Liquid vs. Granular Fertilizers – Which Is Better for Lawns?

Fertilizers can be confusing for even seasoned gardeners. When thinking of fertilizers, several questions come to mind — what brand to choose, what to look for, and which one is right for my lawn? 

But ultimately, it all boils down to two types of fertilizers — liquid and granular. While both liquid and granular fertilizers work well to nourish your lawn, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each type and how they affect your grass and soil, given that each one works differently.

Liquid and granular fertilizers contain the three main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) required for plant growth, root development, and strengthening. 

These three nutrients offer benefits at the cellular level and work collectively to create and strengthen the membranes of cells. 

Even though fertilizer is the best way to provide your plants with these three basic nutrients, plants can’t tell the difference between the nutrients supplied by either liquid or granular fertilizers. 

The biggest difference between liquid and granular fertilizers is the way they deliver these three and more nutrients to plants. Therefore, both types of fertilizers offer a few advantages over the other when used for certain applications. 

Fertilizer TypeGranularLiquid
ReleaseSlow controlledDirect
Shelf LifeLongerShort
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What are Granular Fertilizers? 

what are Granular Fertilizers

Granular fertilizers are available as slow-release pellets or beads. Often referred to as dry fertilizers, granular fertilizers are meant to be worked into the soil or sprinkled across your lawn. 

They can be ordered in medium or large-size bags or bottles and can be used for gardens, turfgrass, and other plants. Granular fertilizers are usually meant to be slow-release fertilizers, hence contain higher concentrations of nutrients to last longer.

When applied properly, dry fertilizers take roughly a week to show great results and can last anywhere between two and nine months. Granular fertilizers have been a tried and tested way of nourishing your yard for several decades and for several great reasons. 

Advantages of Granular Fertilizers 

  • Cost-efficient

Granular fertilizers offer a plethora of benefits surrounding their use, most notably that they are cost-effective, starting at just $20 for a single application for an average-sized lawn. Plus, even high-end spreaders used for the application process are extremely affordable and offer great longevity. 

  • Can be spread at any time of day or year

Dry fertilizers are an ideal choice for areas that receive a lot of wind, and sun or in hot climates because the beads don’t collect on grass blades, and burn foliage. And because they don’t cause damage to plant leaves, granular fertilizers can be applied around the clock and year. 

  • Application

Owing to their slow-release qualities, dry fertilizers can be applied by hand or with a fertilizer spreader before spring growth, at the end of the growing season, and even mid-winter depending on the type of turfgrass you have planted in your lawn. 

  • Slow or controlled release

Another noteworthy feature that makes some granular fertilizer products a hit among lawn care professionals and homeowners alike is their slow and controlled release mechanism aka spacial difference. 

To explain briefly, the granular pellets or beads are loaded with a blend of nutrients, which are coated with one or more complex agents along with a coating agent such as mineral oil or fatty acid to help release the nutrients over time. 

This allows you to feed your lawn at various times of the year, especially for midwinter fertilizer applications in hot climates where your grass is not completely dormant in the winter, but is still absorbing existing nutrients from the fertilizer for slow, vegetative growth. Did you know a healthy lawn can store excess nutrients?

A good slow-release fertilizer is from The Andersons.

The Andersons 25-0-3 Turf Fertilizer with 2% Iron, 50 lb. Bag
32 Reviews
The Andersons 25-0-3 Turf Fertilizer with 2% Iron, 50 lb. Bag
  • The nitrogen, plus iron, greens up turf for up to 8 weeks
  • 50% of the total nitrogen is derived from NutriSphere-N
  • Proven to prolong desirable turf color

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There are also several quick-release granular fertilizers to choose from, and even though they aren’t as quick as their liquid counterparts, they are absorbed quicker by your soil than slow-release dry fertilizers.

 One good example of a quick-release fertilizer that will work on all lawn types is Scotts Green Max.

Scotts Green Max Lawn Food, Lawn Fertilizer Plus Iron Supplement...
7,580 Reviews
Scotts Green Max Lawn Food, Lawn Fertilizer Plus Iron Supplement...
  • Scotts Green Max Lawn Food is a dual-action fertilizer and iron formula that feeds your lawn and provides deep greening in just 3 days
  • This lawn care product contains 5% iron, a micronutrient that enhances the greening process for fast results
  • Apply this fertilizer plus iron supplement to any grass type in the spring, summer, or fall

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Disadvantages of Granular Fertilizers 

Granular Fertilizer Disadvantages

Even though the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of granular fertilizers, they may not be the best choice for all lawns. 

One of the major downsides of dry fertilizers is the water required for the nutrients and minerals in the pellets to be absorbed by plants. This means that there’s a good possibly that the nutrients won’t reach the roots if you don’t water enough. 

Next, applying granular fertilizer requires some level of expertise for two main reasons — you may need to calibrate your spreader to match the fertilizer, and seeing where you’ve already fertilized may be difficult, especially in thick grass. 

Slow-release granular fertilizers are rich in salt content, which may burn your grass if you over-fertilize

Even with a broadcast spreader, applying granular fertilizer does require elbow grease, because first, you have to load the spreader, walk across your entire yard with it, and then come back and water the fertilizer into the soil using a good sprinkler system or oscillating sprinkler.

What are Liquid Fertilizers? 

what are liquid fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers have become increasingly popular in recent times, owing mostly to their ease of use. Contrary to granular fertilizer, liquid fertilizers are generally added to water and then sprayed across your lawn and on plants. 

Owing to their concentrated form, liquid fertilizers are rich in nutrients compared to granular fertilizers. Furthermore, they are also much easier to use, where some bottled liquid fertilizers can be used by simply attaching them to your regular garden hose. 

Liquid fertilizers are highly versatile in that they can be either ground or foliar applied. When foliar is applied — that is when you apply the fertilizer directly to the leaves as opposed to the soil, they are more readily available for plant use compared to ground application. 

However, foliar-applied liquid fertilizer is often short-lived and doesn’t last until the end of the growing season. 

Even though the total number of nutrients delivered to your yard by both granular and liquid fertilizers is the same, one may be more beneficial to use over the other depending on the specific application. 

Advantages of Liquid Fertilizers

liquid fertilizer advantages
  • Easy to use

Perhaps the biggest benefit of liquid fertilizers is that they’re easy to use. Whether you’re using a hose connected with a liquid fertilizer bottle, backpack sprayer, or standard spray bottle, liquid fertilizer is much easier to apply than hauling around a clunky spreader through your lawn. 

  • Easy to keep track of fertilized location

With granular fertilizers, it’s hard to keep tabs on the area where you’ve applied the fertilizer if you don’t have a sharp eye to notice.

This isn’t the case with liquid fertilizers, as they can be mixed with a pattern indicator dye to indicate where exactly you’ve fertilized. Knowing where you fertilize will help you prevent over-fertilizing or under-fertilizing a specific area. 

A good product for this is Lazer from Liquid Harvest

Liquid Harvest Lazer Blue - 8 Ounces - Concentrated Spray Pattern...
15,939 Reviews
Liquid Harvest Lazer Blue - 8 Ounces - Concentrated Spray Pattern...
  • PREVENTS OVER APPLICATION: Lazer spray pattern indicator helps to prevent over-applying products by providing a visual indication of the spray coverage, ensuring that you use just the right amount of product required for your intended target.
  • DETECTS PRODUCT DRIFT: Lazer helps detect product drift and ensures that you don't spray areas that are not intended for treatment, reducing wastage and saving you money.
  • EASY TO USE: Lazer is easy to use and can be added to your sprayer without any additional equipment, making it an ideal solution for both homeowners and professional users.

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  • No special tools required

As mentioned earlier, applying liquid fertilizer is as easy as connecting the hose-based spray bottle with your home garden hose and running water. This means that you save costs on broadcast spreaders, etc., which you can probably use for your other lawn maintenance applications. 

A great product that fits this description is from Simple Lawn Solutions:

Advanced 16-4-8 Balanced NPK - Lawn Food Quality Liquid...
  • Complete NPK Lawn Food: 16-4-8 is the perfect blend of key macronutrients. This lawn liquid food turf fertilizer also contains Seaweed & Fish.
  • Contains High Quality Feed Grade Ingredients: Nourish your lawn with pure liquid Nutrients in a ready to use sprayer
  • Easy To Use: Designed to be easily applied. This complete Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash formula gives your grass greening & growth while providing nutrients for lush lawns

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  • Can be mixed easily with other products

If you want to perform two lawn care tasks simultaneously such as applying a fertilizer and pesticide or selective herbicide, you can mix the products, and spray the solution across your yard. Learn more about selective herbicides.

  • Hyper-targeted toward the roots

Just like foliar applications, the nutrients from liquid fertilizers are absorbed by the soil almost immediately, hence making their way down quickly to the roots. And the quicker the nutrients reach the roots, the quicker you’ll see a lush, green lawn. 

Disadvantages of Liquid Fertilizers

  • Doesn’t last long

One of the common questions people ask is how long does liquid fertilizer last after application? While liquid fertilizers are absorbed easily by the soil, you will probably have to apply feed more often for the desired results. This can prove to be costly, especially if you have a large yard to fertilize throughout the season. 

  • Shorter shelf life

Liquid fertilizers also have a shelf life, hence do need to be stored in the proper conditions. Most liquid fertilizers when stored in a garage or shed through the winter months tend to separate, which sends the nutrients to the bottom and inactive liquid towards the top. 

Using liquid fertilizer in this state can have a detrimental effect on your lawn, so it’s always a good idea to carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and directions. Here are some key tips on improving the shelf life of fertilizers.

  • Cost more than granular fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers are generally costlier than their granular counterparts. These costs can spiral out of control if you have a massive yard that you need to fertilize more than once or twice during the season. 

  • Weather can affect the application

For best results, liquid fertilizers should be sprayed on non-windy days, because the wind can blow the fertilizer away easily from its targeted area, and sometimes even into an area that you’ve just fertilized. 

Final Thoughts

Liquid or granular fertilizer – which one should you use? Well, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to regreen your lawn, liquid fertilizer is the way to go, as long as you have the budget for reapplication if needed, and you live in a non-windy area. 

I have a roundup of the best fertilizers or various grass types here:

However, if you want long-term results, and don’t mind the wait time, then granular is perhaps the best route to take. 

But what’s worth mentioning again is that both granular and liquid fertilizers contain the same amount of nutrients, so regardless of which one you use, you’ll see great results with proper application. 

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