Considerations for Fertilizer Cost Savings

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Fertilizers come with a cost but there are simple ways to reduce cost when it comes time for fertilizer applications. The little things can often make a big impact on savings. Reaching out to your local cooperative extension office to aid you in selecting a fertilizer program best suited for you is always recommended.


It is important to think critically about the timing of your application. Fertilizer applications should be made when plants are actively growing. For cool-season lawns this means fall applications and potentially an application in late winter. For warm-season lawns this process begins after the initial green-up in the Spring and then periodic applications through summer. Best results for landscape plants and nursery stock are achieved by applying a slow-release fertilizer in early winter. Late applications on landscape plants and nursery stock can be wasteful and potentially damage plants. Crops may require multiple applications, usually the case with corn for example. An initial application can be made to the soil before planting and following applications may be made during demanding growth periods. To search for crop-specific information see our Fertilizer Use page.

Application Rate

Calculating the application rate is often where costly mistakes can be made. Knowing how much N-P-K to apply can only be determined by a soil test. If there are no significant nutrient issues you can base your application off a previous test, make sure to re-test your soil every three years. If you have a 50-pound bag of 16-4-8, then 16% of that bag is nitrogen, 4% is phosphorus, and 8% is potassium. That means that there is 8 pounds of Nitrogen(.16×50), 2 pounds of phosphorus (.04×50), and 4 pounds of potassium(.08×50) in the bag. If you were to apply 1lb N per 1000ft² to turf the bag would be sufficient for 8,000ft². It may take extra time for measuring but knowing the exact area of your application is essential for proper inputs. Always calibrate your equipment before applying a fertilizer, for tips on spreader calibration see our website. Contact your local Cooperative Extension agent for help with calculations and calibration if necessary.


Soluble fertilizers are usually used for quicker uptake of nutrients that result in quick growth, these products are short-lived and will need to re-applied if other forms of fertilizer aren’t being utilized. Granular formulations are often the cheapest formulation, they are typically incorporated into soils before planting a crop. These formulations can be longer-lived than soluble fertilizers  but certain crops may need further applications. The longest-lived formulation is slow-release fertilizers, these fertilizers are often the most expensive. Slow-release fertilizers find their value in being able to last throughout a growing season without multiple applications being needed. 

Calculate Nutrient Cost

It is a good idea to shop around for the best deal on the fertilizer product you are wanting to use. There are added cost-saving benefits to taking the percentage of total nutrients in a bag and calculating there cost when comparing prices between similar ratios or products packaged at different weights. A 50 lb. bag of 16-4-8  at 40$ a bag would give you 16 pounds of total nutrients valued at $40, so you would be paying $2.50 a pound for your nutrients. Here is a helpful link with more fertilizer information with an extra example.

  Fertilizer spreader

Written By

Payton Flowers, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionPayton FlowersAsst. Extension Agent, Agriculture - Commercial Horticulture Call Payton Email Payton N.C. Cooperative Extension, Gaston County Center
Posted on Sep 23, 2020
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