How to - Gardening Basics

Whip your soil into tip-top shape

Learn why garden success starts in the earth

The three numbers that you see on bags of composted manure, boxes of blood and bone meal and water-soluble fertilizers refer to three major plant nutrients associated with healthy growth; the number value (e.g., 20-20-20) is the percentage of each nutrient that is immediately available to plants for uptake.

N: Nitrogen is necessary for strong, vigorous growth, leaf production and is used in the process of photosynthesis.

P: Phosphorus promotes flowering, stimulates root growth and is used in the process of ripening fruits and seeds.

K: Potassium works with nitrogen to aid in the photosynthetic process, and is necessary for normal fruit formation and in the uptake of other nutrients.  

The numbers for N-P-K are usually higher for chemical fertilizers than they are for soil conditioners (an analysis of 2-1-1 is typical) since the nutrients in organic compounds—such as compost or rotted manure—are released into the soil profile more slowly and over a longer period of time. Nevertheless, producers can legally only claim the immediate nutrient availability on product labels.


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