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Learn the Facts about Fertilizer

Fertilizers are products added to soil that provide essential nutrients to help plants grow. Nutrients are already present in most soils, but sometimes there isn't enough of a particular nutrient or it's not in a form that plants can absorb. Fertilizer provides the additional amount of nutrients needed. There are many different kinds of fertilizers available in different forms and with varying amounts of nutrients. Each nutrient affects the growth of plants in different ways.

The Two Groups and the Three Most Important Nutrients

Nutrients are separated into two major groups based on the amount that plants require. The first group consists of six nutrients called macronutrients. Macronutrients include the three most important nutrients for plants, which are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These three nutrients are often abbreviated as NPK.

  • Nitrogen is the most important element for plants and is responsible for rapid growth and making your plants greener. Plants need nitrogen more then any other nutrient.
  • Phosphorus is also involved in plant growth, as well as flower and root growth. It helps plants withstand stressful conditions.
  • Potassium also helps with root growth and enables plants to utilize water efficiently. It contributes to fruit and vegetable size.
  • Three other macronutrients that are important for plants are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. These nutrients are often readily available in the soil, so they aren't included in most fertilizers.

The second group of nutrients that plants need is called micronutrients. Plants require these nutrients in smaller amounts. Boron, copper, iron, chloride, manganese, molybdenum and zinc are all micronutrients.

When you buy a bag of fertilizer, you will see three numbers, such as 10-10-10, called the formula. These numbers tell you the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that is in that fertilizer. Other nutrients can also be included in fertilizer and will be listed on the label. The amount of fertilizer you apply depends on the type of fertilizer and the particular nutrients your plants need; the label will tell you how much to apply.

Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers

The differences between inorganic and organic fertilizer depend upon their source and how they work. Inorganic fertilizers provide nutrients derived from inorganic materials, and these nutrients are quickly released into the soil. Organic fertilizers come from organic sources. The nutrients are slowly released and usually improve the soil at the same time. Organic sources include compost, aged (composted) manure, fish emulsion, bloodmeal and bonemeal. Note that plants can't tell the difference between an organic or inorganic fertilizer.

Fertilizers also come in liquid and granular forms. Applying them isn't difficult, but it's important to follow the directions carefully because adding too much fertilizer can "burn" your plants. When in doubt as to how much to apply, it's better to apply too little than too much.

Fertilizer helps correct many nutrient deficiencies and increases the rate of growth of your plants. With so many different types of fertilizer available, you are sure to find one that fit your needs.