Well-fed plants make for a more productive and healthy garden. In an ideal world, your plants can reach their full potential and plant growth while getting every nutrient and mineral the plant needs from the garden soil and the air.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
While there’s plenty of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen to go around in the air, the soil in your garden, vegetable garden, and flower gardens is another story.
Depending on the kind of plants you grow and the kind of soil that’s distinctive in your region, your garden bed might not be able to provide enough essential nutrients to keep your outdoor and even indoor houseplants from having a nutrient deficiency making it hard for them to grow strong.
This is why, as home gardeners, it’s up to us to fill any nutrient gap in the soil by improving our garden’s soil structure and condition. So your plants don’t have weak growth and you get the best results.
Today, we’ll be talking about everything you need to know about the different types of fertilizers for your plants, including organic fertilizer examples for your organic gardening. Let’s get started!
Why Do Plants Need Fertilizers
Plants have a special relationship with the soil they are grown in. Not only does the soil serve as its home, but it’s also a great option to help feed the plants well. It’s an excellent source that delivers mineral deposits that are necessary for plant new growth, flowering, vitality, disease resistance, and vigor.
Over the course of several growing seasons, however, the nutrients in the soil become depleted. This makes it a less viable growing medium, so if you’ve grown perfectly sweet tomatoes or lush roses in the past, that may not be the case this time.
Furthermore, the soil texture of the garden and potting soil in your garden and the growing area may also affect the way it holds on to nutrients and, ultimately, its fertility.
Because of this, we need to replenish any lost or missing nutrients in the soil by adding a good source of fertilizer. These compounds help increase and balance the ratios of nutrients and compounds in the soil. This keeps your plants well-fed and thriving from one growing season to the next.
Organic compost is a great way to help add organic nutrients to the soil. Adding your own compost to your soil made of organic materials and kitchen waste such as coffee grounds, eggshells, food waste, vegetable scraps, and banana peels gives the soil a great head start for garden nutrients. This allows you to have healthy plants and root growth.
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Fertilizer Labels: N-P-K Ratios and What They Mean
Garden fertilizers you can purchase at the store and garden center contain three primary minerals: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Also called macronutrients, these are the minerals that garden plants and fresh vegetables need the largest amount of in order to grow happy and healthy:
A great source of nitrogen is the building block of plant tissue growth. It is important for producing leaf growth and new stems. It also plays a crucial role in the production of chlorophyll.
Phosphorus is important in the healthy growth of strong roots and setting of buds and flowers. It can also help improve the vitality of individual plants while increasing the size of seeds.
Potassium is important and the best option for the overall health of a plant. It helps it produce carbohydrates, improve disease resistance, and regulate metabolic activities.
How To Read The Labels
When you look at fertilizer labels, you’ll see a combination of numbers called an NPK number on the bag. This percentage indicates how much of each nutrient is in that particular formulation by weight.
For example, a 100 lb. bag of fertilizer with a 10-5-5 number is 10 percent Nitrogen, 5 percent Phosphorus, and 5 percent Potassium. The rest of the bag contains filler which gives the fertilizer bulk and makes it easier to spread.
The N-P-K ratio number can be broken down into a ratio that serves different purposes. In the example above, the ratio is 2-1-1. This means that the fertilizer contains 2 parts nitrogen, and 1 part each of phosphorus and potassium.
NPK ratios determine the effect a particular fertilizer has on your foliage plants. The most common fertilizer ratios you find are:
- 1-2-1 for rooting
- 1-1-2, 1-2-2, and 2-1-2 for flowering and fruiting:
- 1-1-1 for general purpose
- 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 for foliar growth
Choosing the Right Kind of Fertilizer For Your Garden
Sometimes, choosing the best fertilizer and balanced formula to use in your garden can be tricky. Fertilizer not only comes in varying NPK ratios but also different types depending on formulation, purpose, format, and the raw materials they are made of. This will help you find the right type of fertilizer you need for your garden.
Complete and Incomplete Fertilizer
Fertilizers come in different forms and can be complete (contains all three trace elements) and incomplete (contains only one or two of the macronutrients). It’s important to have your soil quality tested to determine whether you need a complete or incomplete fertilizer for your garden.
General and Special Purpose Fertilizer
A general-purpose fertilizer contains all three macronutrients. It is formulated to meet the basic needs of most house plants and outdoor plants.
Meanwhile, special purpose fertilizer is designed to amend specific nutrient deficiencies in soil fertility. You can refer to the NPK ratio to determine which fertilizer best suits the soil condition in your garden.
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Liquid and Solid Fertilizer
Fertilizer can come in either soil or liquid form. Solid forms of fertilizers or dry fertilizers need to be worked into the soil. It will release nutrients once it comes in contact with water.
They can either be slow-release or fast-release. Dry fertilizers can also come in the form of stakes. These can be buried in the soil and potting soil, so it reaches the plant roots quickly.
On the other hand, liquid fertilizers such as liquid seaweed fertilizers are concentrated forms of fertilizer that need to be diluted prior to application. This type of fertilizer and liquid concentrates tend to release nutrients quickly so you need to apply it a few times during the growing season.
Liquid plant food is best suited for container plants. They can also be used as a supplement for dry fertilizer.
Organic and Synthetic Fertilizer
Fertilizers can be synthetically or organically derived. Synthetic fertilizers are made from minerals, grass clippings, and inorganic waste materials. On the other hand, organic garden fertilizer like rock phosphate is produced by living organisms and organic products, including bone meal, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, blood meal, and animal manures such as fish emulsion fertilizer, chicken manure, bat guano, even worm manure.
Different forms of fertilizer like synthetic fertilizers tend to release nutrients as soon as they come in contact with water, so it is excellent for giving healthy soil an instant boost.
Meanwhile, different types of organic fertilizers and natural fertilizers like worm castings, fish waste, and alfalfa meal, release nutrients as they break down. It can also enhance soil health by promoting the growth of organic matter.
When and How to Use Fertilizer
Different plants, as well as edible plants, have varying fertilizer needs. Some specific plants can be heavy feeders which means they need more fertilizer, while others can be the opposite. At the same time, some plants may need fertilizer at specific times in the growing season.
With this in mind, it’s important to know when and how to apply fertilizer properly and how much fertilizer you need for the type of new plant you’re growing. Following package directions is always a good idea. To help you out a bit more, here are some general fertilizer application tips you can follow:
- Incorporate fertilizer into the root zone and root systems of trees and shrubs. Established ones may be fertilized once a year in early spring.
- New perennials benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer applied as soon as they are planted. Established perennial gardens can be fertilized once a year in early spring.
- Spring-blooming flowers don’t need fertilizer. Meanwhile, perennial flowers are best fertilized before or after flowering. Flowers that bloom in the summer are best fertilized at planting time. Heavy-feeding flowers like dahlias may be fertilized with low-nitrogen fertilizer every month.
- Annual flowers and vegetables benefit from all-purpose fertilizers applied at planting time. Since they are heavy feeders, they can be fertilized once or twice a month with low nitrogen liquid fertilizer. When summer starts, you can halt fertilizing and resume in early fall.
Using different types of fertilizers is not as simple as placing it directly on your plants. It’s also important to know what to use, when to use, and how to use.
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