Fertilizers are natural chemical compounds applied in farming to promote plants and fruits growth. They are normally applied either through the soil or by foliage feeding.
There are two types of fertilizers: organic fertilizers (composed of decayed plant/animal matters) and inorganic fertilizers (composed of natural chemical and minerals). Organic fertilizers are natural compounds formed through natural processes, while inorganic ones are natural compounds formed through chemical processes.
Fertilizers typically provide three major nutrients for plants: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These three are called macronutrients, usually found in most packaged fertilizers.
Fertilizers also provide secondary nutrients: sulfur, calcium and magnesium. Sometimes trace elements are found, too, such as: boron, cobalt, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, molybdenum and selenium. These elements are also known as micronutrients.
Of all those compounds, the most important ones as needed in largest quantity by plants are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They are necessary for these building basics:
- Every amino acid contains nitrogen
- Every molecule forming up every cell’s membrane contains phosphorus, and so does every molecule of ATP (all cells’ main energy source)
- Potassium makes up 1% – 2% of the weight of any plant and, as an ion in cells, is essential for metabolism.
In short, without nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plants cannot grow and thrive as they cannot build up pieces they need. If any of those three are missing or scarce, the plants growth will be limited. By supplying the compounds needed by plants in their readily available forms, the plants are projected to grow faster and produce more harvest. This is why sometimes the appliance of fertilizers is needed.
The numbers attached to a fertilizer package tell you the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium contained. It means a 12-8-10 fertilizer has 12% nitrogen, 8% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Thus in a 100-pound bag, 12 pounds is nitrogen, 8 pounds is phosphorus and 10 pounds is potassium. The other 70 pounds is called ballast, offering no value to plants or soil.
A packaged fertilizer is usually named according to the largest macronutrient it contains. For example, if nitrogen is the main element, the fertilizer is often called nitrogen fertilizer. Or if it contains mostly phosphorus, it is often called phosphorus fertilizer. By recognizing which compound is needed the most by your plants, based on its scarcity in the soil, you can choose the right fertilizer for your farm.