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

Fertilizing your lawn helps keep the grass healthy and maintains its green color. However, several fertilizer products in the market under different commercial names can create confusion when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn.  So, is lawn food the same as fertilizer?

Lawn food and fertilizers are technically not the same things. Plant food is naturally produced by plants using sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients from the soil through photosynthesis. On the other hand, fertilizer is a blend of natural or chemical substances artificially made to boost soil fertility.

Is Lawn Food the same as Fertilizer?

Soil contains different things, such as nutrients, organic matter, water, minerals, sand, and clay, among others. If the soil contains sufficient nutrients, it provides the grass with the necessary nutrients to make its lawn food.

Fertilizers contain primary nutrients required by plants to make their own food. They include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which come in different NPK ratios. They are added to the soil to boost the growth of your lawn.

Therefore, fertilizers help to provide your lawn with the 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 to attract customers. They also use names such as lawn boosters, turf builders, organic feeds, and many more.

To make it simple, fertilizers or fertilizer products that are labeled 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. Plants manufacture lawn food with the help of sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients absorbed from the soil. On the other hand, fertilizer is natural or chemical nutrients added to the soil to improve its fertility.

How lawn food is made

Grass-like any other plant, it prepares its own food by utilizing sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and other nutrients from the soil through a process known as photosynthesis.

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

Oxygen is released into the atmosphere while the plant uses sugars or glucose for energy. Plants use glucose to make starch and cellulose. Starch is a complex carbohydrate 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 constituent of the plant cell wall.

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

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

Fertilizer composition

Most fertilizers contain the three primary macronutrients that include: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also contains micronutrients that benefit plants in different ways. Let’s have a look at each of them.


Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the primary macronutrients required by plants.

  • Nitrogen: This is the most important element required by plants. It helps to promote the lush green growth of plants. It also enhances the production of chlorophyll, which is essential in photosynthesis. Without nitrogen, plants cannot produce their own food.
  • Phosphorus: Phosphorus is also basic nutrient plants need to grow healthy. It encourages root growth, promotes flowering and production of seeds, aids in the transition of solar energy into chemical energy, and plays a role in photosynthesis.
  • Potassium is also a basic nutrient that helps to make plants resilient to damage caused by pests, diseases, drought, and temperature fluctuations. With less stress, your lawn will likely grow healthy and maintain its green color.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium forms part of the chlorophyll that plays an important role in photosynthesis. You can obtain magnesium from organic materials, Epsom salt, dolomitic limestone, and soil minerals.
  • Calcium: Calcium helps to facilitate the absorption of water and the movement of substances and supports 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 the production of seeds, strengthens the roots, generates growth, and creates chlorophyll. It also aids in the production of vitamins, enzymes, and proteins.


Fertilizers also contain different micronutrients that include:

  • Zinc: Helps to control the amount of sugar consumed by your lawn as well as ensuring carbohydrates are in a proper form to be utilized by the plants.
  • Iron: Iron helps form chlorophyll, which plays an important role in photosynthesis.
  • Copper: Lawns and other plants require copper to boost the metabolism of the roots. It also helps the plants in the process of reproducing.
  • Boron: Boron promotes flowering as well as the production of seeds. It also helps plants to produce carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Chlorine: It aids 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 a plant’s nitrogen metabolism. With the help of other enzymes, it also aids in breaking down carbohydrates.
  • Cobalt: Helps in nitrogen fixation and enables the plants to adapt and establish in a new environment.
  • Molybdenum: Molybdenum helps in regulating the amount of nitrogen that plants use.

What’s better, lawn food or fertilizer?

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 determine the exact nutrient lacking in the soil and the proportion required.

Most commercial lawn foods or fertilizers contain three primary nutrients the plants require. They include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients may be balanced or in different ratios, as usually labeled on the package.

For instance, a balanced fertilizer may be labeled as N-P-K 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. The numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively.

Therefore, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. The remaining 70 percent is made up of ballast or filler materials to improve the flowability of the fertilizer.

Some fertilizers may have a higher percentage of nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium. For instance, N-P-K 25-5-5 contains a higher percentage of nitrogen than the other two nutrients.

There are various factors to consider when selecting the best fertilizer for your lawn. For instance, the fertilizer ratio of a new or struggling lawn may not be the same for an established lawn.

New or struggling lawns 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 a 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, 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 a longer time to dissolve, absorb, and provide results. However, they are the best choice when you want a fertilizer that will last longer in the soil. Check my post on; How long it takes granular fertilizers take to work.

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 formulations added to the soil to improve fertility. However, some manufacturers brand their fertilizers as “lawn food”.

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