Just like humans, plants benefit from balanced diets, and the most important, best vitamins for plants are nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium. How can gardeners ensure that their plants are getting what they need in order to thrive? Some vitamins do more than others to ensure plant health.
Plant Vitamins and Minerals
According to experts, the essential nutrients that plants need are categorized into three groups: primary (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), secondary (sulfur, magnesium and calcium) and micro-nutrients (copper, zinc and manganese). There are, of course, other nutrients in these categories, as well, but those listed are the most important. Almost every one of these is absorbed through plant roots, assisted by fungi and microorganisms in the soil.
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Soil naturally has nutrients in it, but it is hard to tell what kind and at what levels without doing extensive soil testing. If the plant is not growing, turning yellow or has dead tissue, the soil may be seriously lacking. Adding plant vitamins to soil can help the problem, but first check to see if the issue is related to insects, diseases, moisture levels or compacted soil.
Plant Vitamins Versus Fertilizer
Contrary to popular opinion, plant fertilizer is not actually plant food. Instead, fertilizers contain vitamins and nutrients that plants require to grow. The fertilizer enriches the soil, and plants use the nutrients to create their own food. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the best vitamins for plants, and you can see them on fertilizers labeled with the letters "NPK."
These fertilizers combine macro- and micronutrients and fillers, also called ballast. If the label reads "NPK 20-20-20", it has equal ratios of each. If the soil is lacking in a specific nutrient or a plant needs a higher percentage of one, you can find fertilizers with different ratios. The fillers have the important purpose of helping to distribute the vitamins in ways that increase the absorption abilities.
Plant Vitamin Reviews
Vitamin C is also thought to be essential for plant growth, and some experts recommend using fertilizer that contains this vitamin. It's important to note that houseplants also need fertilizer to stay healthy. For houseplants, use granules, slow-releasing pods or liquid products. You can also find plant vitamin reviews online in most places where these products are sold. These reviews can help to inform your decision.
Like outdoor plants, houseplants have certain nutritional needs, but don't have access to outdoor organic matter. For tropical indoor plants, experts suggest with balanced fertilizers or those with higher nitrogen ratios, for example, 5-5-5 or 5-5-3. Begonias, African violets and other small, flowered plants in pots do well with a 7-9-5 NPK ratio. There are other kinds of flowering houseplants that will require 1-3-1.
There are two main kinds of plant fertilizers: organic and synthetic. Organic varieties are derived from minerals, plants and animals and are not water-soluble. This means that their vitamins are released slowly, so it takes longer for them to work. For the most part, they also have lower concentrations of those nutrients than synthetics.
Synthetic fertilizers are made from ammonium nitrate, urea and other chemical compounds. Although they work faster, they need to be applied more often. Gardeners have to keep a watch on this because using too much can damage beneficial microorganisms that are in the soil, or cause fertilizer burn.
- Gardener's Path: Plant Nutrients: What They Need and When They Need It
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Essential Nutrients for Plants
- Gardening Channel: Fertilizer vs. Plant Food: What’s the Difference?
- Leafy Place: Houseplant Fertilizers The Best Indoor Plant Fertilizers (Reviewed and Compared)
- Bob Vila: Bob Vila Radio: Finding the Right Fertilizer