NPK 10-10-10 Fertilizer: What is it & Where Do You Use It?

Just like animals need food to grow and thrive, plants need nutrients. They get some of what they need from the soil, but often, they don’t get the optimal amount. That’s the purpose of fertilizer: to provide plants with the specific nutrients they need to grow that are lacking in the soil of your garden. Basic plant nutrition involves the uptake of sixteen mineral elements essential to plant growth. In addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which are obtained from air and water, the elements nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are required in greatest abundance. The numbers on the NPK fertilizer bag always indicate these nutrients in the same order. Fertilizers also sometimes contain micronutrients and trace elements.

  1. Nitrogen: This is the growth element for foliage. It helps a plant produce lush leaves by stimulating the production of the chlorophyll that plants need for photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to make food from sunshine. 
  2. Phosphorus: This nutrient helps the roots develop, and it assists a plant in standing tall and stable. Phosphorus also increases a plant’s fruit and flower production.
  3. Potassium: This is the element that helps plants in fighting disease and withstanding temperature extremes.

Types of Fertilizer

There are several application types available that make the process of nourishing your plants and soil less strenuous and more enjoyable. These fall into four different categories: 

  • Quick Release – these liquid or water-soluble options offer an immediate uptake of nutrients. Resulting in accelerated improvement for plants growing in poor soil.
  • Slow-Release – Heavily concentrated, these offer a steady stream of nutrients over an extended period of time. Rather than inundating plants with high doses all at once. 
  • Organic – made from strictly natural materials like well-rotted plant material and animal bi-products that contain beneficial levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
  • Inorganic – manufactured with minerals and synthetic chemicals. These can result in a higher yield. But, they can also potentially contaminate soil and nearby water sources.

What Are the N-P-K Fertilizer Labels?

Most fertilizers are labeled with N-P-K ratios, but you might not know it. They are not always marked “N-P-K ratio labels”; instead, they often just look like three numbers in a sequence, for example: 10-10-10 or 10-6-4. These numbers provide important information since they indicate the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in that specific fertilizer.

The order is always the same: nitrogen (N); phosphorus (P); and potassium (K). For example, in a 10-5-8 mix, 10 percent of the mix will be nitrogen, 5 percent is phosphorus, and 8 percent is potassium. If you are wondering about the composition of the remaining 78 percent, it’s just filler to help you spread the product on your soil.

N-P-K ratios are useful because soil test results often give fertilizer recommendations in ratios. A fertilizer should have the same proportions as a soil test recommendation for nutrients, but it does not need to have exactly the same nutrient concentrations. For example, a gardener could use a 2-1-1 ratio fertilizer for a fertilizer recommendation of a 2-1-1 N-P-K ratio, and a 10-5-5 or 20-10-10 ratio fertilizer would also work. As long as the relative proportions are the same, any fertilizer with the correct ratio will work fine.

Higher numbers mean higher nutrient concentrations. For example, a gardener will have to use less of a 20-20-20 ratio fertilizer than a 10-10-10 one to get the same results. Fertilizer test results also give recommendations for secondary nutrients and micronutrients, which should be listed on fertilizer labels.

Ideally, no fertilizer should be added before a soil test can confirm which elements are missing and which elements may already be present in excessive amounts. Abundant fertilization can often lead to an accumulation of excess phosphorus. Soil testing can be done through a university expansion service or commercial laboratories.

What is 10-10-10 Fertilizer?

Inorganic fertilizers are also sometimes referred to as chemical or synthetic fertilizer because their plant-providing nutrients have been synthesized or manufactured in a laboratory or refinery. The fertilizer 10-10-10 is an all-purpose fertilizer and one of the most widely available fertilizers for home use. It generally meets the needs of plants throughout the growing season. The numbers 10-10-10 refer to the composition of a particular mix of fertilizer. The numbers are percentages and the component parts are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), in that order. So 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10 percent each of these three main nutrients.

When to Apply 10-10-10 Fertilizer

First, you need to know the right time of year to apply fertilizer in your garden if you want to get the best results. For 10 10 10 fertilizer, it is best to apply it in the early spring when plants are just beginning to start their most active growth phase. You can continue to apply a small amount of fertilizer during the dormant months of late fall and winter, or you can stop fertilizing for these months. Don’t apply before heavy rain however, as this can cause most of your fertilizer to leech out of your soil and run off your garden, down the drain.

Root absorption of nutrients is very efficient in late summer and remains so until soil temperatures approach freezing. Nitrogen that is absorbed in fall will be stored and converted to forms used to support the spring flush of growth. The next best time to fertilize woody plants is early spring prior to initiation of new growth.

Trees and shrubs should not be fertilized during times of drought stress or when they are showing signs of water stress unless irrigation is available. Plants do not absorb nutrients without adequate water. Some fertilizers may also damage roots if water is lacking.

Where to Buy 10-10-10 Fertilizer?

There are many locations where you can purchase this fertilizer, but I find the easiest form for purchasing this fertilizer is online, where you can find many brands willing to ship for free.

How often do you apply 10-10-10 Fertilizer?

Frequency of application depends on the general vigor and growth of the plant, with the exception of newly planted trees and shrubs. Plants growing in rich soils with continual replenishment of nutrients from decomposition of organic matter may not need regular fertilizing. However, plants that are in a nursery production cycle, as well as landscape plants that show either abnormal leaf size or color, little or no annual growth, or significant amounts of dead wood within the plant, should be fertilized every three months.

What Plants Need 10 10 10 Fertilizer?

  • Roses
  • Trees
  • Apple
  • Citrus
  • Apricot
  • House Plants
  • Tomatoes
  • Peaches
  • Radishes
  • Kales etc
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Perenial Plants
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Cherry
  • Strawberry
  • Bok Choi etc

Applying 10-10-10 fertilizer

Various methods of applying fertilizer are listed here, including direct manual application, diffusion application, dilution application, and the use of mechanical equipment to apply the fertilizer to the culture bed. The method used depends on the amount of fertilizer to be applied, the size of the area to which it is to be applied, and the size of the plants to be supplied with fertilizer.

  • Application before planting on a small area can be made by spreading fertilizer over the entire area and working it in the soil.
  • The broadcast application in front of the plant is suitable for larger areas after application until the soil contains fertilizer and the possibility of drainage in the rain is reduced.
  • To avoid poisoning plants, especially at the young age, try diluting the fertilizer in a bucket with water. Use this solution to water your plants. This method also helps the plant to absorb it more easily. After watering the plant with fertilizer, water it again, this time with normal water. This watering facilitates removal of any fertilizer that might have fallen on the stems and leaves. Unwanted fertilizer on the leaves can cause damage like corrosion.
  • Direct application involves pouring fertilizers next to the required plants individually or in the rows. The fertilizer is first poured into a clean, dry bucket, then along the line and the fertilizer falling next to the plants. Do not drop fertilizer directly on the plants as chemicals can burn them. Use a small amount, about a tablespoon for small plants.
  • Direct application to row crops can be carried out with a cultivator equipped with a side dressing device. This device consists of a hopper with a wheel to drive a distribution mechanism and slides to guide the fertilizer in line.

How to Apply 10-10-10 Fertilizer to the Lawn 

  1. Collect a sample of your grass and deliver it to a local county extension office to determine whether it is a cool-season or warm-season variety. Fertilize cool-season grass varieties once in the spring when new growth begins and twice in the fall when the high summer temperatures begin to cool. Space fall applications 30 days apart. Fertilize warm-season grass twice in the spring and twice in the fall. Apply the first spring application when new growth begins and the second application 30 days later. Apply the first fall application after the grass’s fast summer growth slows and the second application 30 days later.
  2. Mow your lawn three days prior to spreading the fertilizer. Water the grass thoroughly to moisten the soil one to three days before applying the fertilizer. Allow the grass blades to dry completely.
  3. Apply the 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn to provide the lawn with 1 pound of nitrogen. Do not exceed this rate. Position a fertilizer spreader over a sidewalk, driveway or other hard surface. Calibrate the spreader to the release rate. Measure out one-half of the needed amount of fertilizer, and pour it into the fertilizer spreader.
  4. Walk slowly back and forth across the lawn in north-south rows with the fertilizer spreader broadcasting the granules in front of you. Turn the spreader off at the end of each row as you turn around for another pass to avoid overfertilizing the lawn edges. Turn the spreader back on as you begin to walk forward down the next strip.
  5. Park the fertilizer spreader on the hard surface once more. Pour the remaining one-half portion of fertilizer into the spreader. Broadcast the additional fertilizer over the lawn in the same manner as before, this time walking back and forth in east-west rows.
  6. Attach a sprinkler head to a garden hose. Position the sprinkler in the center of the lawn so that the water spray will reach the entire surface of the turf. Water the grass to a depth of 3 inches to settle the fertilizer into the soil.

Advantages of 10-10-10 Fertilizer

  1. One advantage of 10-10-10 fertilizers is that they are fast acting. These nutrient-rich salts dissolve quickly and are immediately available to the plants depending on them to provide essential nourishment in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
  2. 10-10-10 fertilizers also offer the advantage of coming in several easy-to-use formulations, which also makes them much easier to transport than organic fertilizers like manure.
  3. 10-10-10 Fertilizer is a balanced Fertilizer and therefore may not have adverse secondary effects on your plants.
  4. With 10-10-10 fertilizer, plants do not get more of one quantity of nutrient over the other.
  5. 10-10-10 fertilizers are quite cheap and even easier to use and prepare. They are available at almost every gardening store.

Disadvantages of 10-10-10 Fertilizer

  1. 10-10-10 fertilizers contain nutrients that have been broken down already into the most basic of its components for easy absorption by the plants. Yet, it can also be washed away easily when watering or irrigating the plants.
  2. 10-10-10 fertilizers come at a cost that are considerably higher than manure and other organic fertilizers.
  3. It also contains salts and other compounds. These are not absorbed by the plants so they are left behind in the soil and build up over time.
  4. Applying the fertilizer directly to the plants may burn the delicate plant structures such as the roots. This could affect the over-all development of the plant.
  5. 10-10-10 fertilizers are formulated differently and some may contain ingredients such as carbamates or organophosphates, which can potentially be dangerous to your pet.

Complete vs. Balanced Fertilizer

Inorganic fertilizers come in single-nutrient or multinutrient formulas. Multinutrient formulas include complete and balanced fertilizers, which contain basic nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as secondary and micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, boron and manganese. The percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium contained in both complete and balanced fertilizers is indicated by three numbers on the package. For example, a 5-10-5 formula is a complete fertilizer, containing 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 5 percent potassium. Balanced fertilizers are those that contain equal nutrient amounts, such as a 10-10-10 formula.