8 Best Fertilizers For New Grass | Sod Lawns and Seeds

Whether planting seed or laying sod, the biggest complaints I hear about growing grass include the waiting involved and the lack of consistent results. But I’m willing to bet that many of those seeing slow, inconsistent results aren’t preparing their soil properly. This includes failing to use a starter fertilizer.

Like mature lawns, new grass needs nutrients to thrive. (In fact, one could argue that young grass requires adequate nutrition even more than established grass.) Within this article, I’ll explain how to feed young lawns grown from seed or sod and recommend a few trusted formulas that I consider to be the best fertilizer for new grass.

Best Fertilizer For New Grass

If you’re short on time or just eager to start feeding your new lawn, here are two of the very best fertilizers for young grass I recommend:

Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass 24-25-4

Best Controlled Release

Scotts Turf Builder for New Grass 24-25-4

An excellent blend of both slow and fast-release nutrients not only helps to establish foliage growth and root development but also means less need to reapply. 

Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer Spray 7-12-15

Best Liquid Fertilizer Spray

Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Fertilizer Spray 7-12-15

Reduce the risk of overfertilizing and increase the health of new grass growth with this liquid feed. Ideal for fertilizing small patches of new grass growth where re-application isn’t a concern. 

What Is Considered New Grass?

As far as plants go, turf grass grows incredibly fast. But it still needs time to fully mature before it can handle everything an established lawn can. New grass should be given extra care during its first few weeks of life for the best results long term.

You can’t always rely on a ruler to determine whether the grass is new or not. For example, if you have a pallet of sod delivered, the grass blades are already several inches tall the very day it is installed. It’s also common for new grass seedlings to be grown alongside already mature turf.

Newly Seeded Lawn

Seed is by far the most popular way to start a lawn from scratch. This method is accessible to anyone with the time and patience needed to sow and maintain young seedlings.

You can safely apply starter fertilizer to new grass seed either before or after planting. In most cases, I recommend amending the soil with rich organic matter — e.g., aged compost — prior to sowing grass seed. You can then apply starter fertilizer 6 to 8 weeks after planting for continued growth.

New Sod Lawn

While new sod offers the look and feels of a mature lawn almost instantly, it will still benefit from a starter fertilizer at the time of planting. A starter formula that is high in phosphorus will encourage healthy root development early on.

The general advice is to amend the soil prior to laying down sod. Applying fertilizer over fresh sod — instead of directly to the soil — can cause burn damage.

Overseeded Lawn

Overseed lawns are a type of new grass many people overlook in terms of nutrition. Overseeding is a great way to repair thin or bare patches in your lawn. I also recommend overseeding using a different grass variety to improve things like overall cold or shade tolerance.

The fertilizer you apply during overseeding should meet the needs of both the new and existing grasses. However, you should prioritize the needs (or, more accurately, the delicate nature) of the new grass seed to prevent overfeeding and fertilizer burn.

Will Fertilizer Kill New Grass?

Fertilizer won’t kill newly planted grass as long as you take your lawn’s nutritional needs into account. This is why selecting a fertilizer designed for new grass is so important. 

I do not recommend using high-nitrogen fertilizers on young grass. (Keep in mind that most fertilizers intended for mature lawns are very high in nitrogen.) These formulas will overwhelm the grass with nutrients it can’t yet utilize at such high concentrations. 

Regardless of your lawn’s age, you should always follow the manufacturer’s usage directions. Any fertilizer can do damage when too much is applied for a given circumstance.

Choosing Fertilizers for New Lawns

Visit your local garden center and you’ll find no shortage of fertilizers advertised as turf builders or lawn starters. But it’s not just the labels that set these formulas apart from other grass fertilizers. 

As a rule, fertilizers designed for new grass contain high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen is also a major part of standard lawn fertilizers — all plants, regardless of age, consume nitrogen in extremely large quantities. According to the University of California, phosphorus is important for new grass in particular because it encourages root development.

In contrast to mature grass, new grass really benefits from quick-release liquid fertilizers. However, you can also achieve great results using slow-release granules designed for young lawns.

Lawn Fertilizer N-P-K Ratio

You don’t need to be a landscaping expert to learn how to read a basic fertilizer label! 

When shopping for starter fertilizer, the main thing you should be looking at is the N-P-K ratio of any given product. This ratio tells you everything you need to know about the macronutrients within.

An N-P-K ratio is a standardized sequence of 3 numbers separated by hyphens. In order, these numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K.). 

For example, a fertilizer labeled 18-24-12 contains 18% nitrogen, 24% phosphorus, and 12% potassium. One labeled 24-25-4 contains 24% nitrogen, 25% phosphorus, and just 4% potassium.

Since new grass needs nitrogen and phosphorus to help become established, I recommend selecting an N-P-K ratio with a first and second number that is larger than the third. Many of the best fertilizers for new grass have an N-P-K ratio with a very large middle number which is great for root development.

Why Potassium Is Important

The benefits of nitrogen and phosphorus for new lawns are well-recognized. However, potassium is also extremely important if you want to grow the healthiest turf grass possible. 

On the cellular level, potassium assists in the transport of water, nutrients, and other molecules within grass plants. It also bolsters your lawn’s natural defense system, improving its resistance to stressors like heat, cold, drought, and disease.

Controlled Release Lawn Fertilizer

Most controlled-release fertilizers are sold as granules. Fertilizer granules contain nutrients that break down slowly — often requiring several weeks to fully dissolve — to feed plant roots over a longer period of time.

I typically prefer using controlled- or slow-release fertilizers on turf grass but fresh seed and sod are notable exceptions. Brand new grass benefits from quick-release nutrients, which aren’t always available from such formulas. 

If you want to use a controlled-release fertilizer on new grass, I strongly recommend choosing one that also contains instant-release nutrients.

On the other hand, controlled-release formulas are ideal for covering large areas. Using a walk-behind broadcast spreader, you can even apply grass seed and granular fertilizer simultaneously.

Lawn Fertilizer Spray

Fertilizer sprays penetrate the soil quickly and easily. The vast majority of liquid fertilizers also release their nutrients instantly, which is ideal for young grass. 

The main downside of using liquid fertilizer is that the nutrients don’t stay in the soil for very long. While this would be a problem for a mature lawn, I find it’s rarely an issue when feeding new grass seed or sod. In fact, a fast-acting starter fertilizer — that can then be replenished with a slow-release formula later in the season — is often preferred.

Most fertilizer sprays are best applied using a hose-end sprayer. Some formulas are sold pre-mixed in ready-to-use attachments. Others are sold as bulk concentrates (these tend to be the most economical). 

Keep in mind that liquid fertilizers are almost impossible to apply evenly to large sections of lawns.

Chelated Iron Supplement

Chelated iron is an excellent supplement that helps mature turf grass green up and darkens. It delivers a form of iron that is more accessible to plant roots within the soil than “normal” iron. 

However, it probably isn’t the best choice for brand-new seed or sod. I would wait until your new lawn has established itself before applying a concentrated source of chelated iron (or switching to a balanced fertilizer containing chelated iron).

Avoiding Fertilizer Burn on New Grass

Fertilizer burn occurs when too much fertilizer is applied at one time. While too much of any nutrient can damage turf grass, nitrogen is the most common culprit. Nitrogen is also one of the most crucial nutrients for lawn health. 

Testing the soil prior to fertilizing, as well as understanding the needs of your particular grass type, is very important. 

You should always measure and apply starter fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s directions. In general, you should wait for 6 to 8 weeks after applying starter fertilizer to a new lawn before using any nitrogen fertilizer on the area.

Best Fertilizers for New Lawns and Sod

There’s plenty to keep track of when starting a new lawn from scratch using seed or sod. So I’m guessing the last thing you want to do is spend hours comparing different start fertilizers in hopes of finding the best one.

To save you time (and a bit of your sanity), I’ve gone ahead and reviewed 8 formulas that are ideal for new lawns based on my own experience and expertise.

Fertilizers For New Grass
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 24-25-4
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • Appropriate for all grass varieties
  • Contains slow- and instant-release nitrogen
  • Encourages healthy root development

Cons

  • Not a good source of potassium

This Scotts fertilizer will have your new grass off to a great start and continue feeding it as it grows. It offers multiple nitrogen sources — some slow-release and some instantaneous — as well as a high percentage of phosphorus for vigorous root development.

Scotts promises that this formula will help new grass grow thicker and faster than unfed turf, which is obviously the goal of using starter fertilizer in the first place. You can safely use this slow-release fertilizer on all types of grass. It’s appropriate for new seeds, sod, plugs, and overseeding.

Since this fertilizer is quite low in potassium, it’s ideal for soil that already contains an adequate amount of the macronutrient. I don’t recommend using this fertilizer if a recent soil test indicated that your lawn is deficient in potassium. Also, this product should be kept away from natural water sources and storm drains because of its high phosphorus content.

How To Use: Using a broadcast spreader, apply according to the feeding guidelines found on the packaging. Can be used on both new and old grass. Do not apply prior to heavy watering or rainfall.

Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass Ready Spray 7 12 15
  • Type: Liquid Concentrate
  • N-P-K Ratio: 7-12-15
  • Coverage: 600 sq. ft.
  • Application: Hose End Spray

Pros

  • Packaged with a ready-to-use hose sprayer
  • Promotes thicker, faster growth

Cons

  • Not ideal for large areas

There are several reasons to opt for a liquid starter fertilizer over a granular one when feeding new grass, and this option from Scotts is my favorite. 

Because this fertilizer contains a low percentage of nitrogen, there’s minimal risk of overfeeding. It’s designed to be applied weekly to all grass types as soon as seedlings emerge.

Without a doubt, one of the best things about this formula is that it’s sold in a ready-to-use spray attachment. It’s compatible with practically all garden hoses and makes feeding small sections of new grass incredibly convenient.

The main drawback to this particular fertilizer is its limited coverage. I recommend using this formula only if you have relatively small areas needing fertilizing. Feeding an entire lawn with this product is far from ideal.

How To Use: Connect to a standard garden nose and switch the nozzle to the ON position. Spray evenly over grass seedlings until the area is lightly saturated but not waterlogged. Re-apply weekly to new grass.

3. The Andersons Starter Turf Fertilizer 18-24-12 
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 18-24-12
  • Coverage: 12,500 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • Delivers quick- and slow-release nitrogen
  • Treats phosphorus deficiencies in established lawns
  • Uniform granule size

Cons

  • Not safe to use around grazing animals

If you’re looking for professional-grade nutrition for a new or existing lawn, this fertilizer from The Andersons is a prime option. While it’s obviously intended for new seeds and sod, the formula is also ideal for use on existing lawns that need an extra dose of phosphorus due to soil deficiencies.

The moderate nitrogen content strikes a good balance of feeding young grass without overwhelming it. It’s also worth noting that this formula contains a mix of both quick- and slow-release nitrogen.

I highly recommend a fertilizer like this one if you have a large area in need of treatment. The granular formula is relatively easy to apply using a calibrated broadcast spreader. Plus, the granules themselves are uniform in size for a more even distribution of nutrients than you might get from other slow-release fertilizers.

How To Use: Apply at a rate of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet prior to sowing seed or laying sod. Mix into the top layer of soil (if possible) and water immediately. 

GreenView Starter Fertilizer 10-18-10
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 10-18-10
  • Coverage: 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • Feeds new grass for up to 8 weeks as it matures
  • Supports quick, healthy root development

Cons

  • Not intended for mature grass

Starting a lawn from scratch is hard enough work before you even consider nutrition. Fortunately, this GreenView fertilizer includes everything new grass needs to grow thick and strong during its first two months.

The primary goal of this fertilizer is to encourage rapid root development in new grass. So it should come as no surprise that it contains more phosphorus than any other nutrient.

This fertilizer is designed to be applied immediately before or after planting grass seeds. It delivers both instant and slow-release nutrients that feed the soil for up to 8 weeks. By that time, your lawn should be well-established and ready to transition to a maintenance fertilizer.

How To Use: Apply at a rate of 3.2 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of seeded area. For the best results, mix into the top layer of soil prior to spreading the seed. Once the grass is established, switch to a formula designed for mature turf.

Ferti-Lome Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer 9-13-7
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 9-13-7
  • Coverage: 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • High in phosphorus
  • Can be mixed with grass seed

Cons

  • Not safe to use near bodies of water

If you’re looking for a starter fertilizer that delivers a hefty dose of phosphorus without overfeeding, this formula from Ferti-Lome is a great choice. It is a less-concentrated starter fertilizer that is ideal for new lawns growing in fertile soil. 

You can rely on this fertilizer to feed fresh seeds, plugs, and sod. If you wish to save time and labor, Ferti-Lome advises mixing this granular fertilizer with grass seed to be applied at the same time. Alternatively, it can be applied shortly before planting seed or laying down sod.

Though this fertilizer contains less nitrogen than many of the others I recommend, it’s still possible to overapply it. Be sure to test your soil and apply as directed by the product label.

How To Use: Apply at a rate of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet of turf using a calibrated broadcast spreader. Water the entire area gently to activate granules.

Ferti-Lome Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer 9-13-7
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 16-4-8
  • Coverage: 10,000 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • Ideal for lawns of all ages
  • Fortifies the soil with Humic DG
  • Feeds for up to 8 weeks

Cons

  • Produces slow results

The best starter fertilizers aren’t always advertised as such. Take this formula from The Andersons, for example, which is one of my favorite fertilizers for grass both new and old.

There are several things that help this formula stand out from the competition. It features smaller granules that ensure more even nutrient distribution. The slow-release nutrients will feed your new lawn for 8 weeks without overwhelming it.

I also want to highlight the inclusion of humic and fulvic acid — a blend marketed as Humic DG. These ingredients improve soil quality and can even boost nutrient availability at the grassroots. 

How To Use: Apply using a broadcast spreader according to the product label. If applying over existing grass, ensure the lawn is dry. Water the area to activate granules and work nutrients into the soil.

Ferti-Lome Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer 9-13-7
  • Type: Liquid Concentrate
  • N-P-K Ratio: 16-4-8
  • Coverage: 3,200 sq. ft.
  • Application: Hose End Spray

Pros

  • Sold in a ready-to-use garden hose attachment
  • It contains seaweed and fish emulsion
  • Safe for new and mature grass

Cons

  • The spray bottle is prone to clogging

This Simple Lawn Solutions liquid concentrate is a starter fertilizer in the truest sense. I recommend this fertilizer as a one-time nutritional boost that a slow-release formula can then follow up as your grass matures.

This fertilizer is a rich source of fast-acting nitrogen, containing seaweed and fish emulsion. These organic ingredients feed beneficial microbes in the soil and improve its quality over time.

You may have noticed that this fertilizer’s N-P-K ratio is more in tune with those recommended for established lawns. While it’s safe to use on new sod or grass seed, you can also use this fertilizer in the spring to jump-start your existing lawn after winter.

How To Use: Connect the spray bottle to a garden hose and apply it to the area as directed. Water the area again within 24 hours of application for the best results.

Down to Earth Organic Bio-Turf.
  • Type: Granules
  • N-P-K Ratio: 8-3-5
  • Coverage: 4,160 sq. ft.
  • Application: Broadcaster

Pros

  • Certified organic by OMRI
  • Promotes deep root systems

Cons

  • Not a source of quick-release nitrogen

My last recommendation for you is this organic formula from Down To Earth. Down To Earth is one of my go-to brands for fertilizer of all types. Personally, I’m not surprised to find a high-quality starter fertilizer for lawns included in the brand’s lineup.

My favorite thing about this particular formula is that it prioritizes deep-root development and encourages better drought resistance in turf grass. It’s certified by OMRI for organic production and is safe to use for a variety of applications, including both new and established lawns. 

Note that this fertilizer consists primarily of slow-release nitrogen. For the best results, I recommend incorporating it into the soil well before you intend to plant seed or lay down sod.

How To Use: For new lawns, apply at a rate of 12 pounds for 1,000 square feet of soil. Mix the granules into the top several inches of soil before planting grass.

Fertilizing New Lawns

Fertilizing new grass is not much different from feeding an existing lawn. In both scenarios, I highly recommend conducting a soil test prior to any applications.

A soil test will tell you the nutrient profile of the native soil and highlight key areas where a starter fertilizer could improve its quality. On the off-chance that your native soil is particularly fertile, it will also help prevent overfeeding.

Meanwhile, starter fertilizer is not your only option for improving soil quality and nutrient content. I also recommend incorporating organic material such as aged compost into the top layer of soil prior to planting new grass. Be sure to take any such amendments into account when calculating the amount of nitrogen your lawn needs.

When to Apply Fertilizer to New Lawns

Generally speaking, starter fertilizer should be applied before sowing seed but after the soil has been otherwise prepped. Some granular formulas can be applied simultaneously with your grass seed using a broadcast spreader.

When laying sod, be sure to feed the area prior to installation. You do not want to apply quick- or slow-release fertilizers over the top of fresh sod.

Your initial application can be followed up with a fertilizer designed for mature grass after about 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the timeframe outlined by your chosen starter formula.

Newly Seeded Lawn

It’s best to apply starter fertilizer prior to planting grass seeds. In my experience, however, it’s also safe to apply fertilizer after seeding as long as the grass has not yet germinated.

Once your new grass germinates, I suggest waiting to apply more fertilizer until it reaches a height of several inches tall. Turf grass seedlings are very delicate and may be damaged by direct nitrogen applications.

When the grass has established itself, I recommend switching to a fertilizer intended for mature lawns. Check the label of your original starter fertilizer to determine exactly how long to wait between these applications.

Fertilizing New Sod

You should fertilize the soil prior to laying down new sod. Rest assured, the roots will still be able to access the nutrients in the soil.

While some experts recommend fertilizing sod again after 30 days, others suggest waiting at least 6 weeks before applying the second dose of fertilizer. Personally, I highly recommend reaching out to your sod supplier for their preferred feeding schedule.

How to Apply Lawn Fertilizer

Apply liquid concentrates using a hose-end attachment or stand-alone sprayer. Check the fertilizer packaging for the recommended application rate for your grass type and soil quality.

Granular fertilizers are best applied using a walk-behind broadcast spreader. A good spreader can be easily calibrated to the exact specifications of any given fertilizer. Speaking of which, you should double-check your broadcast spreader’s settings before each application to prevent accidental over- or under-feeding.

If you don’t have access to a walk-behind spreader, you can fertilize small areas of lawn by hand. Keep in mind, however, that it is very hard to achieve an even application using a hand spreader.

Calculating How Much Fertilizer You Need to Apply

Most starter fertilizer applications are prescribed in total square feet. You will need to measure the area to be seeded or sodded to determine how much fertilizer is needed. 

For a square or rectangular lawn, multiply the width by the length to find the area in square feet. If you have an irregularly-shaped lawn, I highly recommend dividing it into rectangular sections. You can then measure each section and add them together for the lawn’s total area.

How Often to Apply Fertilizer To New Grass

New turf grass generally only needs one application of starter fertilizer. Unless directed otherwise by the product’s label, I recommend applying starter fertilizer once immediately before sowing seed or laying sod.

After about 6 to 8 weeks — check your chosen starter fertilizer’s label for exact guidelines — you can apply a second dose of fertilizer to the young grass. Instead of using a starter formula, however, I suggest switching to a maintenance fertilizer designed for your law n’s nutritional needs.

Verdict: Best Fertilizer For New Sod or Seed

So much of starting a lawn from grass seed comes down to preparation. If you’re willing to invest in your future lawn’s success, one of the best things you can do is apply a starter fertilizer prior to seeding.

Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass 24-25-4

Best Controlled Release

Scotts Turf Builder for New Grass 24-25-4

An excellent blend of both slow and fast-release nutrients not only helps to establish foliage growth and root development but also means less need to reapply. 

For the benefits of both slow- and immediate-release nutrition, I recommend applying Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass 24-25-4. It’s an excellent granular formula that supports healthy root development in all young grass types.

Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer Spray 7-12-15

Best Liquid Fertilizer Spray

Scotts Turf Builder Fertilizer Spray 7-12-15

Reduce the risk of overfertilizing and increase the health of new grass growth with this liquid feed. Ideal for fertilizing small patches of new grass growth where re-application isn’t a concern. 

If you’re more drawn to a quick-release liquid formula, I recommend Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Starter Lawn Fertilizer Spray. This starter fertilizer couldn’t be easier to apply, largely because it comes packaged in a ready-to-use garden hose attachment.

FAQs Fertilizing New Grass