Plant Food Facts

Overview

Plant foods, also called fertilizers, are any materials that furnish one or more essential nutrients to plants. Gardeners and farmers need to supply soils with supplemental nutrients to ensure the best yield for their crops. Plants shouldn’t be overly fertilized, however, as excess fertilizer can kill them. There many types of fertilizers because different plants need different pH soil levels and diverse nutrients.

Identification

Plant foods nutrients are labeled on fertilizer packages according to the percentages of the ingredients they contain. They always occur in the order of N (Nitrogen)--P (Phosphorus)--K (Potassium). A fertilizer label shows the relative amounts of these nutrients using an analysis formula such as 18-24-16 or other combinations, known as fertilizer ratios. A ratio of 10-10-10 represents a balanced fertilizer containing equal amounts of each chemical.

Functions

Each chemical contained in a fertilizer has a particular function. For example, nitrogen is mainly for feeding the green, leafy above-ground portions of plants. A lawn fertilizer usually has more nitrogen than other general-purpose fertilizers. Phosphorous is vital for ensuring strong roots, while potassium helps strong grass and flowers germinate. Phosphorous is also the chemical that helps enhance the flavor of homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Types

There are two main types of fertilizers: organic and inorganic. While organic fertilizers come from plants or animal sources, inorganic fertilizers are man-made. Materials such as meat, fish, seaweeds and bone scraps are some of the common materials found in organic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers, also known as chemical fertilizers, are composed of various formulations suited for various uses.

Varieties

There several varieties of plant foods. Complete inorganic fertilizers are those plant foods that have all three main macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Liquid fertilizers come in a wide range of formulas, with some of the most common brands including African Violet Food and Nitrosol. Special purpose fertilizers, such as Blue Hydrangea, are for particular plant needs or certain soil deficiencies. Slow-release fertilizers are made to release nitrogen at steady paces. Fertilizers with insecticides are plant foods that are mixed with insecticides for controlling pests.

Time Frame

While a “fast release” lawn fertilizer can produce much greenery, one that is released at a slower rate can promote long-term health. The website Plant Care recommends a light fertilizer that is used often because this type is better than a heavy dousing of fertilizer.

Size

Plant food particles are finely ground to give adequate solubility. According to Penn State Cooperative Service, particle size is the most important factor in creating a high quality, stable and blended fertilizer. Particle size is also vital in deciding the ease for handling the materials. On the other hand, extremely fine materials tend to cake, making them more difficult to manage.

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About this Author

Venice Kichura has written on a variety of topics for various websites, such as Suite 101 and Associated Content since 2005. She's written articles published in print publications and stories for books such as "God Allows U-Turns." She's a graduate of the University of Texas and has worked in both Florida and Connecticut schools.