The Q&A Archives: Fertilizer Basics

Question: I am doing a research project for school. Could you please send me some general information about FERTILIZERS (i.e. how they work, what they are composed of etc.)? Thank you. Minh Ottawa,Canada

Answer: There's so much to tell about fertilizers! First of all you need to know a little about what plants need to grow--after all, that's why we apply fertilizers in the first place. Although plants make their own "food" through photosynthesis, they needcertain nutrients to help them do this. The major plant nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Most fertilizers you see have an "NPK" rating, for example 5-10-10. This simply means the ratio of nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P) to potassium (K--the chemical symbol for elemental potassium). Plants also need a variety of micronutrients--they are just as essential as the macronutrients, though plants need them in much smaller quantities Plants can usually get these from the soil, but many "organic" fertilizers are made from materials like kelp (seaweed) and fish emulsion and contain many trace minerals. Most "synthetic" fertilizers contain only N, P, and K. Some micronutrients are: boron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and copper. ThepH of the soil--how acid or how alkaline it is--affects how plants take up nutrients. Even though the nutrients are present in the soil, if the soil is too acidic or alkaline these nutrients become "locked up" in complex molecules that plants can't use. That's why people apply lime (to raise pH) or sulfur (to lower pH) to their soils. I hope this is helpful. Soil science is such a fascinating field of study!

« Click to go to the homepage

» Ask a question of your own

Q&A Library Searching Tips

  • When singular and plural spellings differ, as in peony and peonies, try both.
  • Search terms are not case sensitive.

Today's site banner is by cocoajuno and is called "Here's looking at you."