How Much Fertilizer Do I Need?
The first thing that needs to be done is to calculate how much area is in the place to be fertilized. The reader can do these simple calculations by going to our paper on how to calculate areas area_calculations.htm. This paper contains a variety of sizes and shapes that the average person will encounter when calculating how large of area to be fertilized .
Plant nutrient requirements can be supplied by a wide variety of fertilizers that are available in each area of the country. Spectrum Analytic serves a large number of states, and some foreign countries, and is not able to recommend specific fertilizers grades or brands that might be available in each area. For this reason, and to help explain proper fertilizer use, we have provided the following information.
What is in a Fertilizer Grade or Analysis
Fertilizer is identified by numbers indicating the percent of each nutrient that is contained in the product. Each fertilizer product might contain any combination of up to 13 nutrients. However, the majority of fertilizer products will have a 3 number identification, such as 5105, 121212, 2633, etc. In all cases, these 3 numbers refer to the percentages of the major nutrients: Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P_{2}O_{5}), and Potash (K_{2}O) in that order. P_{2}O_{5} is the fertilizer form of the plant nutrient Phosphorus (P), and K_{2}O is the fertilizer form of the plant nutrient Potassium (K). These three numbers are called the fertilizer analysis or "Grade". Any additional nutrients that might be contained in a fertilizer are typically listed in smaller print below these three. They will often be in a format similar to 5S, 0.5 Zn, etc. Fertilizer products that contain some amount of all three major nutrients are often called "complete" fertilizers. Soil test nutrient recommendations are made in the same units (N, P_{2}O_{5} and K_{2}O). You have to determine how much of a particular fertilizer to apply to meet the recommendation.
Once you have a nutrient recommendation from a soil test report, you must convert it to an amount of fertilizer product that will supply those nutrients. This requires some basic arithmetic. For example, if the recommendation is for 3 lb. of N/1000 ft^{2} and your fertilizer grade is 20510, first divide the 3 lb. N by 20 (the percent of N in this fertilizer grade, which is the first number in the analysis). Next, multiply that result by 100. The result is the amount of 20510 to apply per 1000 ft^{2} to get 3 lb. N per 1000 ft^{2}.
Formula 

Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient looking to calculate) × 100 
Example 
3 lbs N/1000 ft^{2} recommended, fertilizer grade is 20510 Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient looking to calculate) × 100 • = (3 ÷ 20) × 100 • = .15 × 100 • = 15 
When the 15 lb./1000 ft^{2} of 20510 is applied, you will also be applying some P_{2}O_{5} and K_{2}O. To find out how much, multiply the amount of fertilizer applied (15 lb.) times the percent of P_{2}O_{5} or K_{2}O in the fertilizer (5 and 10), then divide that result by 100.
Formula 

(Lbs of fertilizer applied × nutrient %) ÷ 100 = lbs of plant food/1000 ft^{2} 
Example 
15 lbs 20510 was applied/1000 ft^{2}
(Lbs of fertilizer applied × nutrient %) ÷ 100 = lbs of plant food/1000 ft^{2}
Next calculate K_{2}O from 15 lbs 20510/1000 ft^{2} (Lbs of fertilizer applied × nutrient %) ÷ 100 = lbs of plant food/1000 ft^{2}

Therefore, 15 lb. of 20510 per 1000 sq. ft. supplies 3 lb. N, 0.75 lb. P_{2}O_{5}, and 1.5 lb. K_{2}O
These amounts of P_{2}O_{5} and K_{2}O may be lower or higher than the recommendations on the soil test report. If either or both are close to the recommended amount, don't worry too much about it. In nearly all situations, N will be the most critical of the three nutrients and you will want to be most accurate with it. If your application results in a significant shortage of P_{2}O_{5} or K_{2}O, you can make additional applications of a fertilizer grade that more closely meets the remaining need at some other time. If there is a large excess of these nutrients, you should consider using a different grade of fertilizer that more closely matches the recommendation. Many of the discount chain stores will only have 1 or 2 analysis in inventory, if you shop around at some of the larger nurseries or go to a farm supply store that sells to farmers you will find a large selection of fertilizer analysis.
MEASURING FERTILIZER
It is much easier for most people to apply fertilizer by volume than by weight. This can be a problem when small amounts are needed. The following list includes typical weighttovolume conversions for a variety of fertilizers.
Fertilizer Measurement Data 


Fertilizer Product 
Lbs/ft^{3} 
Lbs/gal (dry vol) 
Lbs/cup 
Cups/lb 
Tbs./lb 
Tsp./lb 

"Typical" Complete Dry Fertilizer* 
2633 
62 
8.29 
0.52 
1.9 
31 
93 
1688 
68 
9.09 
0.57 
1.8 
28 
84 

121212 
70 
9.36 
0.58 
1.7 
27 
82 

182412 
62 
8.29 
0.52 
1.9 
31 
93 

5105 
78 
10.43 
0.65 
1.5 
25 
74 

51010 
78 
10.43 
0.65 
1.5 
25 
74 

62424 
70 
9.36 
0.58 
1.7 
27 
82 

Urea (4600) 
47 
6.28 
0.39 
2.5 
41 
122 

Ammonium Nitrate (33.500) 
62 
8.29 
0.52 
1.9 
31 
93 

Calcium Nitrate (15.500) 
70 
9.36 
0.58 
1.7 
27 
82 

Potassium Nitrate (13044) 
66 
8.82 
0.55 
1.8 
29 
87 

Ammonium Sulfate (210024S) 
66 
8.82 
0.55 
1.8 
29 
87 

Triple Superphosphate (0460) 
66 
8.82 
0.55 
1.8 
29 
87 

Diammonium phosphate (18460) 
63 
8.42 
0.53 
1.9 
30 
91 

Monoammonium phosphate (11520) 
61 
8.15 
0.51 
2.0 
31 
94 

Sulfate of Potash (005018S) 
93 
12.43 
0.78 
1.3 
21 
62 

Muriate of Potash (0061) 
67 
8.96 
0.56 
1.8 
29 
86 

KMag (002222S11Mg) 
75 
10.03 
0.63 
1.6 
26 
77 

Ground Limestone 
87 
11.63 
0.73 
1.4 
22 
66 

Elemental Sulfur (90%S) 
70 
9.36 
0.58 
1.7 
27 
82 

Aluminum Sulfate (14.4%S) 
67 
8.96 
0.56 
1.8 
29 
86 
*Complete fertilizers with similar nutrient ratios will have similar weights/volume. Many fertilizer grades with a low total nutrient analysis contain a significant amount of lime. This could be an important factor in your fertilization choices, depending on your soil pH and needs of your plants.
Fertilizer Product 
Lbs/gal (Liquid vol.) 
Lbs/cup 
Cups/lb 
Tbs./lb 
Tsp./lb 

Most manufactured liquid fertilizers 
11.0 
0.69 
1.4 
22 
67 
Determining How Much Fertilizer to Apply to Meet a Recommendation
This process may seem complicated at first, but it is really a sequence of simple steps. Take it one step at a time and you shouldn't have a problem.
Let's say you have a recommendation of 4 lb. N, 2 lb. P_{2}O_{5}, and 3 lb. K_{2}O per 1,000 ft^{2}. For simplicity, we'll assume that your area to fertilize is 1,000 ft^{2}. Most people have a limited selection of grades or analyses of fertilizers to choose from. Sometimes you won't be able to apply the exact amount of nutrients recommended in a single application, or maybe not at all. Don't worry too much about this. The main goal is to apply the correct amount of N and try to get close to the recommended amounts of P_{2}O_{5 }and K_{2}O. If your application of P_{2}O_{5 }or K_{2}O is a little off, you can adjust future applications accordingly. Let's assume that you can buy the fertilizer grades: 121212, 62424, 2633, and 51015.
In developing a fertilizer application that meets a soil test nutrient recommendation, it is often most difficult to apply the correct amount of K_{2}O. This is because most available fertilizer grades tend to be high in either N and/or P_{2}O_{5}, but there are fewer grades available that are high in K_{2}O. If this is the case in your area, you should talk to some suppliers and ask them to stock something with higher K_{2}O, like the 51015 in our example.
The recommendation is for 3 lb. of K_{2}O/1000 ft^{2}). We will get this from our 51015 because it has the highest percentage of K_{2}O in it. Based on the previously described method, we calculate the amount of fertilizer needed as follows
Formula 

Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient to calculate) × 100 
Example 
3 lbs K_{2}O/1000 ft^{2} recommended on the soil test results, grade fertilizer available is 51015. Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient to calculate) × 100 • = (3 ÷ 15) × 100 • = .2 × 100 • = 20 lbs of 51015/1000 ft^{2 }to get the recommended 3 lbs K_{2}O/1000 ft^{2 } 
This amount of 51015 also supplies some N and P_{2}O_{5}. Again, based on previous instructions, we find out how much N and P_{2}O_{5} as follows
Formula 

Amount of additional nutrients supplied/1000 ft^{2} = (amount of fertilizer applied/1000 ft^{2} × % of nutrient to calculate) ÷ 100 
Example 
20 lbs of 51015/1000 ft^{2 }was applied, how much N and P_{2}O_{5} were also supplied with this application Amount of nitrogen supplied/1000 ft^{2} = (amount of fertilizer applied/1000 ft^{2} × % of nutrient to calculate) ÷ 100 • = (20 × 5) ÷ 100 • = 100 ÷ 100 • = 1 lb N/1000 ft^{2 }also applied Amount of P_{2}O_{5} supplied/1000 ft^{2} = (amount of fertilizer applied/1000 ft^{2} × % of nutrient to calculate) ÷ 100 • = (20 × 10) ÷ 100 • = 200 ÷ 100 • = 2 lbs P_{2}O_{5}/1000 ft^{2} also applied 
Therefore, we find that by applying 20 lb. of 51015 /1000 ft^{2}. we can get 1 lb. N, 2 lb. P_{2}O_{5}, and 3 lb. K_{2}O/ 1000 ft^{2}. This leaves us 3 lb. short of the recommended N. To get this, we must apply some 2633. This will force us to overapply P_{2}O_{5 }and K_{2}O a little bit, but this is not a problem. To determine how much 2633 to apply to get the needed 3 lb/ 1000 ft^{2} of N, we use the same formulas.
Formula 

Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient to calculate) × 100 
Example 
3 lbs/1000 ft^{2} of additional N recommended, grade fertilizer available is 2633 Amount of Fertilizer to apply/1000 ft^{2} = (lbs of Nutrient recommended ÷ % of Nutrient to calculate) × 100 • = (3 ÷ 26) × 100 • = .115 × 100 • = 11.5 lbs/1000 ft^{2} of 2633 required 
Putting this together we find the following
Nutrients Applied (lbs/1000 ft^{2}) 


N 
P_{2}O_{5} 
K_{2}O 

20 lbs/1000 ft^{2} of 51015 
1 
2 
3 

11.5 lbs/1000 ft^{2} of 2633 
3 
0.4 
0.4 

TOTAL 
31.5 lbs/1000 ft ^{2} of fertilizer 
4 
2.4 
3.4 
You can see that with the recommendation in our example, using 121212 or 62424 would not have been as appropriate because they have the same amount of P_{2}O_{5 }and K_{2}O. Using either of them over an extended time would supply either too much P_{2}O_{5 }or too little K_{2}O. Overapplying P_{2}O_{5 }for one or two seasons is not normally a problem, but over a longer period, it could cause soil imbalances that might reduce the uptake of other nutrients. Excess P_{2}O_{5 }is also a pollution concern in some areas.
Your recommendation may suggest that you splitapply the fertilizer, or specific nutrients at different times. If so, you can apply all or part of either fertilizer in this example to satisfy the recommendation.
General Suggestions for Applying
Lime and Fertilizer
Soil pH
1. There is a correct soil pH range for all plants. When the soil pH is either below or above this range, nutrient uptake is reduced and plant performance is hurt. Therefore apply only the recommended amounts of lime (to increase the soil pH) or sulfur (to lower the soil pH).
2. Split applications into no more than 90 lb/1000 ft^{2} (9 lb./100 ft^{2}) spring & fall.
3. Split applications into no more than 10 lb/1000 ft^{2} (1 lb./100 ft^{2}) spring & fall.
Nitrogen
1. Do not apply much more than is recommended. Excess N makes plants more succulent and susceptible to disease.
2. Too little N reduces plant vigor and growth, plus reduces the uptake of most other nutrients.
3. Grasses (don't forget that corn is also a grass) tend to need more N than other plants. However, where possible, it is usually best to split the total N recommendation into multiple, smaller applications spaced throughout the growing season.
4. Do not apply N to most woody perennial plants after about midSeptember. Excess N in the fall can increase the plants susceptibility to winter damage.
Phosphorous
1. If your soil test is Poor or Medium, you can apply more phosphorous than is recommended. However, a higher rate of application will primarily increase the soil test and is not likely to improve plant growth in the year it is applied.
2. If your soil phosphorous is already High or Very High, it could be interfering with the uptake of some micronutrients like zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), or others, and more will only make the problem worse.
Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium
1. These three elements tend to compete with each other for uptake by the plant. An excess of one can suppress the uptake of the others.
2. Calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are contained in lime, so most soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 will have adequate amounts for plant growth. However, acidloving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, some conifers, blueberries, and others may need Ca or Mg from fertilizer sources, since lime may not be an option.
3. While most fertilizers are "salts", potassium (K) is one of the saltier fertilizers. Therefore, application rates that are significantly higher than recommended have the potential for causing salt damage to the plants.
Micronutrients
Micronutrients include the elements boron (B), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), and molybdenum (Mo). Plants need very small amounts of any of the micronutrients, and an excess of most of them can be very toxic to plants. For example, when a farmers corn crop needs additional boron, a typical recommendation is 0.5 to 1.0 lb./acre (43,560 sq. ft.). Since the need is so small, and the risks from excess application are high, homeowners are advised to apply these nutrients as part of a manufactured or premixed fertilizer that contains the very small amounts needed.
Conversion Factors
Dry Volume 


3 teaspoons (level) 
equals 
1 Tablespoon 
16 Tablespoons (level) 
equals 
1 cup 
2 cups 
equals 
1 pint 
2 pints 
equals 
1 quart 
4 quarts 
equals 
1 gallon 
Liquid 

80 drops 
equals 
1 teaspoon 
3 teaspoons 
equals 
1 Tablespoons 
1 fluid oz. 
equals 
2 Tablespoons 
8 fluid oz. 
equals 
1 cup 
16 fluid oz. 
equals 
1 pint 
2 pints 
equals 
1 quart 
4 quarts 
equals 
1 gallon 
1 gallon of water 
equals 
8.34 pounds 
Weight 

28.35 grams 
equals 
1 ounce 
16 ounces 
equals 
1 pound 
454 grams 
equals 
1 pound 
Area 

1 acre 
equals 
43,560 ft^{2} 
1 yard^{2} 
equals 
9 feet^{2} 
1 foot^{2} 
equals 
144 inches^{2} 