Have you ever thought about what the numbers in fertilizers, like 0-20-20 fertilizer, are? If you are new to gardening, this is probably a very basic but important thing you need to know. You just don’t have to use any fertilizers to nourish your plants, whether these are vegetables, fruits, crops, grains or flowers. It’s vital to make sure that your plants are well grown by understanding soil fertility, water supply and fertilizers.
Fertilizers are a Prerequisite
Other than adequate water, the main source of nutrients that plants need in order to abundantly grow is the soil. The “amounts and rates of nutrient supplies” of plants depend on soil fertility. Although this is a major factor for successful plant growth, the soil may be depleted of certain nutrients. This is when a gardener has to add some fertilizers, such as 0-10-10 fertilizer, 0-20-20 fertilizer, 10-20-20 fertilizer and the like.
Fertilizers are not only an extra source of nutrients. They “contain chemical elements” that when combined with water and soil, plants can become more tolerant of environmental disturbance, which includes “weeds, insects and diseases”. As much as possible, there must be no need to use insecticides or pesticides as most brands have toxic ingredients that can reduce the health of your plants or crops.
If the area where you’re planning to plant has been used by other crops before, expect some nutrients are depleted. At every harvest, essential minerals and other substances become reduced. The more you need to use fertilizers in this case. Again, it has to be a specific type of fertilizer. Fertilizers vary in terms of nutrient status, or amounts and rates. Some may only need 0-10-10 fertilizer, while others may have to go higher than 0-20-20 fertilizer. Hence, it’s important to be familiar with these numbers.
Fertilizers Have Number Labels
There are three digits of numbers on fertilizers. Unless you’ve been gardening for years, this probably makes no sense to you. Trust me, it’s even easier than counting 123 or memorizing the 26 alphabet letters.
Those three numbers refer to chemicals known as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are also known as N-P-K, in which the first digit is nitrogen, phosphorus the next, and the last one is potassium. That’s the format of the list and not interchangeable. Do you agree that it’s easy to remember?
Let’s take an example to fully understand how the labels work. The most common type of fertilizer is 10-10-10, which is considered an all-purpose type. Its popularity is basically due to the equal or balanced amounts of each chemical. There are 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium, or a total of 30%. The rest of the 70% should come from the soil.
In other words, such fertilizers bought at commercial stores are additional ingredients to grow plants. The same goes when you pick the 0-20-20 fertilizer, in which zero nitrogen and 20% each of phosphorus and potassium. By understanding this, you are able to distinguish just how much chemicals or minerals you need to add for your plants.
Importance of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium
Now, why do these specific nutrients are needed by plants? Why are other minerals not included? Let’s briefly reveal what each these substances do for growing plants.
Nitrogen is a vital substance for certain plants as it helps maintain their green color and allow leaves to grow. Since many plants are naturally green, especially the leaves, this is not as required as opposed to phosphorus or potassium. This is when 0-20-20 fertilizer or 10-20-20 fertilizer is the best choice to some gardeners or farmers.
Phosphorus has great benefits to give to plants. From forming new roots to seeds to flowers to fruits, this nutrient is definitely a must. It can also help protect the plants from diseases, keep the roots strong and grow much faster. Regardless of the family and variety of plant, this is always needed.
Lastly, potassium serves the same as phosphorus in terms of growth and cell strengthening. As a matter of fact, it helps further fight diseases and keeps plants protected. So, the more potassium is used the fewer insecticides are needed. In addition to that, this substance can withstand other environmental factors, which include heat and cold weather.
Based on this list, whether you are a beginner or not, you can conclude that the middle and last numbers labeled on fertilizers are the most important. In terms of flower and fruit production, phosphorus and potassium are the key ingredients. Hence, 10-20-20 fertilizer may be a more ideal to your gardening process. This is also a better choice if you want to protect and strengthen your plants against “environmental stresses” and promote a better production of stems and cells.
Fertilizer vs. Bloom Booster
If you’ve looked up fertilizers, you may have stumbled upon bloom boosters as well. To be sure, bloom boosters are also fertilizers but for a particular purpose.
As conventional fertilizers may address the general state, health, and immune system of a plant, bloom boosters focus on promoting bigger, denser, more colorful fruits and flowers. These types of fertilizers are usually high in phosphorus and potassium to aid and increase flower buds and to improve blooms, in addition to strengthening plant vitality.
For more information on fertilizers and bloom boosters, you may check our article on the best bloom boosters here.
As much as possible, stick to either 10-10-10 or 10-20-20 fertilizer. But remember that the kind of fertilizer to use depends on how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium your plants need. This fundamentally depends on the kind of plants you have, how much nutrients are depleted, which type of soil fertility and what is the weather like. You may actually need 10-30-20 fertilizer, 10-20-50 fertilizer, 6-30-20 fertilizer, 0-20-20 fertilizer, etc.
When you are looking for products, always check the label. Every product has this on the front packaging in clear, readable and usually large font size. In case you cannot find it check the back label.
Some may not be easy to find. In the case of 0-20-20 fertilizers, it may take you days to find a good product. It’s also possible that there’s none. So what you need to do is to mix some products by adding the percentage of each nutrient as stated on the product label.
Here are some good products you may want to consider.