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Understanding Fertilizers And Their Crazy Numbers

Plant Care

Your friend told you that you need to fertilize your plants, but what does that mean and why should you? Over the next few newsletters, we'll give you some simple-to-understand information about fertilizer, teach you how to use it, and how to look for the signs that a plant needs a good feeding.

Fertilizer is food, giving plants the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. If you find yourself confused when people start throwing chemicals and numbers around, we're going to give a simple way to understand what makes up every fertilizer.

It starts with the major nutrients, which are always represented by three numbers that you will see on all fertilizer packaging. It will look something like 2-2-2, 14-14-14, or 8-4-8. These three numbers are the nutrients Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium, which we often shorten to NPK, the chemical symbols for the three elements.

These elements are called the major ones because they are the most important for plant growth. To remember why each one is important, use the phrase 'Up, Down, All-Around' as a reminder of what each of the three major elements does.

UP - This is what nitrogen does, it helps plants grow branches, leaves, and stems above ground. This is an important nutrient for houseplants, where green growth is often what we are looking for.

DOWN - Look underground to see what phosphorous does. While it is responsible for a few different things within a plant, its most important role is helping a plant transfer energy and developing a strong root system. It helps with the parts that are DOWN or underground.

ALL AROUND - Sometimes called the Quality Nutrient, potassium is an all-around mineral that contributes to a plants ability to take in energy, use water (and thus resist drought).

Well, there you have it for this week. A quick and easy way to remember what the three major elements do for a plant. All are important for houseplants, and our favorite fertilizers are typically ones with a balanced analysis such a 2-2-2 or a 14-14-14. Next week, we'll talk about how and when to apply nutrients to your plants to keep them thriving.

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