Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Plants Can’t Read Fertilizer Labels

20150709EngThere is a wealth of fertilizers on the market, each more extraordinary than the next, specifically designed to suit any plant group from lawns to orchids, vegetables, cedars, roses, tomatoes and so much more. You therefore feel compelled to buy at least one box of each kind to satisfy your vast plant family. And you have therefore just been taken for a ride by the powerful fertilizer industry.

You see, plants can’t read fertilizer labels… and really don’t care which fertilizer you give them! So, if you feed lawn fertilizer to your roses or orchid fertilizer to your cedars, they’ll grow just fine!

Indeed, the importance of specific ratios of NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) has been greatly exaggerated and often entirely invented. Sure enough, all plants* require the 3 major elements for healthy growth (and all the minor elements as well), but the exact proportion is of very little importance… so little, indeed, that you don’t even really need to consider it.

The most honest fertilizer on the market is all-purpose or multi-use fertilizer. It is aptly named, as it is suited to all plants*. But all those plant-specific fertilizers – the “dishonest” fertilizers as I like to call them – can also go on all plants.

My advice? When it’s time to fertilize, just grab the first fertilizer from your reserve and use it on all your plants, edible or ornamental, outdoor or indoor. When you run out, grab another one and use it up as well. When you just have no specific fertilizers left, buy an all-purpose fertilizer (because I feel one should reward honesty in packaging) or a fertilizer which does not refer explicitly to a type of plant: seaweed fertilizer, fish emulsion, blood meal, etc. The latter fertilizers, by the very fact that they make no claim to a specific use, are also all-purpose and therefore “honest”.

Personally I always opt for organic fertilizer, but that’s a story in itself: one to cover in a future blog!

* Carnivorous plants are exceptions to the “all-purpose fertilizer suit all plants” rule: most don’t need any fertilizer at all!

6 comments on “Plants Can’t Read Fertilizer Labels

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