdict: Best Grass Fertilizer for Fall

In my opinion, applying fall fertilizer to your lawn offers amazing benefits with minimal work. Choosing and learning how to apply a new fertilizer can be daunting at first. By this point, however, you’ve already done much of the hard work!

If your primary goal is to repair summer damage, I recommend Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food. It will help your lawn bounce back from heat and drought while also setting the stage for overwintering.

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Lawn Food 

Best Fall Fertilizer

Scotts Turf Builder Fall Lawn Food 

Suitable for all grass types, this 32-0-10 fertilizer helps repair summer drought damage, ready for the challenges of winter

To control autumn and winter weeds, I instead recommend Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed and Feed 3. You’ll see nearly identical results to the above formula with the added bonus of fewer weeds.

Scotts Turf Builder WinterGuard Fall Weed and Feed 3

Best Fall Weed and Feed

Scotts Turf Builder Fall Weed and Feed

A convenient way to tackle weeds and help your lawn’s roots recover from summer damage. This 28-0-10 is an all-in-one option

For a less-concentrated option, I couldn’t be more impressed with Milorganite Fertilizer for Fall 6-4-0. On top of being a great fertilizer, it’s also quite sustainable.

FAQs Fall Fertilizer for Lawn