How to understand fertilizer numbers to pick the ideal one for your garden

Published June 16, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Patricia Bianca Taculao

Fertilizers are an important part of any gardener’s arsenal. With the right fertilizer, plants will grow healthier and more abundant. But with a variety of fertilizers available in the market, how can gardeners find the right product for their garden? 

The answer lies in the three numbers on the fertilizer’s label. This represents the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) numbers and the percentage of each element, by weight, inside the product. These three are the most important nutrients that plants need, which is why they’re placed prominently on the label. 

For instance, a package of fertilizer with 14-12-2 contains 14 percent nitrogen, 12 percent phosphorus, and 2 percent potassium. The other nutrients are listed on another part of the label, possibly on the back like most products. 

Photo by Gary Barnes from Pexels

Knowing the nutrient content of the fertilizer can allow gardeners to find the right combination and concentration of each of the three elements to address the various needs of specific plants.

Nitrogen helps promote plant growth of leafy plants and maintain their green color, but trees and shrubs don’t need much of this nutrient since they only grow one set of leaves per season. 

Meanwhile, phosphorus stimulates root, flower, and fruit development, especially in annual flowers, fruiting plants, and newly planted seedlings. But if the soil already has a significant amount of phosphorus, it can do more harm than good for the plants.

Lastly, potassium promotes strong stems, well-formed flowers, healthy roots, and robust fruits. This nutrient also helps plants use water and resist drought. 

During their next trip to the garden store, gardeners can make use of this knowledge about fertilizers to help maximize the growth of their gardens. 

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