Cover Image
close this book Soils, Crops and Fertilizer Use
View the document About this manual
View the document Acknowledgements
close this folder Chapter 1: Down to earth - Some Important Soil Basics
View the document What is soil, anyway?
View the document Why do soils vary so much?
View the document Topsoil vs. subsoil
View the document The mineral side of soil: sand, silt, and clay
View the document Distinguishing "tropical" soils from "temperate" soils
View the document Organic matter - a soil's best friend
View the document The role of soil microorganisms
close this folder Chapter 2: Trouble-shooting soil physical problems
View the document Getting to know the soils in your area
View the document Soil color
View the document Soil texture
View the document Soil tilth
View the document Soil water-holding capacity
View the document Soil drainage
View the document Soil depth
View the document Soil slope
close this folder Chapter 3: Basic soil conservation practices
View the document Rainfall erosion
View the document Wind erosion
close this folder Chapter 4: Seedbed preparation
View the document The what and why of tillage
View the document Common tillage equipment
View the document The abuses of tillage and how to avoid them
View the document Making the right seedbed for the crop, soil, and climate
View the document How deep should land be tilled?
View the document How fine a seedbed?
View the document Some handy seedbed skills for intensive vegetable production
close this folder Chapter 5: Watering vegetables: When? How Often? How Much?
View the document It pays to use water wisely
View the document Some common watering mistakes and their effects
View the document Factors influencing plant water needs
View the document Ok, so get to the point! how much water do plants need and how often?
View the document Some methods for improving water use efficiency
close this folder Chapter 6: Soil fertility and plant nutrition simplified
View the document Let's Make a Deal
View the document How plants grow
View the document Available vs. unavailable forms of mineral nutrients
View the document Soil negative charge and nutrient holding ability
View the document Soil pH and how it affects crops growth
View the document Important facts on the plant nutrients
close this folder Chapter 7: Evaluating a soil's fertility
View the document Soil testing
View the document Plant tissue testing
View the document Fertilizer trials
View the document Using visual "hunger signs"
close this folder Chapter 8: Using organic fertilizers and soil conditioners
View the document What are organic fertilizers?
View the document Organic vs. chemical fertilizers: which are best?
View the document Some examples of successful farming using organic fertilizers
View the document How to use organic fertilizers and soil conditioners
close this folder Chapter 9: Using chemical fertilizers
View the document What are chemical fertilizers?
View the document Are chemical fertilizers appropriate for limited-resource farmers?
View the document An introduction to chemical fertilizers
View the document Common chemical fertilizers and their characteristics
View the document The effect of fertilizers on soil pH
View the document Fertilizer salt index and "burn" potential
View the document Basic application principles for N, P, and K
View the document Fertilizer application methods explained and compared
View the document Troubleshooting faulty fertilizer practices
View the document Getting the most out of fertilizer use: crop management as an integrated system
View the document Understanding fertilizer math
close this folder Chapter 10: Fertilizer guidelines for specific crops
View the document Cereals
View the document Pulses (grain legumes)
View the document Root crops
View the document Vegetables
View the document Tropical fruit crops
View the document Tropical pastures
close this folder Chapter 11: Liming soils
View the document The purpose of liming
View the document When is liming needed?
View the document How to measure soil pH
View the document How to calculate the actual amount of lime needed
View the document How and when to lime
View the document Don't overlime!
close this folder Chapter 12: Salinity and alkalinity problems
View the document How salinity and alkalinity harm crop growth
View the document Lab diagnosis of salinity and alkalinity
close this folder Appendixes
View the document Appendix A: Useful measurements and conversions
View the document Appendix B: How to determine soil moisture content
View the document Appendix C: Spacing guide for contour ditches and other erosion barriers*
View the document Appendix D: Composition of common chemical fertilizers
View the document Appendix E: Hunger signs in common crops
View the document Appendix F: Legumes for green manuring and cover-cropping in tropical and subtropical regions
View the document Appendix G: Some sources of technical support
View the document Appendix H: A bibliography of useful references

Basic application principles for N, P, and K

Before covering the specific application methods for chemical fertilizers, let's go over some important principles that affects how N, P, and K can be best applied.


Remember that nearly all chemical fertilizer N is mobile and leachable in the soil, because ammonium N is rapidly converted to mobile nitrate in warm soils. The sandier the soil and the higher the rainfall, the greater the potential leaching losses.

How to Combat Leaching Losses of N

If all the N is applied at planting or transplanting, much may be lost by leaching, especially since young plants have relatively small N needs. For annual crops, such as maize, tomatoes, and cabbage, it's far better to "spoonfeed" the N by applying only 1/3-1/2 of the total (but no less than 30 kg/ha actual N) at planting or transplanting, usually as part of an NP or NPK fertilizer. The remaining 1/2-2/3 is applied in one to several sidedressings along the crop row, starting about 4 weeks after the initial NPK application. Sidedressings usually consist of a straight N fertilizer like urea or ammonium sulfate.

Guidelines for Sidedressing N

The number of sidedressings over which the remaining N is divided depends on 2 factors:

• The potential for leaching losses as influenced by texture and rainfall.

• The length of growing period for the crop.

Here are some examples:

Maize: Usually needs one sidedressing around knee-high stage (about 4 weeks after planting in warm areas). Under high rainfall, especially on sandy soils, 2 sidedressings are recommended: one at knee high, one at tasseling.

Vegetables: A very short season crop like radishes doesn't need a sidedressing. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, pak choy, and amaranth may get one to several sidedressings (at 3-4 week intervals), depending on whether the whole plant is harvested at once or picked a few leaves at a time over a longer period. Short-term cucurbits like summer squash and cucumber can use 1-2 sidedressings, while longer-tare ones like melons and winter squash might need 2-3. Tomatoes will need from 2 to as many as 6 or more, depending on leaching conditions and length of production. A good interval between sidedressings is 3-4 weeks.

Where to Place Sidedressed N: We'll cover this under application methods in a few pages.

How Deep to Place N: Since N is so mobile, it doesn't have to be placed deep in order to reach the roots, but just enough (2-5 cm deep) to avoid being washed away by rain or losing N as ammonia gas (refer to the section on N fertilizers).


The yield response obtained from applying fertilizer P to P-deficient soils depends a lot on how and when it's applied. Learn these important guidelines:

• Apply P early: Young seedlings need a high concentration of P in their tissues for early growth and root development. One study showed that young maize seedlings take up 22 times more P per unit of length than plants 11 weeks old. P should be applied at planting or transplanting time.

• Remember that applying P in combination with N (if needed) helps stimulate P uptake.

• Application method has a big influence on the soil's ability to tie up applied P. Broadcasting (spreading) fertilizer P usually results in far more tie-up than using a localized placement method (band, hole, or half circle) since it maximizes the contact of each fertilizer granule with soil particles than can cause tie-up. These methods will be explained in the upcoming section on fertilizer application

• Place broadcast P deep: It should be thoroughly mixed into the topsoil with a plow or hoe, except when spread around tree crops (this will be explained farther along under application methods).

• Don't "spoonfeed" P: Depending on application method, the mobility of P varies from nothing to very moderate. Leaching is never a problem, so all of the P can be applied in one application. There's no advantage to making sidedressings as growth proceeds unless P hunger signs develop.


K ranks midway between N and P in terms of mobility and leaching. As with P, all the K can usually be applied at planting or transplanting as part of an NPK fertilizer or as a straight K fertilizer. Where leaching losses are likely to be high, split applications of K may be needed. Split applications are also recommended for pastures to avoid "luxury consumption" of K. (Refer the section on potassium in Chapter 6.)