Choosing Plant Fertilizers

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Blooming, Care and Culture, Classification, Growing Indoors, Growing Outdoors

Feeding your plants need not be complicated. A few plants respond best to special fertilizers, but most houseplants are easily fed with a balanced houseplant food, a high-phosphorous houseplant food, or a high-nitrogen foliage plant food.

The differences between these three types of fertilizer are based on the “fertilizer analysis,” which is represented by the three hyphenated numbers on the fertilizer label. These numbers stand for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Here is what each nutrient does:

  1. Nitrogen: The first number supports the production of new stems and leaves. Young plants and foliage plants benefit from plenty of nitrogen, which is especially important for foliage plants that are growing rapidly, as many do in spring and early summer. In addition to a high first number in the fertilizer analysis, high-nitrogen houseplant foods usually say something about “foliage” plants on the label.
  2. Phosphorous: The second number is essential for all plants, but particularly important for flowering houseplants. Plants are encouraged to produce buds and blossoms by plant food rich in phosphorous. Many (but not all) African violet foods are high in phosphorous. When looking for a “high-phosphorous” food for blooming houseplants, look for African violet food in which the middle number (phosphorous) is approximately twice as big as the first one (nitrogen): for example 1-3-2 or 8-14-9. Fertilizers with extremely high middle numbers are often called “bloom start” fertilizers. These are more appropriate for using outdoors for feeding plants that are growing in open soil than for feeding houseplants. Because their roots are restricted to pots, even houseplants that grow best with a high-phosphorous fertilizer need a bit of balance n their diet.
  3. Potassium: The third number improves the functioning of roots and supports plants’ ability to move moisture and nutrients to all of their tissues. In “balanced houseplant fertilizers,” which are often called all-purpose plant foods, the three numbers are roughly the same, indicating a balance of the three major nutrients. The three most popular balanced houseplant foods show these nutrient analysis on their labels: 8-7-6, 6-5-6, and 20-30-20; other balanced fertilizers show analyses of 7-7-7, 20-20-20, and so fourth. As long as the numbers in the analysis are close, the product qualifies as a balanced fertilizer. Most of your houseplants will grow best using this type of fertilizer.
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