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Garden after plant feeding
8 MIN 28 Feb
Last update: 08 Mar 2024

Plant Feed: When, Why, & Which Fertiliser to Use

Fertiliser comes in different shapes and sizes—not to mention with various nutritional values. Picking the right feed for your plant is consequently quite the process. Find out what you need to look out for.

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There is a lot of joy in nurturing your green companions and witnessing their growth. To keep your plants healthy, you need to give them the right nutrients. This is where plant feed comes into play. 

Table of contents:
Show all
  • Plants need nutrients
  • The importance of plant feed
  • When to use plant feed
  • Choosing the right fertiliser for your plants
  • How to apply plant feed
  • Considering soil and pH-value when choosing plant feed
  • Common mistakes to avoid when using plant feed
  • Plant feed FAQ
  • Ready to go?

Plants need nutrients

Plants require a balanced diet to flourish, just like us! While sunlight and water are crucial, they are not sufficient on their own. 

Through their roots, plants draw moisture and nutrients from the soil. In this case, Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are especially important.

  • Nitrogen is responsible for leaf and stem growth.
  • Phosphorus promotes root development.
  • Potassium aids in overall plant health and disease resistance. 

Also, plants need secondary macronutrients like calcium and magnesium as well as micronutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc. Each nutrient plays a unique role in supporting the various physiological processes of plants.

Illustration of the definition of NPK nutrients

The importance of plant feed

In natural forests and wild meadows, the nourishment in the soil replenishes by time. Microorganisms break down plant matter and animal droppings on the surface, and the rain helps work it into the soil. A lot is happening underground as well.

This process doesn’t work efficiently in well manicured gardens for several reasons. Foremost, the plants don’t naturally grow where the conditions are best. Instead, they have to thrive wherever you put them. Additionally, flowering plants that draw numerous nutrients from the soil are often placed in proximity. All this and the fact, that organic plant matter such as foliage is typically removed, before microorganisms can turn it into food for your greenery, makes plant feed essential for the health of your garden.         

Without proper nourishment, plants may exhibit stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and decreased resistance to pests and diseases. By incorporating plant feed into your gardening routine, you can ensure that your plants receive the necessary nutrients to reach their full potential.

A handful of granulated fertiliser

Different Types of Plant Feed

When it comes to plant feed, you’ll find a plethora of options available. The two primary categories are organic and synthetic fertilisers.

Organic fertilisers are derived from natural sources, such as compost, animal manure, and bone meal. They release nutrients slowly and improve soil structure over time. 

Synthetic fertilisers are chemically manufactured and provide nutrients in a readily available form. They offer quick results, but may have a negative impact on the environment if overused.

Fertiliser Types

Within these categories, you’ll find various formulations, such as granular fertilisers, liquid fertilisers, and slow-release fertilisers. 

Granular fertilisers are easy to apply and provide a slow-release of nutrients. 

Liquid fertilisers are quickly absorbed by plants and are suitable for foliar feeding.

Liquid fertiliser

Slow-release fertilisers are ideal for busy gardeners, as they gradually release nutrients over an extended period, reducing the need for frequent applications.

When to use plant feed

Plants have different nutritional requirements at various stages of their growth cycle. As a general rule, it is best to apply plant feed during the active growing season. For most plants, this corresponds to spring and summer. Winter-flowering varieties, for example, may benefit from a late summer or early autumn feeding to support their upcoming bloom.

It is important to monitor your plants for signs of nutrient deficiencies. If you notice slow growth, pale leaves, or lacklustre blooms, it may be time to provide a boost of plant feed. Additionally, newly transplanted or recently repotted plants can benefit from an initial feeding to aid in their establishment.

Are you fond of potted plants? Then check out our top 20 evergreen plants for pots.

Choosing the right fertiliser for your plants

To select the appropriate fertiliser for your plants, just consider the specific nutritional needs of your plants. They have varying requirements based on their growth habits, flowering patterns, and environmental conditions.

Leafy green vegetables usually thrive with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, while flowering plants may require a balanced formulation to support both foliage and blooms.

Which fertiliser is the best for what type of plant?

Different types of plants have unique nutritional requirements, and selecting the right fertiliser can optimise their growth and productivity. Here are some recommendations for common plant groups:

Flowering plants: Choose a fertiliser with a higher phosphorus content to promote flower bud formation and vibrant blooms. Look for NPK ratios like 5-10-5 or 10-20-10.

Vegetables and herbs: Opt for a balanced fertiliser with moderate levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Ratios such as 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 are suitable for most edible plants.

Plant feed for good vegetable harvest

Fruit trees: Look for a fertiliser formulated specifically for fruit trees, with a higher potassium content to support fruit development. Ratios like 8-3-9 or 10-10-20 are often recommended.

Indoor plants: Choose a balanced liquid fertiliser that is diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Apply during the active growing season and reduce or suspend feeding during the dormant period.

The Garden Doctor:
The easiest path is to simply choose fertiliser that is already optimised for specific plants, such as lawn feed, hedges, and shrubs fertiliser or hydrangea fertiliser.

How to apply plant feed

Applying plant feed correctly is crucial to ensure optimal nutrient uptake and prevent damage to plants. 

  1. Read the Instructions

    Familiarise yourself with the recommended application rates and frequency specified on the packaging.

  2. Water the soil

    Before applying the fertiliser, water the soil thoroughly. This prevents the fertiliser from contacting the plant’s roots, minimizing the chance of root burn.

  3. Even distribution

    Spread the granular fertiliser evenly around the base of the plants, keeping it a few inches away from the stem or trunk. For liquid fertilisers, dilute them according to the instructions and apply evenly to the soil or foliage.

  4. Water after application

    After applying the plant feed, water the soil again to help dissolve the fertiliser and promote nutrient absorption.

  5. Avoid foliar contact

    When using granular fertilisers, avoid letting the product come into direct contact with the leaves, as it can cause leaf burn. If foliar feeding is desired, use a liquid fertiliser formulated for that purpose.

Considering soil and pH-value when choosing plant feed

The soil composition and pH level influence the availability of nutrients in the ground. Doing a soil test tells you how many nutrients are in the soil and how acidic it is. 

PH-check for plant feed

Soil pH: Some plants prefer acidic soil (pH below 7), while others thrive in alkaline soil (pH above 7). Adjusting the soil pH, if necessary, can enhance nutrient uptake. Acid-loving plants benefit from fertilisers formulated for acid-loving plants, while alkaline soil may require amendments to lower pH.

Soil Composition: Sandy soils tend to drain quickly and may require more frequent fertiliser applications. Clay soils, on the other hand, retain moisture and nutrients, requiring less frequent feeding. Organic matter, such as compost, can enhance soil structure and nutrient retention.

Common mistakes to avoid when using plant feed

Much is better—or isn’t it? When it comes to plant feed, the correct application is key. Here are some common mistakes you may want to avoid. 

Overfertilisation: Applying too much fertiliser can burn the plant’s roots, leading to nutrient imbalances and stunted growth. Always follow the recommended application rates and frequency provided by the manufacturer.

Underfertilisation: Neglecting to provide adequate plant feed can result in nutrient deficiencies, poor growth, and low yields. Check your plants to see if they need more nutrients and change the way you feed them accordingly.

Improper application: Applying the fertiliser on the leaves instead of the soil, or vice versa, can lead to inefficient nutrient absorption. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application methods.

Using expired fertilisers: Check the expiration date on your fertiliser packaging. Expired fertilisers may lose their potency and fail to provide the necessary nutrients to your plants.

Neglecting soil Health: Fertilisers are not a substitute for healthy soil. Ensure your soil is well-draining, rich in organic matter, and has the appropriate pH level to support your plants’ nutritional needs.

Hand checks compost and plant feed

Plant feed FAQ

What to feed tomato plants?

Tomato plants thrive on a balanced fertiliser with higher levels of phosphorus and potassium. A 5-10-10 fertiliser or a similar formulation is ideal for promoting healthy fruit development. Additionally, organic options like compost, well-rotted manure, or fish emulsion provide essential nutrients. During the growing season, plants need to be fed every 2 to 3 weeks to get enough nutrients and produce the best crops.

Which plants don’t like Seaweed fertiliser?

While seaweed fertiliser is beneficial for many plants, it may not be suitable for succulents like cacti and certain desert plants that are not accustomed to the high levels of moisture associated with seaweed-based products. Some plants, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, may not like seaweed fertiliser because it is alkaline.

What is the best plant food for flowers?

For flowering plants, a balanced, all-purpose fertiliser with equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 blend, provides the necessary nutrients for healthy blooms. Specific flower-focused plant feed with higher phosphorus content, like a 15-30-15 formulation, can also encourage prolific flowering and overall plant vitality.

Ready to go?

With the right plant feed, your garden will (continue to) thrive and maybe put a smile on your face. If you are eager to learn even more about fertiliser and plant nutrients, you can have a look at our comprehensive guide to NPK fertilisers. If you want to keep it natural, you can learn how to make compost from a-z. 

Please share your experience with plant feed in the comments, or ask us a question.

Happy gardening!

Louis Hooft
Founder & Lawn expert
Introducing Louis Hooft, the founder of MOOWY and your reliable expert. With a profound love for stunning lawns and extensive experience in garden maintenance, Louis is here to assist garden enthusiasts in achieving a greener and livelier outdoors than ever before. Count on Louis for invaluable tips, clever tricks, and top-notch products to make your garden flourish!
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