Organic Plant Food: What’s in Your Fertilizer?

Every plant needs nutrients in order to grow. Whether it’s a rose bush, an agave, turf grass, or petunias, each plant has specific needs when it comes to the kind of “food” they like or need. Fertilizer is your plant’s food — when you apply it to the soil, it enriches the soil, which then feeds the plant. So what’s in your fertilizer? The difference between organic and chemical fertilizers can make a world of difference for the health of your garden.

Synthetic Chemicals May Drain the Life From Soil

The man-made ingredients in chemical fertilizers don’t need microorganisms to get to your plants. They are already in a form that your plants can easily absorb. This may sound like an easier way to do things, but like many things worth doing well, the easier path may not be the best one.

Because they don’t need soil microorganisms, after regular use of chemical fertilizers, the organisms in your soil will die. Then you will be left simply with dirt! It will be dry and dusty – think dustbowl! It’s possible you may likely have a heavy buildup of salts on the surface, a leftover residue from synthetic fertilizers – never good for a healthy garden. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of environment where pests and diseases thrive.

What’s worse – plants that have been pumped up with a steady diet of synthetic nutrients have thinner cell walls. At a time when the soil ecosystem is least able to protect your plants, the plants themselves are most vulnerable to pests and diseases, not to mention the stresses of cold, heat and drought. In short, what “looks” like it is benefiting the plant, is actually harming it and the valuable ecosystem surrounding it.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Organic gardening is slower; it takes time for the beneficial microbes to break down organic products in the soil that benefit your plants. You will not be able to green your lawn overnight with organic products. Patience is key to a beautiful, sustainable garden. Feed your soil and be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy garden. After all, it’s not just dirt.

It really boils down to three key ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

When using fertilizers, look for the three numbers on the product package — 4-4-4 or 4-5-4, for example. The first number corresponds with nitrogen, the second with phosphorus, and the third with potassium levels. There are many different types of fertilizers with varying ratios of these three nutrients, so be sure you know what you are trying to achieve before applying any fertilizer. If you have to just choose one, reach for a 4-4-4 fertilizer which provides a well-balanced meal to most of the plants in your garden.

Nitrogen: (N) Nitrogen is the primary growth nutrient, responsible for healthy leaf and stem growth. Nitrogen deficiency results in stunted growth and yellowish leaves, while excess nitrogen prevents flowering and fruiting. Lawn fertilizers feature a higher N number because it promotes healthy and lush green grass.

Phosphorus: (P) Phosphorus stimulates root growth, fruiting, and flowers. If your soil is deficient in phosphorus, you’ll notice poor root growth, pale leaf color, and a purple/red-tinged stem color. When you start seeds or plant plants with flowers, you’ll want a fertilizer with a higher P number.

Potassium: (K) Potassium improves tolerance to drought, heat, and cold as well as resistance to disease. It helps to build up strong cells within the plant tissue, increasing the overall health of the plant. Fertilizers labeled “winterizer” often have a higher K content as a result.

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