Fix Your Garden! How to Reverse Lawn Fertilizer Burn

There are many steps involved when it comes to achieving a beautiful, lush, green lawn.

Unfortunately, using fertilizer is one of them, and in the US alone, we tend to be a bit overzealous with its application.

And that causes problems – for us, for our lawns, and – not least – for the environment.

One of the most common is “fertilizer burn,” which happens when too much product is applied on a given area.

But don’t panic just yet!

In this article, we tell you how to reverse fertilizer lawn burn, and get your grass back on track to looking its best.

Contents

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Fertilizer Burn on Grass – The Quick Version

You’re worried you’ve over-fertilized your lawn, and you might even have noticed early signs that it’s happening. In a panic, you don’t have time to read a full article on the subject.

grass with fertilizer burn

So, here’s the short version:

To reverse fertilizer burn, follow the steps below:

  • Water the lawn.

That’s about it!

That said, there’s a little more to it than that, and I highly recommend you keep reading to learn more about fertilizer burn, including how and why it happens.

And how much water to give it.

If every lawn care enthusiast was armed with this knowledge, our lawns (and the environment) would be the better for it!

What is Fertilizer Burn?

When too much fertilizer is applied to a plant, fertilizer burn can be the result.

It isn’t the same kind of burn you’d get from heat, (although the effects can be similar) but rather a chemical reaction that damages the grass/foliage.

Aside from over fertilizing, this can also occur when applying a product unevenly, or due to an accidental spillage – which we’ve all done. Never decant fertilizer from its packaging while on the lawn!

But how does fertilizer burn happen?

Fertilizers contain nutrients that are essential to the growth of plants. They provide this by “feeding” the soil – which the plant can then take up and use for a health boost.

But you can have too much of a good thing, and some of these fertilizers also contain soluble mineral salts that draw moisture away from the grass and into the soil.

It basically disrupts a process called osmosis, which in turn disrupts a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which in turn causes a plant to lose its color and eventually die.

But I’m no biological boffin! The video below – from an actual soil scientist – will give you a more in-depth explanation of how and why this process occurs when over-fertilizing plants.

Fertilizer Burn Signs

How do you know when your grass or plants are victims of fertilizer burn?

The first tell-tale over-fertilization lawn symptoms include yellow or browned grass, or shades thereof. If you’ve recently fertilized, and your grass turns color – it’s likely a result of fertilizer burn.

And it can be hard to identify during the summer – as sun-scorched, parched grass looks very similar.

Below the surface, the plant’s roots might also be harmed, and if your grass has become brittle, crunchy, and breaks easily instead of bending – then a replanting job might be the only way to go.

The key to identifying the problem is to make the connection between how and when you last fertilized.

But how long does fertilizer burn take to occur?

You will usually see the effects of over-fertilization one or two days after application – if you’re using a liquid product, that is typically fast-acting.

Slow-release granular formulas might take as much as two weeks to show the signs of fertilizer burned grass. Go here for more information on granular vs liquid fertilizers.

And this general article on how to fix yellow grass covers a variety of other issues that might be causing the discoloration of your lawn.

dead grass in yard

How to Fix Fertilizer Burn

Accidents happen, and mistakes can be made – we’re only human, after all.

Thankfully, fertilizer burn is pretty straightforward to reverse, and with these steps (or step, singular) your grass should bounce back in no time.

Watering – the key to reviving your grass is adequate hydration. Water will dilute the fertilizer, and a generous daily soak will help to wash away the excess salt.

Give the area about an inch of water every day, and do this for a maximum of one week.

If it shows no signs of recovery, your grass is likely to be severely damaged and beyond saving. Replanting is probably your only course of action.

You can try overseeding, for a cost-effective, but a time-consuming method to revitalize your lawn.

Or, you might like to give grass plugs a go – and you can follow that link to find out why it’s a good alternative to both overseeding and laying sod.

If, on the other hand, your grass starts to recover, then congratulations! You have repaired the fertilizer burn! Continue to water responsibly, as part of a normal lawn irrigation schedule for the season.

There is another option on the table, however! Maybe it’s time you take the hint, and do away with the lawn altogether?!

They’re not that great for the environment after all, and there are so many more beneficial options available!

Read the fascinating history of lawns for more information, and you just might find out that you can save a ton of money, time, effort, and waste in the process!

dry grass in drought

How to Prevent Fertilizer Burn

Prevention is better than cure, and if only homeowners took more care when it comes to applying fertilizer products, we’d reduce the amount of problems we see in our gardens – and in the environment.

In order to fully prevent fertilizer burn, I would suggest abstaining from fertilizer use altogether. Grass will grow fine on its own, after all!

But if you really must give it a health boost to take it to the next level, then make sure you apply the right kind of fertilizer at the right time – and always in accordance with the instructions.

Sure, it might be labeled as “lawn food,” and you might think that by giving it a huge portion, it’s automatically going to be healthier, stronger, and greener than everyone else’s lawn on the block.

This is nonsense.

Check out our full guide to how and when to fertilize your garden, and you can also read more at our complete month-by-month lawn care calendar.

And this article on the different types of lawn fertilizer will help you identify the right kind of product to use on your lawn.

Alternatively, you might also like to try making your own – as a DIY organic fertilizer has so many uses around the garden, and you’re less likely to burn plants with its use. Follow that link to learn how!

Organic is just one of several types of gardening methods, but it’s one I continue to champion, as it’s the most eco-friendly way to achieve a beautiful, bountiful yard.

How to Revive Burnt Grass

Perhaps you’re looking to revive a burnt lawn of a different kind?

As in – it’s literally been burned!

man watering a green lawn

With, y’know, fire. Or heat. And not a sarcastic, witty put down.

Maybe you’ve had a bonfire, or a fire pit?

Severely burnt grass might well be beyond salvation, (black, ashy remains), and raking up the dead material followed by overseeding is probably the best solution.

However, you can certainly try to bring it back to life with a proper lawn watering schedule. Follow that link for a full step-by-step guide to lawn irrigation.

FAQs

How long does it take a lawn to recover from fertilizer burn?

It depends on the extent of the damage. If it’s just the top grass on the surface, you’re probably looking at one to two weeks for a full recovery – with adequate watering.

For a more serious problem, it will depend on the method you choose to replace that patch of grass – overseeding, grass plugs, or laying sod.

Does fertilizer kill weeds?

While fertilizer can burn plants, it’s not that great at actually killing them off (you’ll want to try all these different types of weed killer for that).

Still, you can find out more if you read our “does Fertilizer Kill Weeds” article.

Is lawn food the same as fertilizer?

Great question. In short – yes, it is!

This marketing ploy by companies might be the reason some homeowners put too much fertilizer down on their lawns. Plants actually make their own food!

I highly recommend reading this article on lawn food vs fertilizer to get properly clued in.

Can organic fertilizer burn plants?

Used correctly, organic fertilizers won’t burn plants – not anything like synthetic products can.

Which is just another reason to make the switch to using organic methods in your gardening! Go here for some more awesome eco-friendly lawn care tips.

Summary

If we all used fertilizer properly, there would be no need for articles on how to reverse fertilizer burn. I can’t stress enough how important it is to use these products responsibly.

We’re already causing enough damage to the environment as it is.

Let me know your thoughts on over-fertilization, especially if you have any top-tips for our readers on how to bring plants back to life.

Stay safe out there, and happy gardening!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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