Everything You Need to Know About Fertilizer
Fertilizer is an essential part of growing healthy plants, but irresponsible use of synthetic formulas has led to some catastrophic outcomes. Gardening should positively impact our environment, not harm it. It’s important to go beyond understanding just the basics of fertilizer and think critically about what you’re adding to the soil.
Why Do Plants Need Fertilizer?
Plants soak up nutrients from the soil, but if they’re sitting in the same soil bed for months or years, that nutrient supply will run out. Replenishing the nutrients with fertilizer helps ensure that your plants get everything they need to perform their basic functions, like developing roots, growing strong foliage, flowering, and fruiting.
Those three numbers on the fertilizer bag are called the NPK ratio, and they represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. Most formulas contain a mix of these three nutrients, but some specialty formulas made for specific plants may not contain all three. Some are formulated with other micronutrients like manganese, iron, and copper to strengthen plant health and functioning.
Most plants should only need fertilizer during their active growing period. Don’t apply it when your plants are dormant; this can scramble their natural growth and rest cycles, triggering a growth spurt when your plant hasn’t had sufficient time to rest and recharge.
The Big Problem With Synthetic Fertilizers
Synthetic fertilizers have long been the go-to for people wanting an instant fix for slow-growing plants or small crop yields. However, the long-term effects of synthetic fertilizer overuse have been terrible for our planet. High concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus build up in the soil and contaminate groundwater—the runoff pollutes our waterways, contributing to massive algae blooms that devastate aquatic ecosystems. The wildlife of Lake Erie is suffering because of synthetic fertilizer use, and these consequences will only worsen if people continue to deposit synthetic formulas into the soil.
Another unexpected consequence of synthetic fertilizers is how they can deplete the soil of healthy bacteria. Fertile soil needs lots of bacteria and decomposing matter to keep your plants healthy. Synthetic formulas affect the bacteria and microbes in the soil, causing them to eat up organic matter faster than your plants can deposit it into the soil.
On top of the negative environmental impacts, these synthetic products can pose a threat to your children, pets, and the local wildlife. If animals eat plants that have been recently treated with fertilizers, they may become gravely ill. Studies have also linked synthetic fertilizer use to decreased fetal weight, cancer, and neurological damage.
The dangers of synthetic formulas far outweigh the benefits—we can’t stress this enough! Luckily, there are plenty of organic formulas that work just as well and won’t threaten the health and safety of our planet.
Choosing Different Organic Fertilizers For Your Plants
There are many different organic formulas from which to choose—some function as all-purpose formulas for flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs, for an easy solution to feeding all of your plants.
Other formulas are for specific kinds of plants, such as:
- Rose & Flower Mix for blooming plants
- Citrus Mix for citrus trees like lemon, lime, and orange
- Acid Mix for plants that prefer low pH levels in the soil, like blueberries, blue hydrangeas, azaleas, and rhododendrons
In addition to fertilizer, it’s good to use other soil amendments like manure, compost, or worm castings to fortify the soil with bacteria and microbes.
If you have any questions about which fertilizers to buy in California or how to safely and responsibly apply them, don’t hesitate to contact our experts at Roger’s Gardens! We’re committed to helping our community learn how to garden mindfully for a brighter, healthier future for all of us.
For more information, please view: Why Fertilize & What do the Numbers Mean with Suzanne Hetrick, Fertilizer Tips 1- 2-3 with Suzanne Hetrick and Gardening 101 Series | How Do I Fertilize and Why? with Steve Hampson.