The numbers on the fertilizer bag can be intimidating. What does NPK mean, and why are the percentages significant? Do different plants need different breakdowns? You may be asking, what do numbers of fertilizers mean? Continue reading to learn more about the numbers on fertilizers and how and when to use certain combinations.


On all fertilizer bags, one will find the fertilizer grade or the breakdown of the ingredients within that particular fertilizer. The breakdown consists of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K). The ratio will tell the user how much of each nutrient is present in the bag of fertilizer. For example, a fertilizer with 10-10-10 contains 10% Nitrogen, 10% Phosphorus, and 10% Potassium. Some fertilizer brands may color-code the different nutrients within the fertilizer by using different color granules.

What does each nutrient do for the plant?

Each nutrient in the fertilizer has a specific job or task, and it can be challenging to remember each task! An easy way to remember the jobs of each nutrient is to remember the saying, “Up, down, all around.”

So what does “Up, down, all around” actually mean?

Let’s take a closer look! Nitrogen, the first letter of NPK, works on the upper part of the plant to help it leaf out and green up! Nitrogen can help yellow lawns and plants turn green. The following letter, P, or Phosphorus, works on the lower part of the plant or the plant’s roots. This nutrient helps build the root system, creating a stable plant. In turn, this helps the plant produce blooms. The last letter is K, or Potassium, which aids in the overall health of the plants, or “all around” health!

Soil Testing

In some cases, you may not know what your soil needs. For example, if you are unaware of what your lawn needs, you may need to have your soil tested. This can be done in most areas at your local agricultural extension office. Contact your local ag extension office for more info!

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