Everyone must eat to stay alive. With out a regular source of starch, protein and other nutrients we would all very rapidly die. Plants have another arrangement. They make use of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen from the air and the soil water so as to manufacture their own starch and sugars. All they will want from the soil would be a quantity of basic chemicals that they then use to generate all the amino acids, proteins, vitamins and enzymes etc.
All soils possess a stock of these vital chemicals known as plant nutrients, they come from the mineral part of your dirt (sand, clay, etc) and from the humus it contains (fallen leaves, dead roots, etc). When the ground is cultivated and garden plants grow in it, the balance is sometimes upset. Essential elements in the soil are diminished faster than they are replaced by natural means.
Essentially the most serious loss involves three key elements - nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are known as the key plant nutrients, and are required in large amounts if the plants are to grow as expected. This means that these major plant nutrients have to be replaced on a regular basis. A proportion will be provided if organic dressings such as compost or manure are applied, but we must rely on fertilizers as being the main source of supply. A fertilizer is a material which provides appreciable amounts of more than one of the key plant nutrients without adding significantly to the humus content of your soil.
A confusing number of fertilizers can be found in garden centres nowadays - organic and inorganic, straight and compound, liquid and solid. The decision is all yours. Do remember, however, there are no 'good' and 'bad' fertilizers, they all have a good job to carry out and the correct choice depends on the plant, dirt type, area involved, time of year and so on. The golden rule is to feed plants on a consistent basis, but no greater than what the packet recommends. In case you are undecided whether to feed or not, then let ones self be guided by the vigour of the plants. Fertilizer test kits are available, but the interpretation of the results can be difficult for the everyday gardener.
By law the producer of a product which is described as 'fertilizer' must declare the nitrogen, phosphates and potash content on the package. The content of most other nutrients must also be declared when they are added to the product.
The meaning of the words and figures on the package:
N = Total Nitrogen
P2O5 = Total phosphates
P2O5 soluble in water = Phosphates which are immediately available
P2O5 soluble in neutral ammonium citrate and in water = Phosphates which are immediately or very quickly available
P2O5 soluble only in mineral acids = Phosphates which are available slowly
K2O = Total
As an example: You buy a bag of fertilizer, on the front it should have three numbers on show, in this example let us say, 3:6:9 typically in red. What does this mean; number 3 refers the nitrogen content, so this fertilizer contains 3.0% N (nitrogen). The number 6 refers to phosphorus content, so this fertilizer has 6.0% P2O5 (phosphates or phosphoric acid). The number 9 refers to potassium content, so this fertilizer contains 9.0% K2O (potash).
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