F is for Fertilizer on the A to Z Blogger Challenge – and Fertilizer means another three more letters, N-P-K. If you look at bags or bottles of fertilizer you will see three numbers on the label, like 5-10-5. This is a statement about the ratio of the three major nutrients that plants need. N is for Nitrogen, P is for Phosphorus and K is for Potash (otherwise known as Potassium). Each of these elements is important for different aspects of a plant’s growth and health.
Nitrogen helps plant foliage to grow strong. Phosphorous helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Potassium (Potash) is important for overall plant health. These elements need to be in balance. For example, too much nitrogen can encourage lush foliage, but not fruit or flowers. Phosphorus stimulates root growth and helps plants set fruit or flower buds. While phosphorus works best in soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8, lots of organic matter in the soil will moderate that requirement. Fertilizers for blooming plants will have an NPK ratio where the P is higher as in 5-10-5 or 2-3-1. Potassium is important for general plant health and vigor.
However, there is more to a plant’s nutritional needs than NPK. Calcium, magnesium and sulphur are important in smaller amounts. Then there are the very tiny amounts of Trace elements that are needed. These include boron, copper and iron. A bag of 5-10-5 fertilizer will not include these lesser nutrients.
Compost made with a variety of materials will enrich your soil and improve the texture of the soil by adding all those organic materials. This is an important way of feeding your soil. In addition to making your own compost you can buy compost in bags at the garden center, or if you are really lucky you can find a local source of commercial compost. In our area we have compost from Martin’s Farm or Bear Path Farm. The Bridge of Flowers is working with the Franklin Country Waste Management District and the Shelburne Falls Compost Collaborative. We put all our weeds and trimmings in a compost dumpster which is picked up and taken to Martin’s Farm – and will ultimately be returned to the Bridge as nutritious compost. I just found an excellent website from the University of Illinois about different composting techniques.
In my own garden I have used lime (calcium) to raise the pH on my acid soil. I also use greensand to add potassium to my soil. I have also added rock phosphate, not the fast acting super-phosphate. These organic fertilizers act slowly. There is no chance of burning my plants which can happen with some commercial fertilizers. The best thing to do is to get a good soil test. I had a soil test done at the University of Massachusetts last year. It came back saying – No more nitrogen! I think that is because my homemade compost has a lot of chicken manure in it.
F is also for FIRE. We are finally able to burn our 3 year old brush pile.
To see what else begins with F click here.