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 the nutritional elements.
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 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.
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.
All fertilizers contain three main ingredients called macro-nutrients - Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potash (K). Three numbers listed 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 the percentage of Phosphorus (P) - for flower production, and the third is the percentage 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.
The first element listed on the back panel is the source of nitrogen - the main ingredient in all fertilizers. To cut costs, most fertilizers use "urea" as the source for nitrogen.
Houseplants can't use urea! Urea can't be absorbed by the plant 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 the plant can use.
Unused urea turns to salt which can damage the plant's roots. 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" on the label instead of urea.
Next, you should see 14 elements listed. These are called micro-nurients. Look closely, most fertilizers skimp on the micro-nutrients.
If your fertilizer doesn't have all 16 elements needed for growth listed on the back, you're taking a hit-or-miss approach and your plants could be missing important minerals.
The real food plants use for growth comes from air, light and water. The fertilizer (or nutrients) that you add simply enhance the growth process.
Organic means "the nutrient contained in the product is derived solely from the remains of once living organisms". This includes animal wastes, crop residues, compost and numerous other byproducts.
Organic fertilizers sound good but most are incomplete in their nutritional value. They 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 elements. That means "hydroponic nutrients" will always have all the elements needed for healthy growth. A complete, balanced nutrition program is easy. Just add a couple of drops every time you water and your plants will be getting everything they need.