What is fertilizer? Have you ever wondered what are those three numbers on a bag, box or package of fertilizer suppose to mean? How do you analyze them? What about chemicals versus organic? Why do we need to fertilize our plants and trees?
These numbers analyze the amount of Nitrogen, Potash, and Phosphate (NPK). These nutrients are what all plants, trees, flowers, and shrubs need.
The Proper Nutrients
You may think I am a bit fanatical but I consider all plants as people. If you do not take in the proper nutrients your mind and body will start to deteriorate fast. Well.. plants are the same way they need proper fertilizer nutrients in order to survive. What is fertilizer? Let’s continue on with this article.
Nitrogen – Is the first number on the product and referred to by the symbol “N”. Nitrogen is a naturally occurring element in our air and it is needed by plants to produce green healthy growth. A higher number on the bag means MORE nitrogen. If your plant, shrub or tree is turning a yellowish color, it probably needs nitrogen.
Phosphate – The second number and referred to by the symbol P. Plants need phosphate to stimulate healthy root development for flowering and to help in the prevention of disease and stress. The phosphate process combines phosphate rock with sulfur and produces a phosphoric solution. Phosphate helps in root stimulation and flowering of plants. When planting flowering trees, or shrubs be sure to use a fertilizer with a HIGH phosphate number. If you are having problems making your plants bloom then be sure to purchase a fertilizer with a high phosphate content. Remember phosphate and phosphorus are basically the same.
Potash – Is sometimes referred to as potassium. This is usually the last number and is referred to by the symbol K. This contains minerals and potassium which are mined from naturally occurring ORE bodies. All plants need this nutrient, potash regulates water balance, enzyme activity, starch and protein synthesis, and nitrogen uptake.
It is important to note that the above fertilizers are synthetically made.
Is it essential to always fertilize?
Not really, but in the Southwest, the soil is usually poor. Other parts of the U.S. where rain is plentiful fertilizing is not always required.
What is fertilizer
Why do your plants need these nutrients? Because in your area these nutrients may be missing from your soil and they are needed for continued healthy growth. Without them, your plants would have a hard time growing and the chance of disease or insect infestation is likely.
The soil in the Southwest is Poor
In the southwest, the soil is poor and usually lacking these naturally occurring elements. The reasons are many and two main ones are less rainfall and soil erosion. Poor soil can occur almost anywhere. Read the following article about “How soil is destroyed” from fao.org.
Civilizations began where farming was most productive. When farm productivity declined, usually as a result of soil mismanagement, civilizations also declined – and occasionally vanished entirely. Read more at: (fao.org)
What is a good all-purpose fertilizer?
A good all-purpose chemical fertilizer will usually have numbers with 16-8-8 printed on the product. This type of fertilizer no matter what brand name will have all the nutrients needed for a healthy plant.
In what form do fertilizers come in?
- Granular – Takes time to break down and seep into the soil. It may take up to two weeks before seeing results.
- Powder – The powder fertilizers should be mixed with water. This speeds up the process. Plants will take in the water/fertilizer mix almost immediately. You should see results within 3-4 days.
- Liquid – Basically works the same as with powder. It usually comes in concentrated form. A few drops per gallon will do the job.
- Always read the instruction on each fertilizer bag/container to ensure correct amount and applications. Too much could burn your plants…too little and you are basically wasting your time, money and efforts.
Compost is the material resulting from composting, which is the natural process of decomposition of organic waste that yields manure or compost, which is very rich in nutrients. Also called humus, it is a soil conditioner and a very good fertilizer. Most compost products low levels of Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.
A word of caution on buying fertilizer. Do NOT confuse new lawn fertilizer with plant and tree fertilizer. The biggest fertilizing tip of all…be sure that you read the instructions on each and every fertilizer bag.
What are Organic Fertilizers?
Going organic is big right now. And rightly so! Consumers are looking to incorporate naturally grown vegetables into our diets. This has replaced an earlier sentiment that chemical farming was the only way to produce food efficiently and abundantly.
Organic crops are as plentiful and tastier through organic production, but the main value is to our health by nourishing ourselves with wholesome, unadulterated foods.
In order to grow prolific crops, there are ways to maximize yields in the home garden using organic fertilizers. These plants are grown without harsh chemicals or pesticides. Below is a List of some of the more common organic fertilizers.
List of Organic Fertilizers.
Bat Guano is basically poop from bats. It is high in nitrogen and has high amounts of ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and is what makes this fertilizer a good product for making plants grow fast. This is the first number of a fertilizer product. It comes in a powdered form and works great on vegetable plants.
Blood Meal – is another good choice. It comes from the blood of animals. This fertilizer is a high-nitrogen fertilizer and comes from the protein of animal feed, it can also raise the acidic levels of your soil and is usually sold in powder form. Will this help make your plants grow faster? Yes, it will but just like in real life you must not over-do-it!
Bone Meal – Is another fertilizer that comes from animals. It is what the name suggests crushed upped bones from animals. You can use it for trees, flowering plants and helps your root system grow and flourish. It is a slow-release organic fertilizer. The analysis of bone meal is normally 0-15-0. The middle number is phosphorus that helps plants flower.
Fish Emulsion – Is an organic fertilizer used by farmers and organic gardeners around the world. It is made from fish and fish parts. It is high in nitrogen with an analysis of about 4-1-1. Nitrogen makes plants get greener and grow faster.
Manure – from landfills or farms is not recommended as a fertilizer unless you are well versed on how it should be applied. Too much can burn your plants. It is a lot safer to purchase store bought manure as the makers of bagged manure will calibrate the right amount of nitrogen. Manure is high in nitrogen the first number!
Cottonseed Meal – is high in nitrogen and perfect for greenery and spurts of growth. It is a slow release type of organic fertilizer. The one caveat to Cottonseed meal is that it’s made from cotton and as some gardeners know cotton farmers use lots of pesticides to help in the growth of cotton!
Corn Gluten – is also high in nitrogen and as the name suggest it comes from corn oil. Can be used in vegetable gardens and perfect for nice green lawns. Another added benefit from this organic fertilizer is that the corn oil will help prevent weed seeds and other wanted seeds from germinating.
Most gardening stores will have these products at hand. Ask for the “organic gardening products section” section as they are usually placed in a different area of the store.
Paul Guzman – Husband, Father, Grandfather, Gardener, and Webmaster of GuzmansGreenhouse.com