Q: Please explain the formula on a bag of fertilizer. Some packages have the formula 10/10/10, others have 13/13/13 or they have other numbers. What do the numbers mean?

A: Fertilizer formulas are listed in numbers that represent the primary nutrients in a formula. The first number represents nitrogen. The second number represents phosphorus and the third number represents potassium. If a bag of fertilizer has the formula 10-10-10, the fertilizer contains 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium. In addition, the fertilizer contains other trace elements, but these are the major three. If the formula reads 13/13/13, the bag contains 13 percent Nitrogen, 13 percent Phosphorus and 13 percent potassium, plus trace elements. The numbers are not always equal. The formula may contain a larger percentage of one or more of the primary nutrients.

Q: I have read that horse manure is good for growing plants, but that the manure must be composted first. How do I do that?

A: Yes, horse manure should be composted before use. I have a friend who mixes sawdust with horse manure for composting. Shredded leaves, garden debris or vegetable scraps may be used as well. Cover the pile, possibly with a tarp, which will assure that the material does not become too wet or too dry. Occasionally remove the tarp and toss the compost pile to combine all the materials and to allow air to enter the pile, which will accelerate decomposition. Add just enough water to make the material moist. A few months may be required for the entire pile to decompose.

Q: How do I protect my banana plants for the winter to keep them from freezing? Do I need to dig them up in the fall and store them until spring?

A: There is no need to dig them up and store them. Years ago, my friend Cookie Robertson gave me a tip on how to protect banana plants for the winter. Each fall, before the first expected freeze, cut the stalks to ground level. After that, place an unopened bag of mulch on top of each plant and leave the bag there for the winter. In the spring, after all danger of a freeze has passed, open the bag of mulch and scatter the material around the plant’s root system.

Carol (Bonnie) Link is an Etowah County Master Gardener and an experienced garden writer. Her weekly column is designed to help and encourage others in their gardening endeavors. Send questions or comments to clink43@bellsouth.net.