The Nitty Gritty on Plant Nutrition

Scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest, some of the articles make gardening seem like magic or voodoo, but be assured, it is not that complicated.  Sure, you can bury a handful of rusty nails in your garden to add iron, but why?  There are a lot of odd ways people have found to add nutrition to their soil and plants, and these methods are not the most effective.  Most of these "tricks" will not provide your plants any better nutrition or even nutrition they can easily absorb.  Let's dive in and de-mystify plant nutritional needs and how fertilizers can assist.

All plants need three main nutritional components: Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash (Vitamin K).  Trace minerals are also needed but we're just going to focus on the big three.  Any fertilizer you pick up in the store is going to have three numbers (such as 5-2-0) this is the NPK.  The numbers tell you the amount of Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potash.  


Nitrogen is needed for healthy, lush growth of leaves.  Common sources of nitrogen are blood meal, feather meal, and fish emulsion (to name a few).  It is easy to overdue a good thing when it comes to nitrogen, too much can burn and kill plants, especially young tender seedlings.  This is why it is imperative to follow the instructions on the fertilizer's bottle, and with young seedlings even further dilute the ratio.


Phosphorous is essential for healthy flower and root development.  Whether you are growing flowers or pepper plants phosphorus is your best friend.  Some people recommend planting with some epsom salt for the phosphorous.  I personally advise against that, you don't want salt build up in your soil.  Salt buildup = sad unhealthy plants.  A better way to add phosphate to your soil is through bone meal, bat guano, or rock phosphate.   I'm a huge fan of Fox Farm products, and one of my absolute go-to fertilizers from them is "Big Bloom."  This is great for seedlings, transplants,  and even help any plants in distress.  


Potash is needed for the overall health and well-being.  Potash allows the plants to metabolize the nutrients, photosynthesize, and maintain water in its cells.  Potash also helps plants through times of stress, such as frost and drought.  An easy and effective way to give your plants more potash, along with other important trace minerals, is through a weekly foliar application of kelp.

We covered some basics on the nutritional needs of plants, but how to we apply this now?  Personally, I like to keep things simple.  I have a family to take care of on top of all my plants. By creating a schedule I'm able to take care of both.  Everyone has different opinions, follow your heart and what your lifestyle allows.  I prefer to fertilize at night.  Just like watering, you should never fertilize in the heat of the day.  This can burn your plants, leaving them with minimally sun scald, if not dead.  It's common practice to fertilize early in the morning, but I personally have had better results doing it at night.  Foliar application is a great method of fertilizing, in comparison to drenching, it has been found that the plants are able to absorb more through their leaves than through their roots alone.  Also, I find it stretches my fertilizer out further.  The downside is, if the fertilizer hasn't dried before the sun hits it, the foliage burns.  Therefore, I prefer to fertilize at night.  Not super late at night, just as the sun is beginning to sink behind Job's peak and my plants don't have any sun on them.  If you fertilize too late at night, wet foliage can lead to things like powdery mildew and nobody wants that.

As stated before, I'm a big fan of Fox Farm products.  They are high quality, I like the business's mission for sustainability, they created an easy-to-use platform, plus their images and names of the products are hilarious.  They sell a trio of foliar fertilizers that I highly recommend, for any garden.  Using their trio, here is my fertilizing schedule:

Big Bloom: foliar application every other day, from seedling to harvest.

Grow Big: foliar application once a week, until plants begin to bud.

Tiger Bloom: When signs of first buds appear, switch from Grow Big to Tiger Bloom, foliar application once a week.

Nothing too complicated.  They threw any macro and micro needs necessary in their products, makes my life easier and produces exceptionally happy plants.  If you would rather not buy their products, a simple fish emulsion and liquid kelp is more than sufficient.  This will provide you with plenty of nutrition.  If you go this route, simply fertilize with these once a week.  

No matter which fertilizer you decide to go with, follow the instructions written on the bottle closely.  I like to have designated teaspoons and tablespoons just for my gardening stuff.  Also, never use a sprayer that previously held any kind of herbicide!  This may seem obvious, but mistakes happen, be sure to label your sprayers and have one designated for fertilizers.  I keep on hand three sprayers: one for plain water, one for neem oil/ spinosad, and one for fertilizers.  Be sure to rinse out your containers well in between uses.  Make only enough fertilizer that you need for that week, the heat and sun will break it down and be unusable for the next feeding. 

Next time I'll tackle soil health, without healthy soil it won't matter what fertilizers you spray on the plants, they will not flourish and will be susceptible to pests and diseases.  Hope this post de-mystified plant nutrition, and next time you reach for your epsom salts you'll think twice and grab some quality fertilizers instead! 

 Happy Gardening!

- Jessica