Is There A Difference Between Fertilizer And Plant Food?

To keep your plants alive and thriving, you need to provide them with all the necessary factors to support life. They need four essential ingredients: sunlight, water, nutrients, and air. While each type of plant requires a different amount of each element, missing just one can disrupt how they produce energy and cause them to die. Besides these basic components, a collection of houseplants or an outdoor garden also needs the correct temperature, space, and time. Ensuring you can provide all of these things means you'll be able to take a seed or bulb and turn it into a mature plant.

Air is often overlooked, but it's just as important as these other ingredients to life. Without clean air, the leaves won't be able to take in carbon dioxide and use it to make glucose, giving your plant the power to live and grow. Providing nutrients can also be tricky. Many people interchange the words fertilizer and plant food when referencing adding nutrients to the soil. However, these terms have different meanings.

Give your plants fertilizer

Fertilizer is often discussed as a method to give your plants food. While it adds nutrients to the soil, it doesn't feed your garden. There are many versions of fertilizer, but they can be defined as a substance providing chemical components for plant development. When purchasing one commercially, you can typically choose between liquid or dry. Then there may also be organic options as well. Although, fertilizer can also be made at home in compost. Once the ingredients break down, they add nutrients to the humus that you will then add to your soil.

Plants need three chemicals from a fertilizer: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Then other micronutrients like zinc are added to the formula to help promote growth. Fertilizers are essential because they replace the nutrients missing in the soil. This occurs because your plants continue to absorb everything they need from their potting mix, but only water is routinely added back. Both houseplants and outdoor gardens need fertilizer, but they will need different formulations.

Plants make their food

Plant food cannot be added to the soil; only plants can make it. There's a misconception that fertilizer is like food, but it's just one ingredient to the meal. When your garden has the four essential components needed for life — sun, water, nutrients, and air — plants are able to take those ingredients and go through photosynthesis. Once they are done, they've created glucose for themselves and oxygen to release back into the air. Then plants use that glucose to give themselves the energy to grow and produce flowers, fruit, and seeds.

Fertilizer is not a plant food; glucose is. Once a plant has enough energy, the sugar can be broken down into cellulose to grow cell walls and starch as another food source. Fertilizer alone can't be called plant food because it's only necessary when the soil has been depleted and nutrients need to be added back.