No matter what the label says, just use it on any plant.

Almost every day, in fact, often several times a day, I get a message from a reader who wants to know what fertilizer to give his or her plant. What fertilizer to give a rosebush? Or a giant fleeceflower? Or a hibiscus?

And my answer is always the same. Just use any fertilizer. The type of fertilizer is essentially irrelevant.

That means you can apply a lawn fertilizer to a vegetable garden, a vegetable fertilizer to a perennial, a perennial fertilizer to a houseplant, etc. As long as the fertilizer contains minerals (which of course it does) and the plant needs minerals, it will use it. It really is as simple as that!

The Type of Fertilizer Really Doesn’t Matter!

Any one of these fertilizers can be used on any plant.

The fertilizer industry has invested heavily in selling gardeners on the concept that there is a best fertilizer for each plant, that a specific NPK ratio is vital, that success in gardening depends above all on the choice of the right fertilizer, etc., but that if that is not 100% wrong (sometimes there is a grain of truth behind its pretentions, a very tiny grain indeed), it is at least highly exaggerated.

The most honest fertilizer on market is the all-purpose one. Its label makes the claim it be used on any plant and so it can: talk about truth in advertising! But all those other fertilizers can also be used on any plant.

My suggestion? Use whatever fertilizer or fertilizers you have to hand on all your plants, at the recommended dose or, more likely, at a reduced dose (the fertilizer industry also tends to push gardeners too use far more fertilizer on their plants than they really need), regardless of the type of plant written in big letters on the label.

And when you need to buy more, this time buy the only honest fertilizer on the market, an all-purpose one. (I feel honesty should be rewarded!)

My Personal Preferences

It happens that I prefer an organic fertilizer (for environmental reasons) that is slow release (because I need to apply it less often) and that contains a full range of trace elements (therefore, a complete fertilizer), but even if your fertilizer is chemical and quick release without the slightest trace element, the greenest thing to do is use it. Tossing a chemical fertilizer into the garbage because it is not organic is much more harmful to the environment than putting it to good use.

I Feel Like a Broken Record

I apologize to readers who already know all this, because I’ve said it before, many times in fact, but it seems that this is one message that simply does not get through, forcing me to repeat it again and again.

One last time then: just use any fertilizer on your plants. It’s that simple!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “Just Use Any Fertilizer

  1. Pingback: Container Plants Are Greedy – Laidback Gardener

  2. I have found that during a plant’s middle-age (when the season is still going but the plant is not fruiting as once it did) that an application of Bloodmeal and fresh composts will revitalize it…..as both are high in nitrogen…..But other than that, I agree: poo is poo…..and synthetic chemicals is not…..

  3. Elaine Gibson

    Hi , I read your New’s letters everyday….this morning you stated that you can use any fertilizer on any plant. You did state that you can use lawn fertilizer on plants. In mind of the high content of nitrogen in lawn fertilizer would this not give your flowers or Vegetable a lot of green foliage ?? Thank you,,Elaine

    Sent from my iPad


    • Not all lawn fertilizers are rich in nitrogen, of course. In fact, most modern ones have a fairly modest nitrogen composition. If you do add a fertilizer particularly rich in nitrogen, just apply less of it. Problem solved! There are very few fertilizers you should be applying full strength at any rate.

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