How to Read a Fertilizer Label

For first-time property owners, lawn care may introduce new sets of vocabulary and information that needs to be analyzed.

When purchasing fertilizer, it's important to understand what to look for before you buy. On every bag of fertilizer, there is a label referred to as an analysis. This is a list of percentages indicating how much of each nutrient is contained in the bag of fertilizer.

There are three main nutrients indicated in a fertilizer analysis:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)

This analysis is sometimes called the "NPK" number. It displays the percentage of the total weight of each nutrient in the bag. For example, a fertilizer with an analysis of 8-4-8 means that it contains 8% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 8% potassium. Sometimes, there may be a zero, which indicates the nutrient is not available in the fertilizer.

NPK aren't the only elements contained in fertilizer. Any fertilizer label should contain an entire list of the nutrients in percentages below the fertilizer analysis. At the bottom, many labels will list a percentage of "other ingredients". Other ingredients can mean inactive components that don't affect plant growth. They are usually there simply to help spread the fertilizer around the yard.

Although nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the main elements people look for in lawn fertilizer, the amount needed may vary across different regions and seasons. To find out how much of each nutrient your lawn needs, perform a lawn analysis on your own or through a professional lawn care service.

Other Terms on a Fertilizer Label

As you may have realized, fertilizer labels contain a lot of information that may be unfamiliar. Some of the other terms used to describe contents of fertilizer are:

  • Water soluble: This means the nutrients are immediately available to plants.
  • Non-soluble: This means the nutrients will break down and become available over time.
  • Fast-acting: Similar to water soluble, fast-acting fertilizer is ideal for people looking for quick results in plant growth.
  • Slow-release: Another term to indicate non-solubility, slow-release distributes the nutrients over a longer period of time instead of all at once.
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