One of the basic fundamentals of having a healthy lawn is represented by three letters: NPK. But whether or not you’re already familiar with this term, there’s always room to grow the way you administer these essential nutrients into your soil. Especially in a world where synthetic fertilizers are harming the environment, animal life, and plants. (More on that soon.)
We’ll cover what NPK is, why your plants need it, why natural is the way to go, and tried-and-true natural ways to add NPK to your soil. Finally, we’ll end with the easiest, most foolproof way to naturally add NPK (and other essential nutrients) to your lawn and garden.
Get ready for a healthy, vibrant, NPK-rich lawn—naturally.
What is NPK?
Wondering what NPK is? You’re not alone. While it’s big necessity in gardening, it’s can be a bit aloof as an abbreviation. Even some packages that contain NPK fertilizer don’t say NPK! Because it’s so important, it’s assumed all gardeners know it. But don’t worry: if you’re not already in that knowledgeable club, you’re about to join.
NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. While there is no shortage of choices when you’re choosing a fertilizer blend, fertilizers technically aren’t complete without these three nutrients. All soil needs NPK—and the rest of the blend depends on your soil’s specific chemical makeup and what it needs beyond these essential organic chemicals.
When shopping for NPK fertilizer, keep an eye out for packaging that lists a series of three numbers, often separated by dashes. These numbers correspond to the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in that fertilizer—in that order.
Let’s say you see a bag that’s labeled 10-5-5. That means that it contains ten percent nitrogen, five percent phosphorus, and five percent potassium. The rest of the bag contains other less essential nutrients or fillers. Interested in getting into the nitty gritty? Be sure to read the full ingredients list on the label.
Why is NPK Essential for Your Soil?
Here’s the bottom line: all plants need a healthy amount of NPK in order to grow. And this is a pretty big statement, concerning that typically, not all plants have the same nutrient requirements. NPK is the exception to this rule, though all plants need different levels of these organic compounds.
The best way to explain why NPK is absolutely essential for your soil is to break it down. Here’s what each of these nutrients does to help your plants grow.
Nitrogen plays a key role in plant leaf development and helps out with plant color and chlorophyll production. When fertilizers are high in nitrogen, they’re best utilized for grass and other plants where the green foliage is more important than any kind of budding and flowering.
One telltale way to see if your plants or lawn has a nitrogen deficiency is if its green parts start yellowing. If that happens to you and you’re buying traditional fertilizer, you’ll want a higher first number in that NPK sequence.
Also known as the middle number in an NPK sequence, phosphorous assists the growth of roots, blooming, and fruiting in your plants, as well as seed formation. With the rest of the NPK organic compounds, phosphorous is essential during the growing season, when blooming and fruiting is at their peak. For plants that contain many fruits or flowers, you’ll typically want a higher second number in the NPK sequence.
The final compound in NPK is potassium, and it’s a crowd-pleaser. Potassium contributes to the overall health and strength of plants, as well as aids their processing of water and nutrients. As you can imagine, it’s an especially vital nutrient for plants that often come into contact with environmental stressors, such as disease, cold, or drought. If this describes your land’s conditions, you’ll want a pretty high third number in the NPK sequence.
Why Natural NPK is the Way to Go
I’ve been talking about those fertilizer bags, but the truth is this: when you’re adding synthetic fertilizer, there’s more room for error—and it can even be a matter of health.
So what does it mean for fertilizer to be synthetic? Basically, synthetic fertilizer is derived from chemicals sourced in a fertilizer manufacturing plant, including chemicals that you don’t want in your soil. Ammonia, natural gas, atmospheric nitrogen, phosphate minerals, and sulfur are all common additives.
You might be wondering why these versions of nitrogen and phosphorous are so harmful. Didn’t we just talk about how essential these compounds are for plant life?
Unfortunately, synthetic fertilizers can harm the environment because their nitrogen and phosphorous level are derived unnaturally and their levels are often higher. Phosphorous runoff can harm natural ecosystems such as lakes and rivers, and high levels of nitrogen can harm animal life that comes into contact with the soil.
It gets worse. Synthetic fertilizer doesn’t just include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also often contains a laundry list. This makes it dangerous for pets, and possibly small humans, too. It’s certainly irritating to see the family dog with his head in a hole he’s dug in the middle of your beautiful lawn—but with this kind of fertilizer, it could also be hazardous.
There’s more: synthetic fertilizer can also hurt your plants! Bacteria and microbes in the soil are often overstimulated by the chemicals in synthetic fertilizers, which can actually lead them to consume more organic matter than the plants can put back into the soil. And that’s no good.
Natural Ways to Add NPK to Your Soil
Now we’re on the same page about synthetic fertilizer. But just because this isn’t the best (or healthiest) way to fertilize doesn’t mean you’re out of options. The natural way to fertilize is easy, cost-efficient, and even healthier for your plants than its synthetic counterpart.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Composting is super common, and that’s for good reason! It both reduces household waste and gives your plants an extra boost of nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Plus, it’s gentle enough that you don’t need to even think about that NPK percentage sequence. That’s a win-win-win.
Ready to start making your own compost? You can do it the DIY way, by collecting kitchen scraps and yard waste, or simply purchasing premade compost.
Make It Mulch
Another fantastic fertilizer method is mulching, which is the process of covering the soil with organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, or wood chips. Not only does mulch help to retain moisture, but it also breaks down over time, adding NPK to the soil in the process.
Here’s a tip: For lawns, you can speed up the process by using a lawn mower that automatically mulches as it cuts your grass.
Mind Your Manure
Well folks, it doesn’t get more natural than this. Manure from farm animals such as cows, horses, and chickens is a nutrient-rich source of NPK. But don’t try to bring Bessie onto your yard as a quick solution. Fresh manure has the ability to overwhelm and burn plants, which makes it important to only use a well-composted manure.
Two Words: Fish Emulsion
Not a fan of dealing with manure, and prefer to use a fertilizer that you buy at the store, as opposed to composting your own banana peels? Fair enough. Fish emulsion is a great natural option here.
Fish emulsion is a liquid fertilizer made from fish waste and added to the soil as a natural source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. But you’ll still have to really use your hands for this one: this fast-acting fertilizer usually needs to be diluted before you add it to your soil.
A Dose of Molasses Does the Job
Turns out molasses doesn’t just belong in holiday cookies. Add this byproduct of sugar production to your soil to give it the benefits of natural carbon, and other micronutrients. You’ll find that it promotes healthy microorganisms and boosts plant growth.
If you do use molasses, be advised that it alone has a low NPK level. You’ll want to supplement it with another natural NPK method long-term.
The Best of All Ways: Automate!
The most foolproof way to fertilize your lawn is by installing automatic lawn care, and that’s a fact. Lawn treatment systems like the OtO device know when it’s best to fertilize for maximum results and make sure that your lawn’s conditions are perfect for fertilizing: evenly watered and nourished, from the roots up.
The OtO device uses Lawn Food+, an all-natural, all-purpose, NPK-rich fertilizer that’s fortified with the power of molasses. It promotes rich, healthy soil and thick, resilient plant growth. And it does it for you, with no harsh chemicals. Plus, it administers fertilizer solution in small, regular doses, which both increases its effectiveness and minimizes runoff.
Now you’re ready for a balanced, healthy yard in no time. Naturally, it’s as easy as N, P, K.