What Nutrients Do Plants Need?

Plants require specific nutrients from the soil. The issue is when you plant each year, the plants will draw those nutrients out of the soil, and they don’t magically restock themselves. Therefore, it is important to fertilize your plants, to ensure they are getting the nutrients previous plants could have already taken from your soil. Also, it is important to fertilize plants while rebuilding your soil. It will allow the plants to be able to naturally pull what they need from the soil without any additives.

1. Nitrogen

Nitrogen is naturally in short-supply within nature. All plants need it, and over the years, plants have learned to pull as much as they possibly can out of the soil to ensure they have enough to survive. However, when looking at how vital nitrogen is, you’ll understand why. It helps plants to make protein which helps them create new tissues and keep building and is vital to their survival.

2. Phosphorous

This nutrient is essential to plants because it is what they need to produce reliable root systems. Phosphorous is what encourages their roots to grow. Also, it helps plants to produce buds, blooms, and flowers to produce fruit. It also helps the plant to create healthy seeds for more offspring.

3. Potassium

We’ve heard carbohydrates are bad. For plants, they are not. Plants need carbohydrates to feed themselves. Well, potassium enables them to make carbohydrates. It also helps the plant to become disease-resistant, which encourages a healthy life.

4. Calcium

Plants don’t need much calcium added to the soil, but you will need to make sure there is enough of it in there. The reason is calcium is what helps bind the soil together and in the case of tomatoes they will make the stalk become stronger and more rigid. Calcium will improve soil conditions and give the plant an easier chance of survival.

5. Magnesium

As you remember from science class, plants produce their food through the process of photosynthesis. The source of the food is the sun. Plants need magnesium to process sunlight to feed themselves. Without it, they won’t survive.

6. Sulfur

Plants need proteins to build and rebuild itself if it becomes damaged. Sulfur is a vital part of proteins. Without sulfur, a plant could struggle to make proteins which could be the downfall of the plant altogether. Each of these nutrients can be placed into your soil using different varieties of fertilizer, which we’ll discuss further down.

It’s important to know what your plant needs, what it could be lacking, and make sure you either build those nutrients back into your soil or apply them directly to your plant.
If not, you could lose your harvest altogether.

The Different ‘Feeders’

Different varieties of plants require different amounts of fertilizer to be happy producers. The terms are: plants could be a heavy feeder, moderate feeder, or a light feeder.

It is essential to know what type of feeder each of your plants is to make sure you fertilize accordingly.

Heavy Feeders

Heavy feeders are as the name implies. They require a significant amount of nutrients to efficiently produce. You should apply fertilizer as you plant the crops and again later in the growing season. You could use a fast-acting liquid fertilizer on occasion as well.

Some Heavy-Feeding Plants Include:

Broccoli                                         Brussel sprouts
Cabbage                                     Cantaloupe
Cauliflower                                           Corn
Cucumbers                                           Eggplant
Kale                                           Onions
Peppers                                           Rhubarb
Squash                                           Tomatoes

Moderate Feeders

Plants which are considered moderate feeders react better to fast-acting liquid fertilizers than any other type. However, they seem to like mulch being applied to them because it helps the soil to drain better. Mulch allows them to pull nutrients they need from the soil as needed.

Some Moderate-Feeding Plants Include:

Beets                                         Carrots
Okra                                     Pole Beans
Potatoes                                           Sweet Potatoes

Light Feeders

Light feeders don’t require much fertilizing. Instead, add a smaller amount of fertilizer when you are planting the crop. Beyond that, they take care of themselves.

Some Light-Feeding Plants Include:

Bush Beans                                         Mustard Greens
Peas                                 Turnips

Understanding what type of feeder your plants are, will let you know what they need during planting and how much attention you need to give them during the growing season as far as applying more nutrients.

Types of Fertilizers and Their Uses

There are many different types of fertilizers. There are some which are more common than others, and it is important to know how to utilize the more common options. However, fertilizing is a balance. If you don’t feed your garden enough, you could end up with weak plants. But if you fertilize your garden too frequently, you’ll end up with a great deal of foliage on your plants and minimal harvest or blossoms.

Some common types of fertilizers:

Manure                                         Compost
Liquid Fertilizer                                 Granular Fertilizer
Powedered Fertilizer

1. Dry Fertilizer

When you use a dry fertilizer, you will want to use them on plants which are already established. Dry fertilizer is a good option if you are giving your heavy feeders the second feeding later on in the growing season. These get mixed in a watering can prior to application.

2. Time-Release Fertilizers (Osmocote, Miracle grow)

Most slow-release fertilizers are either specialty synthetic fertilizer or organic fertilizers. They are meant to feed your crops over a period. Slow-release fertilizers are a good option for long-term healthy plants, but not for plants under distress. They are great for hanging baskets and some covered planters. However, the problem with time release fertilizer is that the ingredients are activated by adding water and plants are often overfertilized or burned during heavy rains as a result.

3. Liquid Fertilizers
These fertilizers are fast acting. They are an excellent option for plants under distress and in need of a boost. If you buy a specialty fertilizer high in potash (Potassium for bloom boost), it could boost your harvest as well.

4. Manure
When you apply manure to your soil, it helps it to hold moisture. It will also add nutrients to your soil. Manure is an excellent fertilizer to add to your soil in the fall to give it time to break down and build up your soil. It is also a good thing to add to your soil after planting. You can apply two to three inches of manure around your plants as a type of mulch.

Here is what you need to know to fertilize your garden well:

1. The Numbers Matter

When choosing a fertilizer from a store choose a well-balanced option. You’ll see fertilizer labeled 5-5-5 or 10-10-10. But what do the numbers mean? The figures not only show the fertilizer is balanced, but they are balanced in key ingredients.

The FIRST NUMBER tells you how much NITROGEN is in the fertilizer. The SECOND NUMBER tells you how much PHOSPHORUS (PHOSPHATE) is in the fertilizer. The THIRD NUMBER tells you about the amount of POTASSIUM (POTASH) .


Nitrogen provides plants with the ability to produce more chlorophyll, which in turn allows plants to grow quickly. With each additional nitrogen application, plants will grow taller and develop a darker green color. So if you want a dark green lawn, use a lawn fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen – but then expect to mow more often.


Phosphorousaids in root development and increases flowering ability and bloom size. The fertilizer industry smartly markets high phosphorus fertilizer as “Bloom Booster.” High-phosphorous fertilizer should be used when plants are being established in your garden – when sowing a new lawn or planting a new tree, for instance.

Potassium (Potash)

Potassium guards the plant against diseases and aids in drought protection and cold tolerance. It also serves a role in improving root development and helps in the process of photosynthesis. You might consider using a high-potassium fertilizer at the start of winter and summer to protect crops from temperature extremes or when insects and disease have caused damage to your plants.

It is important to know what you are buying and what the numbers mean to purchase what is best for your specific gardening needs.

2. Feed the Roots
You can feed the roots of your plants by applying manure and compost during planting and before the growing season to build up the nutrients in your soil.

Also, when your plants are well established, you can add fertilizer to the base of the plants to add necessary nutrients to the plants.

3. Feed the Foliage

It is essential to make sure you feed the foliage of your plants too. Plants can absorb eight to twenty times more nutrients through their foliage than through the roots. Which is why it is a good idea to apply liquid fertilizer to your plants from time to time.

Also, liquid fertilizer can increase your harvest drastically, if applied at the right times. It is a good idea to spray your plants when transplanting, when they’re blooming, and after the first fruits begin appearing.

However, check the list of what type of feeder the plant is because you may not need to fertilize quite as much for some varieties.

4. Check Your Soil and pH

Finally, you need to check your soil and find if there are any deficiencies. If there are, you’ll need to add a balanced fertilizer and whatever nutrients the soil is deficient in. Also, check the pH of the soil because if the soil is not balanced, the plant won’t be able to absorb nutrients. You can have this tested at the local University of Missouri Extension

Most plants prefer a pH balance of 6.0-7.0.

Well, you are now fully in the know about fertilizing your plants. If you feed your plants at key times, you should be fine.