Houseplants grow in a regulated environment, which means they rely on you to satisfy their water and light needs. But, constrained to a pot with a limited amount of nutrients, they also rely on you to supplement nutrients once they’ve depleted the resources from the soil.
How Do I Pick the Right Fertilizer?
It may be overwhelming to wander the aisles of your local garden section and browse the bags of fertilizer with pictures of robust, blooming plants on the front. Some types might specify if it’s for a specific type of plant (orchid, African violet, cactus, et cetera). But just because a bag says it’s for a certain plant, does that mean it’s really the best type of fertilizer for that plant?
Every bag should have a series of numbers (for example: 8-14-9). These numbers are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), and they’ll give you the best idea of what that fertilizer is going to do.
What Do Fertilizer Numbers Mean?
Rather than try to remember these numbers as N-P-K, think of them instead as Leaves – Roots – Flowers. The higher the number in the sequence, the more nutrients are going to the growth for that part of the plant. In the above example (8-14-9), this specific fertilizer is geared more toward root development than leaf growth or flower buds. If the first number in the sequence is the highest, that fertilizer is best if you want to promote new growth and get bigger leaves. If the last number of the sequence is the highest, you’ll be preparing your plant to bloom and produce more flowers.
Making an Educated Decision
Choosing the right fertilizer doesn’t have to be complicated. Take into account what your houseplants need. Your broad lady palm, for example, isn’t going to thrive on a fertilizer with high potassium for flower growth. Some plants, such as African violets, prefer a more well-balanced fertilizer. Rather than just grabbing the bag that claims to be perfect for certain houseplants, check the numbers and make sure that it’s really going to do what you want it to.
Types of Fertilizers
In addition to knowing the nutrient breakdown, you’ll also need to decide what kind of fertilizer you want. For houseplants, liquid fertilizers are the most popular. The risk of overfeeding is low, and you can take care of both fertilizing and watering in one task. While insoluble powders and granules may be good for the garden, they aren’t as effective for plants in the home. Another option is pills or sticks that go into the soil. These slowly release the nutrients over time, but they’re concentrated in one spot, which often leads to uneven root growth. Inserting these types of fertilizers too close to the roots can also damage the roots with the high concentration.
There’s no need to overcomplicate fertilizing. Just remember the order of the numbers is Leaves – Roots – Flowers and pick the type of fertilizer that will concentrate on what your plant needs the most. You’ll have a green thumb before you know it!