Fertilizer Basics

Quick Tips:

1. Nitrogen
2. Phosphorous
3. Potassium

Lawns and gardens need to be fertilized because most soils do not provide the essential nutrients required for optimum growth. Even if you are lucky enough to start with great soil, as your plants grow, they absorb nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.

By fertilizing your lawn and garden, you replenish lost nutrients and ensure that this year's plants have the food they need to flourish.

There are six primary nutrients that plants require. Plants get the first three—carbon, hydrogen and oxygen—from air and water. The other three are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

The Essential Nutrients

Nutrient Nutrient Properties
Governs overall plant health and growth above-ground.  Accelerates growth and deepens the green color in grasses. Nitrogen should be applied with a balanced hand – too much makes plants grow quicker than their roots can support.
The essential element for strong root development. Plants with proper amounts of Phosphorus are also more resistant to disease and have improved seed production, fruit growth, blooming and flowering.
Potassium plays more of a behind-the-scenes role than Nitrogen or Phosphorous, but still is necessary for optimizing plant health. Potassium improves water retention and disease resistance while protecting plants from cold weather.

Using this chart, you can determine the percentages of these nutrients in a fertilizer.  A 5-2-0 fertilizer like Milorganite is 5% Nitrogen, 2% Phosphorus and 0% Potassium.

What are Synthetic Fertilizers?

Synthetic fertilizers are best known for being fast-acting and for coming in a variety of forms (liquid, pellets, granules, spikes, etc.).  Synthetic fertilizers are water-soluble and can be taken up by the plant almost immediately.  While this provides quick greening, the color will not last and consumers must reapply regularly to keep the results from fading. 

The quick results of synthetics can come with other disadvantages as well. Applying too much synthetic fertilizer can "burn" foliage and damage your plants. Synthetic fertilizers give plants a quick boost but do little to improve soil texture, stimulate soil life, or improve your soil's long term fertility. Because synthetic fertilizers are highly water soluble, they can also leach out into streams and ponds.

What are Organic Fertilizers?

Organic fertilizers are different in that they provide benefits to plants and soil.  Organic fertilizers stimulate beneficial soil microorganisms and improve the structure of the soil. Soil microbes play an important role in converting organic fertilizers into soluble nutrients that can be absorbed by plants. Organic fertilizers will provide all the secondary and micronutrients your plants need.

Organic fertilizers typically have a lower NPK analysis than synthetics but feed plants for a much longer period of time.  Because of this, the impact of organic fertilization is usually more subtle.  It takes a little longer to get results, but the reward is a green that lasts.

Organics also benefit the environment by being less likely to leach nutrients into waterways and harm ecosystems.