When you walk in a garden store, nursery or supply store, the large supply of fertilizer can be overwhelming. With bags on top of bags towering over you, it is hard to decide and know which type is right for your garden. Here is a general overview to help you understand the nutrients fertilizer provides along with the most common types.
Any fertilizer you choose will have information on the nutrients that it includes. Largely labeled on the bag of fertilizer, you will find the N-P-K ratio, the percentage the fertilizer contains by volume of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. For example, Ace Starter Fertilizer All Grass Types is a 23-23-3 formula, which contains 23 percent Nitrogen, 23 percent Phosphorus and 3 percent Potassium.
You can purchase a kit to test your soil to get an idea of the nutrients that are present in your garden. (Try the line of Rapitest Soil Testers available at Ace Hardware of Fort Collins.) Once you are aware of the nutrients that are in abundance and those that are lacking, you can make a better fertilizer selection.
Complete and Incomplete Fertilizers
When a fertilizer contains all three nutrients, it is known as a complete fertilizer. If a product only has one or two of the three nutrients, it is an incomplete fertilizer. Complete fertilizers may seem to be the answer for all gardens, but that is not true. If your soil already has two of the three nutrients needed, you can save money by purchasing an incomplete fertilizer to boost the third nutrient. Complete fertilizers may also cause more harm than good. If a plant has a sufficient amount of nutrients and more is added to it through a complete fertilizer, the plant could die.
General and Special-Purpose Fertilizers
General fertilizers contain an equal amount of N-P-K or a slightly higher percentage of nitrogen. These fertilizers are non-specific and meet most of the requirements to help plants through their growing season.
Special-purpose fertilizers are used more by gardeners who want a specific combination of the three nutrients, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.
There are three types of special-purpose fertilizers. One type contains mostly nitrogen and is used to encourage growth. Another type helps stimulate root and flower growth and stem strength. These fertilizers have less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium. This granular type of fertilizer is used for new planting areas and is applied deep down into the soil where the roots will grow. After the first flower production, you can also use granular fertilizer to help continue growth. The third type of special-purpose fertilizer is designed for specific plants. They are usually named after the plant and are specially formulated for their needs. (Try Dr. Earth’s Total Advantage Rose & Flower Fertilizer.)
Synthetic and Organic Fertilizers
Some fertilizers are mixed and manufactured, while others are more natural.
Synthetic fertilizers are made from the chemicals listed on the product label. They are usually faster acting in providing nutrients quicker to plants that are under distress. They are sold in dry and liquid form and their release can last from 3-8 months.
Organic fertilizers are made from living organisms, such as bone and blood meal, fish emulsion, cottonseed meal, compost and manure. These types of fertilizers release nutrients more slowly and are broken down by bacteria providing nutrients as they decompose.
There are many brands and types of fertilizers to choose from, but our staff at Ace Hardware of Fort Collins can help! Stop by our location on Harmony Rd. or give us a call at 970.223.9273.