What do I do with my recommendations?

You may click on any nutrient you are interested in, or simply scroll down the page to review them all.

• Lime or Limestone
   Lime or limestone is applied to increase the soil's pH. This may be necessary because of the native condition of the soil, or due to the many things that happen over time to acidify the soil. Just about everything we do in the yard or garden has a natural tendency to reduce the soil pH. Anything from use of fertilizers, manure, peat moss, compost, lawn clippings, and leaf mulch can acidify the soil. If lime is needed, you will be given recommendations for either limestone or pelletized lime. The amount of lime recommended will be shown for several different soil depths for either material used. For example, if you only intend to work the soil and attempt to affect the top three inches, less lime would be needed than if you wanted to affect the soil to a depth of nine inches.

   You may follow the recommendation for either pelletized lime or limestone. Because limestone contains many different sizes of material, from powdery fine to the size of small rocks, it reacts at differing rates. The very fine particles will begin to change the soil pH immediately, but the larger particles will not go to work until they have been weathered or broken down over time. Pelletized limestone is specially formulated to break down relatively quickly. Therefore, less pelletized lime is needed than limestone, since it will react more quickly.

   It is ideal to apply lime in the fall, since it then has all winter to break down and begin changing the soil pH. If you apply lime in the spring, it is best to do so at least two weeks before planting. You should also avoid applying lime and phosphorus-containing fertilizers at the same time. The lime and phosphorus can undergo a reaction that will make both unavailable to your plants.

• Sulfur
   Although sulfur is a nutrient needed by all plants, the recommendation we give you is for the purpose of lowering the soil pH. A high soil pH makes it difficult for plants to take up other nutrients. For example, even if your soil has adequate iron in it, at very high pH levels your plants can show signs of iron deficiency.

   We make sulfur recommendations when the pH is over 7.0. These recommendations are only to bring the soil pH to about 6.8. If you are trying to grow truly acid loving plants like blueberries or azaleas, you may need considerably more sulfur to lower the pH to an acceptable level. Whenever making sulfur applications to lower the soil pH, it is best to take soil samples annually to monitor the progress. Whenever possible, it is best to work the sulfur into the soil being treated. The sulfur recommendations you receive will be in terms of pounds of sulfur per 1000 square feet per season. If possible, a split application is preferred. Add one-half the recommended amount before planting and one-half in the fall.

• Nitrogen
   Nitrogen is recommended in terms of pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per season. It is a good idea to split up the total amount of nitrogen into several applications throughout the growing season. However, you should exercise caution with nitrogen applications during very hot and/or very dry months. It is the nitrogen in fertilizers that is most likely to cause "burning" of plant tissues. This is seen as browning of leaves and is caused by the salt content of the fertilizer "drying" the leaf tissue.

• Phosphorus
   Phosphorus is recommended in terms of pounds of phosphorus per 1000 square feet per season. Since phosphorus is essential to root development, it is a good idea to apply at least some of the required phosphorus before planting or transplanting. Phosphorus is also important for flower/fruit development, so applying some later in the season is also a good idea. Remember not to apply phosphorus and lime at the same time.

• Potassium
   Potassium is recommended in terms of pounds of potassium per 1000 square feet per season. Since potassium is relatively mobile in the soil, additional amounts should be applied if you are experiencing unusually heavy rainfall, or if you are irrigating (watering) regularly.

• What do the numbers mean?
   In any complete fertilizer, there will be at least three numbers in the formulation. If the fertilizer contains any secondary or micronutrients, there may be additional numbers given in the formulation. The first three, however, will always be the same and given in the same order. These will be nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These numbers indicate the percentage (by weight) of the nutrients the fertilizer contains. For example, a fertilizer marked as "12-12-12" contains 12% each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This means that 100 pounds of this fertilizer would supply 12 pounds each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Any fertilizer that is called "complete" will contain all three of these major nutrients. Not all fertilizers are complete, however. There are fertilizers which contain only nitrogen, only phosphorus, only potassium, or perhaps two of the three. When choosing a product to use, you should consider both the needs of your soil and plants, as well as the cost of the materials to deliver these nutrients. Even if your recommendation does not call for any potassium, for example, it may be less expensive to use a complete fertilizer than to buy one product with only nitrogen and another with only phosphorus.

• How do I choose a fertilizer?
   It is important when looking at your recommendations that you remember that this is all they are - recommendations. Just as in human nutrition, there are several ways to meet the desired end. While it may be preferable to eat a certain number of fruits and vegetables each day to supply all of the nutrients we need, it is often easier to take a vitamin! Your plants are not particularly interested in how they get their nutrients, but certain minimum amounts must be there for healthy growth. Let's look at an example that might help you to determine what fertilizer to use.

   You have been given a recommendation for your lawn that calls for 3.0 pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet, 6.0 pounds of phosphorus per thousand square feet, and 4.0 pounds of potassium per thousand square feet. At the garden center, you have these products to choose from:



Example number

Marketing name



All purpose



Garden food



Tree & Shrub



Bulb food



Lawn food