59January 14, 2015

Plants are a lot like people. Both people and plants like to eat.
Think about what that last sentence is saying to you. Do you feed your plants? I’m not talking granola, hamburgers or whatever may be in your refrigerator or cabinets. I am talking about 3 essential nutrients that your plants need if they are to grow properly. Each of these nutrients has a specific function in the growth of your plants. Let me tell you about these essential nutrients.

Nitrogen is used by your plants primarily for the green growth of your plants. If you have a plant that has leaves, the plant needs nitrogen for those leaves to carry on photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process whereby the leaves take the nitrogen and combined with light create food to feed the rest of the plant.
Phosphorous is the next nutrient that your plants use for growth. Phosphorous helps in the development of plant roots. A plant needs a strong root system to help to take all of the nutrients out of the soil. Phosphorous also helps in creating strong stems on your plants. Phosphorous is critical in the formation of flowers on a plant. For instance, if your tomato plants are not getting enough phosphorous, they won’t form very many flower buds. No flower buds mean no tomatoes. If you are growing flowering houseplants, they won’t develop very many flowers without adequate amounts of phosphorous. Potassium, sometimes called potash is the third of the essential nutrients for your plants. Potassium helps your plants to fight off plant diseases. Potassium also is critical in the ripening process for your vegetables. If you grow tomatoes and those tomatoes are not ripening, then there is probably a lack of potassium for your tomatoes. There are other minor nutrients that your plants may need, but that could be a whole separate column.
How do your plants get these 3 essential nutrients? They can get these nutrients from the soil. Organic matter contains varying degrees of all 3 of these essential nutrients. At some point in time, your plants’ roots will take most of the nutrients out of the organic matter that is in the soil. People will add compost to the soil to put back nutrients. Manures and other organic matter can be added to the soil to boost nutrients. Depending on the plants that you are growing, these sources may need to be added to the soil again during the growing season. In many cases, gardeners will use a packaged fertilizer to supply their plants with the essential nutrients.

If you look at a fertilizer package, you will find 3 sets of numbers on the package. Lets say the numbers are 8-5-3. What this means is that the package will contain 8% Nitrogen, 5 % Phosphorous and 3% Potassium. The percentage of nitrogen will always be listed first, phosphorous will be listed second and potassium will be listed third. You will notice that the numbers don’t add up to 100%. This is OK because the fertilizer is being mixed to provide an optimal amount of food for plant growth.
In next weeks column I will explain to you why the percentages may be different on different types of fertilizer. I will also explain why you may need different fertilizers to provide the optimal amount of the 3 essential nutrients that are needed by your plants.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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