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Fertilizer terms

Complete fertilizers will have the 3 most important macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K) and will be stated on the fertilizer bag.  The numbers on the bag are always written in the same order and indicate the fertilizer analysis which is the percent (%) of nitrogen, phosphorus (as an oxide P2O5) and potassium (as soluble potash K2O) by weight. In a 100 lb bag of 20-5-10, 20% would be the nitrogen (or 20 lbs), 5% would be the phosphorus source (or 5 lbs) and 10% would be the potassium source (or 10 lbs).  The remaining material is needed to help spread the fertilizer or may just be part of the N, P or K and not added to make if spread better.

Another fertilizer term worth knowing is fertilizer ratio.  That is the proportion of the nutrients to each other. A fertilizer with the analysis of 20-20-20 has a 1:1:1 ratio as does 30-30-30.  A fertilizer with a 20-5-10 analysis has a 4:1:2 ratio.

A starter fertilizer is one that has a higher percent of phosphorus which is beneficial at the time of seed establishment and overseeding if soils are low in P. Examples include: 18-24-12 and 16-25-12.

Commonly used abbreviations and symbols

Unit Abbreviation or symbol Examples
Ounces oz. Apply 5 oz. each time
Pound lb. or # Apply 3 lbs. or Apply 3#
Cubic Yards cu. yd. or yd3 Apply 75#/ cu. yd. or Apply 75#/yd3
Square feet sq. ft. of ft2 Apply 5#/ 1,000 sq. ft. or Apply 5# 1,000 ft2
Acre = 43,560 sq. ft. A Apply 500#/A