Is Lawn Food the Same as Fertilizer? (What’s the Difference?)

Fertilizing your lawn helps to keep the grass healthy as well as maintaining the green color. However, there’re several fertilizer products in the market under different commercial names that can create confusion when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn.  So, is lawn food the same as fertilizer?

Lawn food and fertilizers are not technically the same thing. Plant food is a natural occurring substance or a by-product that plants produce by utilizing sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients from the soil through photosynthesis. On the other hand, fertilizer is a blend of natural or chemical substances added into the soil to increase its fertility.

Is Lawn Food the same as Fertilizer?

Soil contain different things such as nutrients, organic matter, water, minerals, sand, and clay among others. If the soil contain sufficient nutrients for a healthy growth of your lawn, it means that it’s providing the grass with necessary nutrients required to make their own lawn food.

However, if the soil has inadequate nutrients that is where fertilizer comes in. Fertilizers contains primary nutrients required by plants to make their own food. They include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They are added into the soil to boost the growth of your lawn.

Therefore, fertilizers helps to provide your lawn with nutrients they need to develop strong roots, promote lush green leaves and to make them resilient to drought and bad weather conditions. Therefore, “Lawn food” is just how some manufacturers name their fertilizer products in order to attract customers.

Other than lawn food, there are also other commercial names that manufacturers use to name their fertilizer product. Some of them are lawn starter, lawn boosters, turf builders, organic feeds and among others. These are just simply fertilizers.

To make it simple, fertilizers or fertilizer products that are labelled as “lawn food” are soil additives containing different nutrients to help the plants make their own food with the help of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.

Lawn Food vs Fertilizer – Differences

It is important to understand that lawn food and fertilizer are technically two different things. First of all, lawn food is the by-product that grass produce from the use of sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients absorbed from the soil. On the other hand, fertilizer is natural or chemical nutrients added into the soil to improve the health of the plants.

Secondly, lawn food is naturally occurring while fertilizer is commercially made in the lab. Grass uses nutrients from the soil and environment to make their own food known as lawn food while fertilizers are made to enrich the soil with nutrients. Let’s have a look at each of them.

What Is Lawn Food?

Grass like any other plants prepares their own food by utilizing sunlight, carbon dioxide water and other nutrients from the soil through a process known as photosynthesis. The plant produces sugars or glucose and oxygen as a by-product of this process.

Plants absorbs carbon dioxide from the air through its foliage. Carbon dioxide molecules combines with molecules of water using the light energy to form carbohydrate molecules or glucose and oxygen.

Oxygen is released into the atmosphere while the plant uses the sugars or glucose for energy. Plants uses glucose to make starch and cellulose. Starch is complex carbohydrates that is stored in different parts of the plant as a food source. On the other hand cellulose is also a complex carbohydrate that is used as a main constitute of the plant cell wall.

Chlorophyll is the primary pigment that is used in the process of photosynthesis as well as giving plants the green color. It help the plant to absorb light energy from the sun or other sources. Photosynthesis also takes place in the chloroplast.

Chloroplast is a type of organelle with a membrane that contains chlorophyll. They are primarily located in the plant leaves. They also contains a plate-shaped structures known as thylakoids that are responsible for collecting photons of light that are used in the process of photosynthesis.

What is Fertilizer?

Fertilizer is a combination of macronutrients and micronutrients that are added into the soil to improve the health of your lawn. Most fertilizers contains the three primary macronutrients that include: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Both macronutrients and micronutrients benefits the plants in different ways. Let’s have a look at each of them.


Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the primary macronutrients required by plants. However, there’re also others that are helpful to plants. Let’s have a look at each of them:

  • Nitrogen: This is the most important element required by plants. It helps to promote a lush green growth of plants. It also enhances production of chlorophyll that is essential in the process of photosynthesis. Without nitrogen, plants cannot produce their own food.
  • Phosphorus: Phosphorus is also a basic nutrient required by plants to grow healthy. It encourages roots growth, promotes flowering and production of seeds, aides in the transition of solar energy into chemical energy and also plays a role in the process of photosynthesis.
  • Potassium: This is also a basic nutrient that help to make plants resilient to damages caused by pests, diseases, drought and temperature fluctuations. With less stress, your lawn is likely to grow healthy and maintain the green color.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium form part of the chlorophyll that play an important role in the process of photosynthesis. You can obtain magnesium from organic materials, Epsom salt, dolomitic limestone and soil minerals.
  • Calcium: Calcium helps to facilitate absorption water and movement of substances as well as supporting the structure of cell walls within the plant.
  • Sulfur: This nutrient is beneficial to plants in different ways. It helps to make plants withstand cold temperatures, promotes production of seed, strengthens the roots, generates growth and creates chlorophyll. It also aides in the production of vitamins, enzymes and proteins.


Fertilizers also contain different micronutrients that include:

  • Zinc: Helps to control the amount sugars consumed by your lawn as well as ensuring carbohydrates are in a proper form to be utilized by the plants.
  • Iron: Iron helps in the formation of chlorophyll which plays an important role in the process of photosynthesis.
  • Copper: Lawn and other plants requires copper to boost metabolism of the roots. It also helps the plants in the process of reproducing.
  • Boron: Boron promotes flowering as well as production of seeds. It also helps the plants to produce carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Chlorine: It aides in the process of photosynthesis. For plants to make their own food, they require water, carbon dioxide, sunlight and other nutrients from the soil.
  • Manganese: Manganese plays a role in plant’s nitrogen metabolism. With help of other enzymes, it also aides in breaking down carbohydrates.
  • Cobalt: Helps in nitrogen fixation as well as enabling the plants to adapt and establish in a new environment.
  • Molybdenum: Molybdenum helps in regulating the amount of nitrogen that is used by plants.

What’s better lawn food or fertilizer?

We have agreed that commercial lawn food and fertilizers are simply the same thing. Therefore, when selecting the best lawn food or fertilizer for your grass, it should have the appropriate nutrients required by the plants. Conducting a soil test can help to determine the exact nutrient that is lacking in the soil and the proportion required.

Most lawn foods or fertilizers contain three primary nutrients required by the plants. They include: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These nutrients may be balance or in different ratios as usually labelled on the package.

For instance, a balanced fertilizer may be labelled as N-P-K 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. The numbers represents the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium respectively. Therefore, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contain 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. The remaining 70 percentage is made up of ballast or filler materials to improve the flow-ability of the fertilizer.

On the other hand, some fertilizer may have a higher percentage of nitrogen as compared to phosphorus and potassium. For instance, N-P-K 25-5-5 contains higher percentage of nitrogen as compared to the other two nutrients.

There are various factors to consider when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn. For instance, fertilizer ratio of a new or struggling lawn may not be the same for an established lawn. New or struggling lawn require a fertilizer with high percentages of both nitrogen and phosphorus with little potassium to stimulate shooting and root development.

 On the other hand, an established lawn requires a fertilizer with high percentage of nitrogen, no phosphorus and little potassium. Nitrogen will help to maintain the green growth while potassium helps to increase its resilience to pests and diseases attack.

If time is of the essence, using liquid quick release fertilizers may be the best choice over slow-release granular fertilizers. Liquid fertilizers are absorbed by the lawn almost immediately after application to provide results within 5 to 7 days.

On the other hand, slow-release fertilizers will take longer time to dissolve, absorb and to provide results. However, they are the best choice when you want a fertilizer that will last longer in the soil.

Final Thoughts

Plants make their own food using light energy, carbon dioxide, water and other nutrients from the soil through a process known as photosynthesis. On the other hand, fertilizers are organic or chemical additives that are added into the soil to improve its fertility.

So, plant or lawn food is not the same as fertilizers. However, some manufacturers brand their fertilizers “lawn food”. You should not fertilize your grass with lawn food and fertilizers simultaneously to prevent overdose. They both contains the same nutrient.

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