Fertilizer for Houseplants

In nature, houseplants live in a tropical forest where their roots grow in a combination of soil, decaying leaves, and animal droppings.  A virtual smorgasboard of nutrients.

Live bacteria, enzymes, and microbes break down this organic matter into minerals the plants can use to enhance growth. 

This process is almost impossible growing at home with potted plants. Potting materials are sterilized, killing the bacteria, enzymes, and microbes needed to transform organic matter into a form your plants can use. So, potted plants rely on you, the grower, to provide nutritional elements.

Is It Plant Food or Fertilizer?

Don't confuse "plant food" with "plant fertilizer". Plants manufacture their own "food" using a process called photosynthesis. Using energy from the sun, they combine air, light, and water to make carbohydrates, which is the real food they use for growth

"Plant ferilizer (or nutrients)", on the other hand, are mineral elements collected by the roots and used to enhance photosynthesis. Plant fertilizer (or nutrients) cannot compensate for the lack of real food plants need for growth - air, light, and water.

If your plants aren't getting the real food they use for growth - air, light, and water -  your choice of fertilizer won't matter.

Choosing Fertilizer - How to Read the Label

All fertilizers are not the same! Choosing the right fertilizer for your plants can make your head spin! Don't get overwhelmed, proper nutrition doesn't need to be complicated. 

Don't think there's a difference in fertilizers? Ask your plants! 

Fortunately, manufacturers are required to follow a set of rules and when listing the chemical elements inside the package. Comparing fertilizers isn't difficult when you know how to read the label.

Front Panel 

All fertilizers contain three main ingredients called macro-nutrients -  Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potash (K). The numbers on the front panel describe what percentage of each element is in the fertilizer. This is called the "NPK" ratio

The first number is percentage of Nitrogen (N) - for growing leaves and stems. The second number is Phosphorus (P) - for flower production, and the third is Potash (K) - for stronger roots. 

For example, if your fertilizer has 8-9-5 on the front panel, it contains 8% nitrogen, 9% Phosphorus, and 5% Potash.

Back Panel - Trace Elements

The back panel lists all the rest of the ingredients that are in the package.

The first element listed on the back is nitrogen, the main ingredient in all fetilizers. Then you'll see the source of the nitrogen. If you see "urea" as the source of nitrogen, you don't have a quality fertilizer. 


Houseplants can't use urea! (Urea is a cheap form of nitrogen that many fertilizers use to cut costs.) Urea can't be absorbed by your plants until it is broken down by enzymes or bacteria. The probelm is sterilized potting mixes don't contain the enzymes and bacteria needed to convert urea into something your plant can use!

Unused urea eventually turns to salt which can damage the plant's roots. So if you're using a plant food that has urea on the label you might actually be harming your plants! 

Look for "nitrate nitrogen" or "ammoniacal nitrogen" as the source for nitrogen instead of urea. That's the good stuff.

Next, you should see 14 elements listed. These are called micro-nurients. Look closely and you'll see that most fertilizers skimp on the these because they rely on the growing media to supply micro-nutrients. 

If your fertilizer doesn't have 16 elements listed on the back panel, you're taking a hit-or-miss approach and your plants are missing important minerals.

What About Organic Fertilizers?

Organic means "the nutrient contained in the product is derived solely from the remains of once living organisms". Living organisms include animal waste, crop residue, compost and numerous other byproducts. 

Organic fertilizers sound good but most are incomplete in nutritional value. They usually contain only one or two nutritional elements so blending different products is necessary. The result is uncontrollable, difficult to measure, and usually carries an odor. You never really know what your plants are getting.

Earthworm castings, seaweed, and bat guano head the list of organic remedies. Do you really want to put this stuff on your plants, and in your home?

Why take a chance when complete, balanced nutrition is so easy with other brands on the market? 

Hydroponic Advantage: Hydroponics doesn't rely on the growing media for any nutrition value. That means "hydroponic nutrients" will always have all the elements your plants need for healthy growth - in a form your plants can use - immediately.  

A complete, balanced nutrition program is easy. Just add a couple of drops of nutrients to the water and your plants will be getting everything they need.

The nutrients you add to the water go directly to the plant - without the soil getting in the way. 

Fertilizer for Houseplants - The Hydroponic Advantage

Fertlizer for Houseplants - FAQ's