Taking the time each year to give your lawn what it needs, when it needs it, is very important. As any good lawn parent knows, for a lawn to grow up strong and healthy, it requires a fertilizer (food) boost. Fertilizer can come in many forms, but in the lawn and gardening community, two of the most popular types are granular and liquid.
Of course, there is a debate about which of these two fertilizer application types are better. That’s what we’re here to discuss today.
Let’s begin by breaking down the pros and cons of granular and liquid fertilizers.
- Even application – each drop of liquid contains essentially identical nutrients and depending on your sprayer/nozzle settings; you can evenly cover an area.
- Instantly available – immediately after exposure, plants can begin absorbing and using the nutrients.
- Easy to prepare – most liquid fertilizers only need to be measured out and added to a set amount of water.
- More applications required – since this is a fast-releasing agent, it is used quickly and needs to be reapplied more often.
- Expensive – if you have a large yard, your wallet will feel it.
- Timing weather – liquid fertilizer needs to be on a plant for a given time before it takes full effect. If it rains before this time, the application is essentially wasted.
- Customizable – depending on your lawn and soil, you can adjust the fertilizer to meet your lawn’s needs.
- Slow-releasing – most of the organic granular fertilizers are slow releasing which generally means fewer applications.
- Cheap – less expensive than liquid in most cases.
- Over-application – if too much granular fertilizer is applied in one area, it can “burn” the lawn. This really only applies to synthetic products though.
- Difficult to apply evenly – depending on your spreader, you may not get an even distribution of granular fertilizer
- Lack of mobility – as this is a slow releasing fertilizer and immobile, where a granular is placed is the only area it impacts, so if it is not within the range of a plant in need, it will not work on that plant.
Fast vs. Slow Release
Both granular and liquid fertilizers are effective fertilizers, but how do they work and what are the benefits for your lawn with each?
Liquid fertilizer is a fast-releasing fertilizer which means it releases its nutrients almost immediately upon contact. The various nutritional components can be absorbed practically instantly by your grass.
This fast-releasing aspect of liquid fertilizers is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
The upside to this rapid release is that plants are given access to what they need as soon as contact is made. For plants and lawns that are in dire need of a fertilizer boost, liquid fertilizer is a great option. The faster you can give your lawn what it needs, the faster it will begin to bounce back or perk up.
However, the downside to using liquid fertilizer is the fact that it does release so quickly; thus it is used up quickly. Because all of the nutrients are readily available, a lawn will soon go through what it is feed and will need repeat doses to maintain a healthy nutritional balance.
Another downside to this method of release is that if an application is not appropriately timed with the weather, it can be washed away and there will be little to nothing left for the lawn to use. Needless to say, if you’re using a liquid fertilizer, plan around the weather and plan to give it enough time to take effect if rain is expected.
Granular fertilizer, otherwise known as dry fertilizer, is a slow-releasing fertilizer. This means that the nutrients contained within each granule take more time to release and steadily release their nutrients into the environment over time instead of all at once.
With this type of fertilizer, it can pretty much be applied at any time. The only risk of diluting granular fertilizer effectiveness is if a major rain washes it away.
A light rain/watering is required for the granular to “activate” and become effective. Dry granular doesn’t help feed the plant.
The few downsides to using this type of fertilizer are that it does not help a lawn quickly. The other downside is that in granular fertilizers, certain nutrients (i.e., phosphorus) are not always absorbed in full and are left in the ground and can cause damage to a lawn if it’s allowed to build up over time.
Now let’s go over the different application methods for both liquid and granular fertilizer.
Ground application of liquid fertilizer is a technique that merely involves directly fertilizing the ground. For this fertilization method to be effective, you need to time it right based on your lawns growth.
Ground application won’t do any good if you apply it too early. The point to ground application is to catch the tips of your lawn as they emerge.
Needless to say, you wouldn’t want to fertilize using this method during dormant months: fall or winter. You would want to feed like this during the spring or various growth stages during the summer – after it rains and you anticipate a few sunny days.
Foliar application is simply a method of applying fertilizer directly to the foliage of your grass, i.e., the leafy parts and roots. This type of application, especially at the roots, is effective because it allows the plant to absorb the fertilizer directly.
This liquid fertilizer application technique is a great option!
Granular fertilizers can be applied in two main ways; as a band at planting time or spread using a spreader on an established lawn.
This type of application is the method you would use when a plant or seed is first being placed in the ground. For this granular fertilizer application, you will be applying a small amount of fertilizer directly next to the seed.
You will want to place a few granules about a finger tip’s length beneath the plant or seed and a few granules to the sides of the hole also about a finger tip’s length deep. This allows the granular fertilizer to slowly take effect as the plant grows and begins to take root in the soil.
At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that we all know what a broadcast spreader is and what it does. The key in using a broadcast spreader as your primary application method is to make sure you are spreading consistently and evenly. If you do not spread uniformly, you risk chemically burning your lawn and ruining that area until nature balances the chemicals or you put in even more work to undo the over-application.
To ensure that you are spreading your granular fertilizer evenly over your lawn, and not causing any damage, here are a few tips.
- Practice walking with your spreader on your yard without any product to understand your walking patterns.
- Maintain a consistent walking pace from start to finish. A brisk pace is best to avoid over-application by spending too long in one area.
- Don’t spread too thick. Make sure the settings on your spreader are set to release the granular fertilizer at a rate you can keep up with.
So, the burning question, which one is better? Which fertilizer is best? Which fertilizer should you spend your money on?
If your main concern is cost, get granular fertilizer, but if you take money out of the equation, it all depends on how much work and time you’re willing to invest.
If you’re up for fertilizing multiple times throughout the spring and summer and you are willing to pay attention to the weather, then go with liquid fertilizer.
However, if you don’t want to fertilize as often and your lawn isn’t in immediate danger, then granular fertilizer is the way to go.
As with most things in lawn and garden care, which method or product you use is really up to you and your preferences.
Personally, I do both. I enjoy using my backpack sprayer so I put down quite a bit of liquid products during the summer months – but not when it’s too hot. I usually put down