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How to Manage Pests

The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns

Starter fertilizer

Fertilizers contain three primary nutrients

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)

Labels show the ratios of N-P-K (in order) included in the bag of fertilizer. Since phosphorus is the most important nutrient for root development, it is the highest number in a bag of a starter fertilizer. Once the roots are established, nitrogen becomes the most important nutrient for the growth of the aboveground parts.

When to apply

Apply a starter fertilizer before turf establishment and incorporate it to a depth of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 8 cm). If you had your soil professionally tested, the lab will provide guidance on what to apply.

How much to apply

It is recommended that no more than 1 pound of N and at least 1 pound of P per 1000 sq. ft. be applied to the root zone at the time of planting.

Types of starter fertilizers and application rates

Application rate
(lb. per 1000 sq. ft.)
5-10-5 20
16-20-0 6
10-20-10 10
5-20-10 20

The three numbers on a fertilizer label indicate the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (in that order) in the formulation. For example in the table above, applying 20 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer would contain 1 pound of nitrogen, 2 pounds of phosphorus, and 1 pound of potassium.

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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