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Updated: Feb 15


It takes a lot of energy to run a marathon, and just like the long-distance runner, proper nutrition can play a huge part in how well your plants perform over their growing season.

Nutrition Basics

All plants must have three key ingredients: nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. These three essentials are always listed on the fertilizer package according to the percentages it contains of each. For example the numbers 8-2-4 mean the fertilizer contains 8% nitrogen, 2% phosphate, and 4% potassium. This is referred to as the fertilizer’s “N-P-K.”

Nitrogen (N) makes plants produce more foliage, and helps keep that foliage green and lush. Phosphate (P) is essential for developing strong, healthy roots and producing vigorous flowers and fruits. Potassium (K) provides general immune system support, which helps the plant fight off pests and diseases.

But how much of each ingredient your plants need depends on several factors, including what type of plant it is, whether the plant is an annual, perennial, evergreen, etc., and whether it is dormant or growing. For example, some vegetables, like beans, lettuce, mustard, and other green leafy vegetables need more nitrogen. Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and turnips, and fruiting plants like tomatoes and squash need more phosphate. Many plants continue to expand their roots during their dormant season. They may look bare, but that is because they are busy storing up energy for spring, so it’s important to make sure they are properly in the fall. 

Look Beyond the N-P-K

Plants also require varying amounts of many different micro-nutrients and trace minerals, such as calcium, copper, magnesium, zinc, and iron. These ingredients are not reflected in the N-P-K, but if they aren’t regularly replenished, your plants will quickly exhaust the soil and your results will be disappointing.

Use a Specialty Fertilizer

The best fertilizer choice is one that is most closely formulated for the needs of the plant. Your tomatoes might be able to get by with a general purpose fertilizer, but they may not reach their maximum potential. This is equally true for trees and shrubs as it is for fruits and vegetables. Pecan trees perform better when they get plenty of zinc, hydrangeas need acidic soil to produce blue flowers, and so on. It’s the reason why you find so many different types of plant foods and specialty fertilizers on our shelves. 

 Plants Prefer Frequent Meals

Annual plants need to work fast. They only have a few weeks to reach mature size and produce their crop before they die, so feeding frequently is crucial. Just like our runners, they need regular meals to stay healthy. Offer them an appropriate organic vegetable fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks. This ensures that there will always be a plentiful supply of what’s needed.

Perennial turf grassses like St. Augustine and Bermuda need to be “winterized” as they enter their dormant period with a dose of phosphate and potassium. They need the same “wake up” treatment in the early spring, followed by heavy applications of nitrogen during the growing season.

And don’t forget to foliar feed!

We carry Fox FarmEspoma, and Lady Bug, all of which offer excellent organic vegetable fertilizers. Whichever one you choose, continue to apply it regularly right up to the the final harvest. Then you’ll know you’ve given your plant the best nutrition nature can provide.


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