All plants need some type of nutrition to grow and develop to maturity. The nutrients come from the soil in the garden environment or from additives in the water source. The well-balanced soil, containing clay, sand, silt and organic matter contain enough food for the vegetation to thrive. Certain times soil conditions are imbalanced and must be altered for optimum circumstances. The addition of fertilizers to the growing medium allows the plants to gather enough nutrients and trace minerals for healthy production.
Types of Fertilizer
From garden vegetables and flower beds to houseplants, the need for food is always present. Fertilizer is available for commercial and home use in many forms. Liquid sprays are used by commercial and small farmers. Plant sticks offer quick fertilizer solutions for indoor plants. Fertilizer stakes are available for trees and shrubs. Garden varieties of fertilizer include granules, powders and sprays. The gardener has a choice in organic or synthetic fertilizers.
The amount of nutrients being added to the soil is determined by the numbers on the package of store-bought fertilizer. These food supplements focus on the three nutrients most needed by plants: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The numbers listed on the package indicate the percentage of these nutrients by weight. The order in which they are listed is a standard followed by all fertilizer manufacturers. For instance, 10-15-10 indicates 10 percent of the ingredients is nitrogen, 15 percent is phosphorus and 10 percent is potassium. Testing the soil will reveal how much of each nutrient is needed when determining which fertilizer to purchase.
Plants use photosynthesis for converting minerals and other nutrients into energy. This energy allows the plant to grow and generate blooms, seeds and fruits. Nitrogen provides the needed element for the plants to produce the energy. Nitrogen is found abundantly in the air and must be incorporated into the soil for the plants to benefit. You can increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil by planting crops, which absorb and store nitrogen during the growing season. Plants like clover and legumes will release the stored nitrogen when they start to decompose in the garden.
Plants require phosphorus so they can store energy and release it during the photosynthesis process. Phosphorus allows plants to grow quickly and mature. The shorter growing seasons in the colder regions of the world require the plant to have more phosphorus in the soil so they can grow to maturity in the time allowed. Plants grown in warmer climates where the growing season is longer do not need as much phosphorus because the plant has longer to mature.
Potassium protects plants from disease by making them more resistant to the damage. This essential nutrient also helps the plants with early development. Plants with the proper amount of potassium are more drought resistant. When potassium is lacking, the plant is smaller, produces less, and can not withstand lower temperatures or heat waves. Potassium is known to help plants develop a healthy root system so they can take full advantage of the water in the soil. The water dissolves the nutrients in the soil and is absorbed by the root system.
In a case study conducted by Arthur Granstedt and Lars Kjellenberg from 1958 to 1990, organic and inorganic fertilizers were compared to determine their effect on plants, soil and harvest. Different crops, such as wheat and potatoes, were planted and included in plant rotation. It is interesting to note that crop yield increased with the application of fertilizers. The study noted the greatest increase was in organically fertilized crops. These same crops showed better storage capabilities with fewer of them rotting.