17-17-17 Fertilizer: When and How to Use It

If you live on a farm, on a homestead, or even in a home in the city you’ve got at least a few plants to take care of.

Maybe you just need to care for your lawn, or maybe you’re trying to bring in a bumper crop of homegrown fruits and veggies.

young Amish man plowing the field with 4 horses

Whatever the case, if you want your plans to thrive you’ve got to give them the right nutrients…

To do that, you need fertilizer and more than that you’ve got to know what you are doing.

Giving your plants the wrong kind of fertilizer, giving it to them at the wrong time, or giving too much of the right fertilizer can stunt their growth or even cause them to die back.

To help you make sense of the sometimes complicated world of fertilizers, I’m reviewing 17-17-17, a fairly common and strong general-purpose fertilizer that offers a well-rounded blend of nutrients.

I’ll tell you everything you need to know below…

What Does 17-17-17 Mean?

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what the numbers on a bag of 17-17-17 mean, it’s simply a code for the ratio of major nutrients present in the formula.

It’s also referred to as the NPK ratio, meaning nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium: for this fertilizer we know that it has 17% each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Also please note that the K in NPK stands for potassium because each of those letters represents the atomic symbol of the corresponding element on the periodic table.

But, now that you know how to interpret the NPK code you can easily tell what any fertilizer contains and better determine what it is used for.

17-17-17 Fertilizer Benefits

As you can probably tell by the precisely even lineup of nutrients, 17-17-17 is a well-rounded fertilizer that is useful for a variety of tasks around your property and in your garden, but you should know up-front that it is fairly potent owing to a good amount of nitrogen.

This means you’ll want to use it sparingly however you use it…

It works great to amend severely depleted soils with a balanced assortment of nutrients that plants need, or to give a good jolt of nutrition to plants that can handle the high nitrogen content.

As long as you use it cautiously, you’ll find it works great at the beginning of the growing season and also moving into wintertime for evergreen plants that keep their greenery.

What Are the Ingredients in 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

So 17-17-17 contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as I said, but what else will you typically find in this type of fertilizer?

That really depends on the manufacturer, with some adding a lot of extra ingredients while others add a lot less.

If you check the ingredients list on a bag of 17-17-17, you might find things like water retention media, pest control chemicals or natural material, soil conditioners, and various other minerals that some plants need, most often iron.

And if I said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it again here: don’t be swindled into overpaying for fertilizer if you don’t need all of those extras for your application!

Sometimes they help, but other times it’s just a way for a manufacturer to make more money off of you.

How Should You Apply 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

The application process for 17-17-17 depends completely upon the type, as of both solid and liquid varieties are available.

Solid at 17-17-17 usually comes in granule, pellet, flake, or powder format and can be alternately applied with a spreader or broadcaster, or even scattered by hand or using manual tools.

If you get a liquid variety, it will all but certainly need to be diluted with water before you apply it.

Check the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution and follow them to the letter.

After that, you can apply them with a sprinkler, water hose attachment, watering can or irrigation system.

Note that if you don’t dilute 17-17-17 enough, it’s highly likely that it can harm your plants due to excess nitrogen, and potentially contaminate soil and water with too much phosphorus!

What Plants Benefit From 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

Many plants can benefit from 17-17-17. Generally, though, you’ll want to use it sparingly unless you are dealing with seriously nitrogen-hungry plants like grass, ivy, and leafy green vegetables.

Sensitive plants can be easily scorched with it.

17-17-17 is also a great option for trying to rescue any plants that have a serious lack of all nutrients, or as a balanced and easy-to-use soil amendment if you are resuscitating seriously neglected soil.

Is 17-17-17 Good for Gardens?

Yes, so long as you use it carefully and selectively.

This is a well-rounded fertilizer and it’s usually categorized as general-purpose for all-purpose, but I caution you against being carefree with it because it contains a good amount of nitrogen.

If you apply too often or to sensitive plants it can and will damage them.

But so long as you apply it carefully and take care not to get it on your more sensitive plants it can be a reliable helper in the garden.

Is 17-17-17 Good for Trees?

Yes, it is, and especially good for fruiting trees that need a shot of nitrogen along with extra phosphorus and potassium to help those fruits grow.

Likewise, it’s beneficial for trees that produce pretty flowers, like magnolias, and also a dependable performer if you want to get evergreen trees ready for winter.

Is 17-17-17 Fertilizer Good for Your Lawn?

17-17-17 is a good option for lawns but not one you want to use all the time for periodic nutrition; it is a little too strong for that.

Used at the beginning of the season or to help a stressed-out lawn that is starting to turn yellow, it works wonders.

I recommend that you use it less often if you want to make it a mainstay, and test to be sure the soil isn’t getting too much.

Is 17-17-17 Good for Your Houseplants?

Only rarely, for sturdy house plants that love nitrogen. 17-17-17 is just too rich in nitrogen and sometimes in phosphorus for many delicate houseplants.

How And When Should You Use 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

Broadly, you’re best off using 17-17-17 at the start of the season if you know your soil levels of all three nutrients need improvement.

As mentioned, it makes a decent (if potent) general-purpose fertilizer if any of your plants start to seriously struggle and they can handle the nitrogen.

The general rule of thumb when using 17-17-17 and similar formulations is that a little bit will do most of the time!

What’s the Best Time of Day to Apply 17-17-17?

No surprises here: you want to use 17-17-17 early in the morning or late in the evening so you aren’t applying it during the hottest part of the day or when the sun is at its highest.

Fertilizers with a good amount of nitrogen can always cause damage to plants, but they’re a lot more likely to cause damage if you apply them when it is hot outside.

How Much 17-17-17 Fertilizer Do You Need per Acre?

Although I highly recommend that you perform a soil test to determine how much of any fertilizer is needed per acre, if you are in doubt and know you’re dealing with some seriously depleted soil, you can use 1 pound of 17-17-17 for every 1,000 square feet that you are fertilizing.

Also, remember that you can add more if you need it! It’s much better to add too little, retest, and then add more if required.

Too much nitrogen is going to harm your plants, and a phosphorus buildup is a serious issue in many places.

Who Makes the Best 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

Farmer’s Favorite and Weaver both make high-quality 17-17-17 formulas that are easy to apply and perfect for steady, predictable release.

Where Can You Find 17-17-17 Fertilizer?

17-17-17 is pretty common, although not as common as other, less potent general-purpose fertilizers.

Expect to find it at most nurseries, farm stores, and well-stocked garden centers.

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