Fertilizer can seem like a complicated thing at first glance—there are so many different kinds, and there’s a strange sequence of different numbers on the bags. What does it all mean, and how does it work?
We threw together some fast facts about fertilizer to help you understand the basics—plus a rundown on everything that needs fertilizer right now in Florida. Spring will be here soon, and your plants are about to have a major growth spurt!
Why is Fertilizer Needed?
Fertilizer contains macro and micronutrients—they’re essential for your plants to develop properly. From root growth to leaf production, flowering and fruiting, for your plant to perform its basic functions, it needs specific nutrients to fuel that growth.
Micronutrients and healthy bacteria supplement the overall health of your plant and help enrich the soil. Think about it: if your plants are sitting in the same bed of soil, they’re going to soak up all the available nutrients until there are none left.
What is NPK?
The NPK ratio is the three-number sequence on the front of your fertilizer bag. It represents the ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Plants need nitrogen for foliage production, phosphorus to fuel root development and flowering, and potassium for water, carbohydrate and nutrient delivery throughout the plant’s system. Potassium also affects ATP production, which controls the rate of photosynthesis.
Organic and Synthetic Fertilizer: What is the Difference?
Synthetic fertilizers are chemically-based and often have higher NPK ratios. They work incredibly effectively when appropriately used, but they can burn your plants if you use them in too high a concentration. Some formulas are slow-release, while others work instantly to give your plants a boost exactly when they need it.
Organic fertilizers include natural byproducts, like bone meal, manure, and fish emulsion. They contain essential nutrients necessary for plant development and are incredibly beneficial for improving your soil’s moisture retention and overall quality. However, the nutrients are released more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, and they are less concentrated, so you need to use more to get the same effect as synthetic formulas.
What Needs to Be Fertilized Now in Fort Lauderdale?
Winter is when most plants go into dormancy—a state of rest to conserve energy before their next growth spurt. Once temperatures begin to rise, that’s your plants’ cue to wake up and start growing.
If you time the fertilizer application just right—around February or March—you’ll give your plants all the nutrients they need to grow bigger and stronger, faster. Here’s everything you should fertilize this year and the recommended NPK ratio for each formula:
- Lawn grass: 16–4–8
- Palms, trees, and green shrubs: 12–4–12
- Flowering shrubs: 12–6–6
- Citrus trees: 20–10–20, fortified with magnesium, iron and sulfur
- Azaleas, rhododendrons and gardenias: 10–8–6
- Bird of Paradise and other flowering tropicals: a balanced formula of 1:1:1
Producers tailor fertilizers for specific types of plants, such as vegetable formulas, fruit tree formulas, and transplanting formulas (for when you’re putting new plants in the garden). That’s an easy way to know exactly which formula to buy.
When using organic formulas, you don’t need to worry about finding a specific formula because the contents release more slowly and aren’t as high of a concentration. When you’re dealing with synthetics, however, you want to make sure you choose an appropriate formula, or else you could end up with a flowering shrub with no flowers!
If you have any questions about choosing proper fertilizers or how to apply them, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Living Color! We have a fantastic selection of fertilizers in Fort Lauderdale, and we’re happy to help you find the perfect kind for your garden.