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Picking The Right Fertilizer

Fertilizing your landscape is the key to producing and maintaining healthy plants and a good quality turf; and choosing the right fertilizer is paramount. Adding the wrong type, too much or even fertilizing at the wrong time will have a negative impact on your yard. With an abundance of fertilizers on the market how do you choose the right one? It’s as easy as 1-2-3.


Photo by Maximum Yield.


If you pick up a bag of fertilizer you’ll immediately notice the three hyphenated numbers. Numbers like 3-4-3, 10-10-10, 8-2-2 etc. These numbers indicate the fertilizer grade and are known as the NPK Value; Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). The higher the number, the higher the concentration. Plants rely on these macro-nutrients for growth and each of the three provide something different.

Nitrogen is essential for leaf growth. If your landscape contains a multitude of leafy plants make sure you have plenty of nitrogen to go around. This macro-nutrient is also responsible for making plants greener, which helps enhance photosynthesis. Fertilizers contain two different sources of nitrogen; quickly available nitrogen and slowly available.

Quickly available nitrogen is water-soluble and ready for immediate use by the plant. This is a great option for damaged yards needing a little jolt to bring them back to life. Be sure to water your yard afterwards to dissolve/activate the nitrogen and to avoid what’s known as “fertilizer burn”; a brownish discoloration that results from prolonged contact of water-soluble nitrogen sitting on the grass blades. The slowly available source is a necessity for your grass during the colder months. Spreading this fertilizer in the fall allows nitrogen to be slowly released over time allowing your grass to stay green and healthy throughout winter. It will also give your yard an added boost come spring.

The second nutrient, Phosphorus, promotes root development. Using a higher concentration will help anchor and strengthen the plants in your landscape. It’s especially beneficial to tomatoes and other root crops in the garden. Phosphorus is also responsible for the production of fruit and blooms. If your flowers aren’t looking quite as good as your neighbors add some phosphorus to get those petals healthy and full.

Potassium, or potash as it’s often called, helps plants stay physically strong and able to fight off disease. It also allows plants to withstand extreme changes in temperature. If your plants display stunted leaves or if your fruit appears extra sensitive to drought then try adding potassium to the soil. You’ll notice that this “K” value is usually the lowest number in a fertilizer’s grade. That’s because most soil already contains an ample amount of potassium.

While the NPK Values highlight the three main macro-nutrients in a fertilizer, there are other nutrients that can be just as beneficial. Do you have a young landscape? Adding calcium to your soil promotes the healthy growth of new roots and shoots, it also gives them strength. Adding magnesium will contribute to seed formation and also helps to regulate the plants uptake of other nutrients in the soil. Magnesium, as well as sulfur, will help give plants a darker green color. This greening effect allows for more effective photosynthesis.

Now that you know what each nutrient adds to your landscape you can better assess what your soil is lacking and make up for it with the proper fertilizer. However, it’s always a good idea to have your soil tested before introducing other nutrients. Bring a soil sample by Landscape Supply here in Roanoke and they’ll send it off for testing. Once they have the results they will let you know which fertilizer is best suited for your soil and how much to apply. Test your soil every three or four years to ensure your nutrient levels have remained balanced. Replenishing your landscape each year with the right nutrients will ensure your grass and plants remain picture perfect throughout the seasons.

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