Process Flow of Fertilizing a Plant

Fertilizer Aids Mineralization

In addition to using photosynthesis to manufacture nutrients, plants absorb nitrogen from the soil surrounding their roots to carry out a process called mineralization. This process uses nitrogen to break down and combine other minerals, micro-nutrients, sugars and water to create food the plant uses for growth, for blooming or for storing for future use. Mineralization boosted by fertilizer results in plants that appear more vigorous and possess a higher nutrient value when consumed by animals and humans.

Application & Absorption of Fertilizers

Most fertilizer formulations, be they chemical or organic, are applied directly over the soil surface or tilled into the soil. Fertilizers are typically in granular or powdered form and are dissolved by water percolating into and throughout the soil through gravity or capillary action. When plant roots take up water from the soil they also absorb dissolved nutrients molecules in the water. While the soil can hold a large amount of nutrients, a plant can only absorb as much as it needs and can store. Excess nutrients in the soil can create a problem for the plant if they get out of balance; this can affect soil pH and other factors. As a result, overuse of fertilizer is as much a problem as lack of fertilizer. Water runoff through fertilizer-laden soil deposits nutrients far beyond the location where they were originally applied with unintended and adverse effect.

Organic Versus Chemical Fertilizers

Fertilizers come in two main forms, organic and inorganic (chemical fertilizers). Both forms contribute to the mineralization process, but organic fertilizers work more slowly over time than chemical-based formulas. Organic fertilizer materials include manure, guano, leaf mold, fish emulsion, shredded bark, phosphate and peat moss. They are used to create a rich and balanced nutrient content in the soil that fits the needs of the plants. Organic fertilizers break down and blend into the soil over time. As they do, they add to the overall health and richness of the soil. Chemical fertilizers provide more rapid introduction of nutrients to the soil in varying mixtures of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. With the rapid uptake of chemical fertilizers foliage growth and bloom is enhanced but chemical burn and growth stress can result. Organic fertilizers are almost always preferable to chemical formulations because they stoke the mineralization process in the soil more gently without the run off and excess buildup of chemicals in the soil that can become so detrimental to surrounding ecosystems.

Keywords: how fertilizer feeds plants, fertilizing plant soil, applied nutrients

About this Author

A communications professional, D.C. Winston has more than 17 years of experience writing and editing content for online publications, corporate communications, business clients, industry journals and film/broadcast media. Winston studied political science at the University of California, San Diego.