Just like humans need food to grow, so do the plants. The only difference is that plants need food in the form of light, moisture and nutrients for a healthy growth. The sun provides light. Moisture comes from rainfall or irrigation. Nutrients come from the soil, fertilizers, compost or manure. If your plant or crop is not growing well, it is an indication that it lacks nutrients. This nutrient deficiency in plants can lead to reduced overall biodiversity. This can be fulfilled with the use of plant fertilizer.
Plants can grow in adverse conditions. They can grow even in poorly drained soils, in excessive shade, or in competition with tree roots that will not respond to fertilizer. Fertilizers available in the market are either organic or inorganic. There are many benefits of organic fertilizer. Examples of organic fertilizers include manure (poultry, cow or horse), cottonseed, bone meal, or other naturally occurring materials. Whereas, inorganic fertilizers are man-made products. They usually have a higher nutrient content.
What is Plant Fertilizer and Why Do You Need Them
Plant fertilizers are artificial or natural substances which contain the chemical compounds that improve growth and productivity of the plants. Fertilizers increase the natural fertility of the soil.
Farmers require healthy soil rich in nutrients to grow healthy crops and harvest a good yield. In the absence of fertilizers, the nutrients from the soil are used up by the following harvest. Due to this, both the quality as well as the quantity of crops gets reduced. So, to increase the fertility of soil, plant fertilizers need to be added.
The three most common mineral fertilizers are those based on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It has been estimated that globally 85% of the soils are deficient in nitrogen. Similarly, 73% and 55% of soils are deficient in phosphorus and potassium.
Plants, like all other living things, need food for their growth and development. Do you know that plants require 16 essential elements? Plants derive carbon, hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere and soil water. The remaining 13 essential elements are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine. Soil organic matter supplies these essential elements to the plant. In addition, plants get these elements from organic or inorganic fertilizers.
Different Types of Plant Fertilizer and How They are Different
There are two types of fertilizer namely, natural as well as synthetic. You can call natural fertilizers as organic fertilizer. Plants or animals are used to prepare these fertilizers. On the other hand, you can create synthetic fertilizers in factories using chemicals. The chemical fertilizers are richer in N-P-K. N-P-K stands for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Natural fertilizers are organic products. You can extract them from living things or from the earth. For example, you can use mushroom manure, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and compost to make fertilizers.
You can use synthetic chemicals of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to prepare synthetic fertilizers. In general, natural fertilizers contain lesser amounts of N-P-K than their synthetic counterparts. Hence you need to use more of them to supply the plant with the required amount of nutrients. However, natural fertilizers add vital organic matter, they also improve soil texture. This is the most important advantage.
Importance of Plant Fertilizers
Farmers use plant fertilizers to increase the soil fertility. The fertilizer industry in the USA alone accounts for 90000 direct jobs and more than 400000 indirect jobs. In total it generates more than $155 billion in economic activity annually. The fertilizer industry is a huge industry. Synthetic or inorganic fertilizers contain a range of natural elements which are required by the plants.
All the parts of a plant require nitrogen for growth—the roots, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Nitrogen gives plants their green color, which is needed to form protein. A lack of nitrogen causes the lower leaves to turn yellow and the whole plant to turn pale green. On the other hand, excess nitrogen is harmful for the plants.
Phosphorus is required for cell division and assists in the formation of roots, flowers and fruit. A deficiency of the mineral causes reduced growth and poor flowering and less fruits.
Potassium is required by the plants for many chemical processes that allow them to live and grow. The shortage of the mineral can show up in various ways. The common symptoms in many plants are stunted growth and yellowish lower leaves.
How to Buy Synthetic Plant Fertilizer
Whenever you are going to buy synthetic plant fertilizer, you need to understand the three numbers mentioned on fertilizer bags. The contents of a bag of fertilizer, each symbol will be replaced by a number, such as, for example, 10-10-10. This description means that 10% of the bag’s weight each contains the three minerals.
In total, 30% of the bag’s weight comes from these three main ingredients. These numbers indicate the percentage of the three minerals – always in the same order respectively. Thus, a 100 kg bag of 10-20-10 N-P-K fertilizer contains 10 kg of N, 20 Kg of P and 10 Kg of K. The remaining 60 Kg is a carrier or filler such as sand, perlite, or rice hulls.A complete fertilizer is the one that includes all three elements. When you are buying fertilizer, consider the cost per Kg of the nutrient. Generally, higher analysis fertilizers and larger containers are less expensive.
How to Prepare Natural or Organic Fertilizers
There are many different all-natural fertilizers that you can use to enrich the soil. Some of these fertilizers can be made at home using common items from your kitchen or your backyard.
1 Grass Clippings
If you have a lawn, collect your grass clippings. Grass clippings of half an inch to an inch size makes a great weed-blocking mulch. Additionally, it is rich in nitrogen.
Many weeds are very high in nitrogen and make an excellent fertilizer. Once the weeds have been pulled out, you need to prepare weed tea, by soaking the weeds in water for a week or two. Once the water becomes brown after two weeks, filter and pour the water on your garden or plants.
Prepare your own compost from your kitchen and garden waste. Compost releases nutrients in a very slow manner. Consequently, you get a well-composted garden that can go without a fertilizer for a couple of years. Compost assists the soil retain moisture, which is essential for farms and gardens to thrive during hot, dry summers.
Manure from cows, horses, chickens and even bats are rich in nitrogen. A word of caution – Raw manure is highly acidic in nature and can burn the plant if used in excess quantity. It’s best to use composted manure. Since it is less nutrient-dense and acidic, you can use more of it to improve your soil’s water retention without risking your plants.
5 Dead Leaves
Leaves are rich in minerals and can attract earthworms. They help in retaining moisture and make heavy soils lighter. You can either till the dead leaves into your soil i.e mix crushed leaves into soil, or use them as a mulch to both fertilize your plants and keep weeds down.
6 Peels of Bananas
Bananas are rich in potassium. Roses thrive in potassium. You can bury the banana peels in a hole alongside the rose bush so they can compost naturally. As the rose grows, bury the peels into the soil’s top layer. Both of these approaches will provide much-needed potassium for the plant’s proper growth.
How to Apply Plant Fertilizer
The method of application of plant fertilizers depends on the type of fertilizer.
1 Granular Form – Fertilizers which are in the granular form gradually delivers the food to the plants. Hence, it has greater longevity. You can apply these fertilizers in two ways.
2 Broadcast application – In this method, you have to apply granular fertilizers to lawns or new beds before planting the crops. This method requires the usage of a hand-rotary or drop spreader. It is suitable for a large area.
3 Top-dress application – This technique is helpful in a small area as you have to apply the granular fertilizers by hand. You need to use the fertilizer around the base of the plant, extending to the drip line. For vegetables, you need to place the fertilizer in a strip parallel to the planting row.
4 Water-soluble fertilizers – These types of fertilizers act fast, but you need to apply them frequently.
5 Base application – In this method, when you water the plants, they get food. This method is used with water-soluble fertilizers. You need to follow the instructions for mixing. Subsequently, you need to water the soil at the plant’s base. The method is suitable for feeding potted plants.
6 Foliar application – This method is very similar to the base application, with the only difference being that you need to water the leaves instead of the base. The method is useful when plants need to absorb trace elements such as iron quickly.
It would be best if you fed only the well-established plants. Applying plant fertilizers to seeds or tiny seedlings will cause fertilizer burn. Plants should be fertilized since most soil does not supply the essential nutrients required for healthy growth.