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Grower’s Corner: Why Natural Plant Food Matters for Healthy Plants

Just like what you eat matters for your health — think of the saying “you are what you eat” — what your plants “eat” matters, too. At Multiflora, we use the same natural plant food that we sell at our greenhouse because we know that it works and that it will get our customers results. If you’re not quite sure whether you need plant food or what type to get, read on.

What is Plant Food?

Plants absorb nutrients from the soil in which they’re rooted. In addition to sunshine and water, these minerals help keep plants healthy and growing. Unfortunately, a soil’s minerals can become depleted over time. To ensure that there’s still plenty of nutrients in the soil for plants to grow, the minerals need to be replaced regularly. One way to do this is by using plant food.

Plant food is generally composed of the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, in addition to other minerals (micronutrients) such as magnesium and calcium. It can come in either granules or liquid form and may be mixed into soil or dispensed through water, depending on the type. For best results, you should always heed the instructions on your plant food container as different formulations will likely require different feed schedules.

When you see a plant food label, it should tell you the form of the plant food — for example, water-soluble for when it needs to be mixed with water — and how much nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium it has. The numbers on your fertilizer, the NPK ratio, will tell you the percent of the nutrients it has. A 20-20-20 mix has 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous, and 20% potassium, whereas a 5-1-5 has a mix of 5% nitrogen, 1% phosphorous, and 5% potassium (also called potash).

When looking for a plant food, you’ll want to pay attention to those numbers to ensure you get a plant food that is going to help you achieve your goals. A high nitrogen plant food will help promote leafy plant growth and is generally ideal for vegetables, while phosphorous helps keep roots healthy and potassium regulates water and CO2 intake. When a plant food has a percentage of all three macronutrients, it is considered a “complete” plant food, regardless of the percentage of each.

Plant food can be natural or it can be chemically produced. For best results, we use a natural plant food on our vegetables and herbs here are Multiflora. If you choose to use a chemical plant food, be sure to closely follow the instructions as too much may harm your plants. Most natural plant foods in stores will be complete, whereas chemical plant foods may or not be complete.

Why You Should Fertilize Your Plants

Most plants will benefit from fertilization. Fertilizing your plants with plant food can help encourage healthy growth, provide pest and disease-resistance, and encourage more blooms and fruits to grow. In addition, when using plant food derived from organic matter, you’re actually working to improve your soil over the long-term. That means that year after year, your garden will continue to thrive.

Chemical vs. Natural Plant Food

Chemical plant food is synthetically manufactured and come in a variety of forms. While good in the short-term, chemical fertilizers may harm microorganisms in your garden. Research into this phenomenon is being done, however, it seems this can damage the ecosystem of your garden. In addition, they don’t help nourish your soil in the long-term.

Natural plant food is made from organic matter. It can be powdered minerals or derived from plant or animal waste. Natural plant food is easy to use and hard to over-use. It’s environmentally friendly and actually helps the soil to which you add it. The latter is especially important when you’re growing vegetables year after year. With continued use, you should see an improvement in your harvests!

Who Should Use Plant Food?

If you are consistently planting in the same area such as garden beds in front of your house or are planting what are called heavy-feeding plants such as tomatoes, your garden will likely benefit from the use of plant food. Fertilizing helps you give your plants the best chance for growth by providing them with everything they need. Unless you know that you have a high-nutrient garden soil, your garden will likely be improved by natural plant food.

When Should Plants be Fertilized?

When you fertilize depends on the type of fertilizer you choose and what you’re growing.

For natural, liquid fertilizers or water-soluble fertilizers, you can fertilize quite frequently. Check the label of your product for any specifications and follow its directions. Many natural, liquid fertilizers can be used twice weekly for outdoor potted plants, weekly for indoor plants, and every couple of weeks for your garden. Natural granular plant food can be mixed into the soil at the beginning and end of the growing season or when you are re-potting a plant.

Plants that may require more plant food include heavy feeders such as tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and roses. Medium-leafed veggies and legumes need moderate feedings, whereas herbs only need a couple of feedings.

To get the most out of your plant food (and your garden), feed plants when they’re most active. You’ll want to fertilize soil before planting or while transplanting and when plants are fruiting or flowering. In addition, it’s a good idea to feed plants at the beginning and the end of the growing season. This will help maintain healthy soil and help you keep your garden looking its best year after year.

If you aren’t sure of your plant food needs, make sure to ask one of our helpful staff when you pick out your plants! We can even show you the natural plant food we use on all our vegetables.

To learn more about plant food, stop by Multiflora Greenhouses and pick up some Jack’s Classic or Nature’s Source to give your plants the nutrients they need!

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