What is Fertilizer?
We often hear about “feeding your plants” with fertilizer, but nothing could be more misleading. Plants make their own food using sunlight via photosynthesis. They are consuming the light for energy. While light is the energy, fertilizer is the vitamins that a plant needs to be its best self. Think of fertilizer as a multivitamin.
In nature, each plant is adapted to the nutrients that exist naturally, and if a plant runs out of nutrients in its immediate surroundings, it just grows its roots further, to search for new sources of nutrients. In your home, plants are confined to pots, which are finite, and ultimately at some point, the nutrients will run out. Therefore, you need to fertilize your plants to replace the nutrients that the plant uses to grow.
How do I choose the best fertilizer?
But, if you want to know more about N-P-K Ratios, N = Nitrogen; P = Phosphorus; K = Potassium. These are the three most used and most mobile nutrients in the soil. The plants exhaust these first. Then are the secondary macronutrients like Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur, but personally, I would also add Iron to that list. These elements are necessary for the proper workings of photosynthesis as well as cell-building.
Quick rundown on nutrients and what they do on a high level:
Nitrogen – building blocks for proteins and emzymes.
Phosphorus – key component in DNA, and required for blooming (because you know, flowering is plant sex prep….).
Potassium – water regulation on the cellular level. Also responsible for stomatal opening and closing.
Calcium – makes cell walls strong to resist pathogens and physical strain. Also involved in electrochemical pathways.
Iron – essential for electron transduction/passing in photosynthesis, and greens leaves nicely.
Sulfur – responsible for plant defenses against pathogens, as well as essential for amino acid formation (which therefore means also important for protein formation). In my own research, I have found sulfur to be such an underrated essential element. It’s REALLY important in disease prevention.
Micronutrients – Boron, zinc, sulfur, silicon, nickel, manganese, copper and molybdenum make up the most common of the micronutrients. Each micronutrient serves a role in plant enzymatic, cellular and developmental processes.
Types of fertilizers
Fertilizers come in different forms: powder, liquid, and time-release pellets. For indoor plants, the slow release pellets or solid fertilizers are not good. Don’t waste your time. If they are slow at releasing nutrients, they release them unevenly, and too slowly for your plants to use them. Steer clear. I always recommend liquid fertilizers, or powders that can be dissolved so that the nutrients are of immediate use. Use warm water when mixing to fully dissolve some of the more stubborn crystals, and shake the pre-made liquid fertilizers!
Chemical fertilizers are made from ground up minerals and formulated with a near-perfect amount of each macro and micro nutrient. They are also more concentrated and last for a long time, as well as have no smell. Do not be afraid just because the word “chemical” is describing it. Don’t be afraid of things you don’t understand. It’s just a perfect formulation of minerals for plants in the purest forms.
Organic fertilizers are are the most mild of all. Organic fertilizers are generally derived from some kind of decaying organism so naturally, they smell terribly. Be my guest if you want to insist on using fish emulsion indoors… God help your neighbors…
Organic fertilizers are fine to use if you can deal with the smell, but I recommend just keeping them for outside.
Organic and chemical fertilizers do the same thing in different ways: delivering nitrates, potassium ions, and phosphates to plants. One is not necessarily better than the other, but if you’re living that clean green life, go for organic. It’s a balance of personal preference — both yours and your plants’.
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