Different Types of Fertilizers – The Basics

With so many different types of fertilizers available, gardeners are often confused and bewildered as to what they need. There are fertilizing liquids, crystals, powders, spikes and granules as well as a variety of organic fertilizers too. Each type promises to give lush vigorous growth and boasts a list of (sometimes hard to understand!) vital ingredients and nutrients essential to your plant’s health.

Two basic Fertilizer delivery systems

Fertilizers have two basic ways to deliver the nutrients to your lawn or garden. Instant or a slow, controlled release. Instant would be a liquid or quick disolving powder or granule. These are water soluble and reach the roots immediately giving your plants and lawn an immediate boost. The benefit of this is that you can fertilize with this method a week or so before your garden party knowing that it will quickly green up your lawn. The drawback is that the results will fade quickly leaving you to have to fertilize again.

Slow or controlled release fertilizers are usually some type of coated granules or spikes which give up their nutrients more slowly over a period of weeks or even months. This means that you will only fertilize once and your plants have a constant source of nutrients over a much longer growing period. This type is more costly, but if you want a green lawn and well fed veggies and flowers all summer it will save you money since you only need one application.

What do those three numbers on the fertilizer bag mean?

Once you have decided if you want the immediate or slow release type fertilizer, you need to know what specific type each plant needs. Manufacturers are required by law to list the essential plant nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) on their product. For instance, 10-15-10 would mean that product has 10% nitrogen, 15% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Thankfully though, they also list what their fertilizer mixture is for, such as ‘bigger tomatoes” or “extra green leaves”.

A case for Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers include things like bloodmeal, bonemeal, manures, composts and fish emulsions. Many of these are less expensive to purchase if not free! They are often preferred by gardeners as they are less likely to burn the roots of plants and seedlings, they are environmentally friendly and won’t damage the soil and best of all organic fertilizers improve the quality and consistency of the soil itself.