Plant Food Numbers What Do they Mean? 1

Plant Food Numbers What Do they Mean?

Often we have all looked and plant food wondering at times, what do the plant food numbers actually mean?

Well read on lets dive into this topic!

Those beautiful lawns and gardens we see out there begin with health and well-nourished plants.

Therefore, to make your yard the hallmark of great gardening, you have to observe the basics with plant food numbers.

This is because as long as you are armed with plant foods fundamentals, making the right choice of plant food will always be easier than you can imagine.

Determining which plant foods (also known as fertilizers) to get for your plants alone can at times be a challenging task.

That is because learning the suitable formulation for your crops can be as overwhelming as trying to understand the plant food numbers indicated bags.

Most are the times you will get yourself torn between; do I go for the 10-10-10 or the 5-10-5?

Plant Food Numbers What Do they Mean? 2

Young Healthy and Well-Nourished Seedlings

Well, if you have no idea what these numbers indicated on plant foods mean, then this article is at your best interest.

This report aims at giving you a comprehensive review of plant food numbers with the aim of providing you with a better understanding of the specific plant foods to get for your plants.

Types of Plant Foods

Normally, the plant foods or fertilizers can be either natural or synthetic.

⦁ Synthetic Plant Foods

The synthetic plant foods are non-organic and are chemically manufactured in industries. They deliver the nutrients to plants rapidly since they are readily absorbed in the plant roots.

Synthetic plant foods have a faster release hence a quicker availability and faster results in the plants on the receiving end.

Although this may seem quite intriguing, it’s not without a few side effects. The immediate availability of the synthetic plants foods is known to cause some kind of burn to the plants.

In such a case, the roots may take up too much hence causing abnormalities or even death of the entire plant. This could also affect the soil around such areas too.

That is because any nutrients that are not absorbed by the plants may result to leaching out in your garden.

In that; the nutrients will stay on the move in the entire garden since they are foreign to the natural ecosystem of the soil.

And that is why, proper application of the synthetic plants foods is very vital.

Natural Plant Foods

The natural plant foods are organic based and are derived from either minerals, microbes, animals or other plants. Such organic based plant foods include; the rock phosphate, seaweed, manure and heat dried microbes.

In most cases, the natural plant foods are not readily available for absorption by the plants like the synthetic foods.

Therefore, in this case for the nutrients to be released, the natural organic based foods rely on micro-organisms.

Found in the soil to break down and digest the nutrients, in a form that can be absorbed by the plants.

Plant food numbers scoop of organic plant food

A Scoop of Organic Plant Foods in a Shovel

Therefore, unlike the synthetic foods, the natural ones may take a little bit longer to take effect in your plants. This majorly occurs in cool environments since under such weather conditions, the micro-organisms are likely to be less active.

Considering that the organic foods undergo a procedural breakdown process, it means that they are less susceptible to leaching.

The nutrients derived from the organic foods stay in the soil, until they are fully utilized by the plants.

Even if there is over application or drought, the natural plant foods have a lesser risk of burning the plants and causing dehydration.

Verdict; Synthetic Vs Natural Plant Foods

In short, the organic plant foods are always at home in your garden. They remain in the soil for quite a long period of time and provide continuous effects in the garden.

All in all, both the natural and synthetic fertilizers have a role to play in your garden. You only need to know how to use both effectively, safely and efficiently.

This is because, although the natural fertilizers have a great nutritional benefit to the plants, they are more expensive and they take a longer period of time before you yield the results.

On the other hand, the synthetic plant foods provide fast results. However, you must be careful when choosing  to avoid cases of leaching.

The Nutrients Ratios in Plant Food Numbers.

On the plant foods bags, the nutritional ratios of the plant foods will always be indicated.

In case you are wondering what these numbers means. They indicate the percentage by weights of the three major nutrients available in the plant food. That will be needed to facilitate healthy growth of the plants.

These plant food numbers always appear in the order N-P-K.

This stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium.

Since each of these nutrients have a unique effect of the plants in your garden, the formulation you chose may depend on the specific gardening needs of you garden.

Below is a breakdown of the uses of each nutrient;

Nitrogen. It helps with the growth of plants above the ground. In that; nitrogen greatly impacts the growth of foliage, the leafy green growth.

This is because nitrogen provides the ingredients needed to produce that lush green (chlorophyll) we admire in the lawns and garden beds.

Therefore, if you need fertilizer for your lawn, it should have a higher concentration of nitrogen than the other nutrients.

Plant food numbers Lush Chlorophyll enhanced by the Nitrogen Nutrient in Plant Foods

Lush Chlorophyll enhanced by the Nitrogen Nutrient in Plant Foods


Phosphorous on the other hand is responsible for growth occurring below the ground level since it promotes healthy systems in the roots. Also, the phosphorous nutrient is responsible for production of flowers as well as flower blooms.

And that is why, you will notice that the middle number in the plant foods meant for lawns, flower production or the starter fertilizers is always be higher.

Phosphorous is known as the ‘Bloom Fertilizer’ responsible for production of flowers

Phosphorous is known as the ‘Bloom Fertilizer’ responsible for production of flowers

Potassium; If you need plant food to take care of the overall plant health potassium is your got to nutrient. This is because potassium is capable of building strong plant tissues as well as the plant cells.

This in turn ensures that the plant can withstand cold weather conditions, pests, diseases and high temperatures. And that is why you will notice that the third number in the winterized plant foods is always higher.

However, there is another category of plant foods which is all purpose. In that; it comes with a balanced portion of all the nutrients. Such a plant food is the 10:10:10 all-purpose fertilizer.

Therefore, if you buy a 50kg bag of the all-purpose fertilizer 5 Kgs will be nitrogen, 5 Kgs phosphorous and 5 Kgs potassium.

I know so far you have noted that the percentages do not add up to 100%. This is because the other percentage goes to the filler and inert ingredients which help in the dispersal of the chemicals available in the plant food.

Therefore, if you are a beginner in the gardening filed, you should always go for the all-purpose 10:10:10 plant food.

However, after acquiring the soil test results of your garden, you can add a more specific touch depending on the nutrients in higher demand.

Understanding the Ratios of Plant Food

In the plant food ratios, there are some numbers which are similar.

For instance; if you go for a 1:1:3 and another gardener goes for the 10-10-30 or 5-5-15 you will yield the same kind of results in your garden.

Therefore, save yourself so much hassle by doing the math right if you can’t find the specific ratio you are looking for.

Now that you understand the benefits of each of the nutrient in the plant food numbers, you may have to choose the plant foods you want to apply on your plants based on your specific garden needs. For instance;

⦁ At the kick off of the planting season, you may use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen ratio in order to boost the lawn growth. The nitrogen fosters growth of lawn foliage.

Most of the plant foods for lawn foliage have a zero percentage in phosphorous. This is because, the phosphorous nutrient is unlikely to be used and may end up leaching in the environment.

⦁ Plant foods which are high in the phosphorous percentage are appropriate to boost the power of the perennials and shrubs. And that is why most of the fertilizers which are rich in phosphorous are known as the bloom plant foods.

⦁ Plant foods which have a higher ratio of phosphorous and potassium then low in nitrogen is best used in fruit production. Therefore, might be the best choice for production of tomatoes and other favorite fruits in your garden.

Go for a Plant Food rich in Potassium and Phosphorous and a low level of Nitrogen for fruit production

Go for a Plant Food rich in Potassium and Phosphorous and a low level of Nitrogen for fruit production

⦁ A plant food with a higher ratio of potassium and phosphorous is best used to toughen up a lawn. In the event  of environmental stresses.

This is because during the stress periods plants are likely to enter a dormancy period. Hence slowing down the foliage growth.

In such a case you should avoid adding nitrogen since you don’t want to foster the growth of new foliage when the plant is going to dormancy.

In the synthetic fertilizers, the nutrient ratios are indicated at the front or the center of the packaging bag. However, even when buying the commercially produced natural fertilizers, you may request for these ratios if they are not provided.

Although some people may opt for fish emulsion and bone meals as organic fertilizers, the nutrient ratios may not always be clear. Therefore, you should look for more reliable alternatives with precise nutritional ratios for your plant needs.

Below is a breakdown of the alternative sources of organic plant foods;

⦁ For Nitrogen; you may go for the dried blood, seaweed extract, cottonseed meal and blood meal

⦁ For provision of phosphorous; you may go for the rock phosphates and bone meals

⦁ For provision of Potassium; you may go for sulfate of potash and green sand

Because all the above mentioned are organic plant foods, they may release the nutrients at very diverse rates. Some of the organic fertilizers have a specific rate. Which they release the nutrients to the soil for absorption by the plants.

For instance;

⦁ Eggshells and fish emulsions are available to the plants quickly, but starts being used up after two weeks.

⦁ Blood meal and other manures are available to plants within 2 weeks.

⦁ Clover and Rye is available to plants within two to six months.

⦁ The heated and dried microbes which provide nitrogen to plants are available to plants within eight to ten weeks

Besides Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium which are the primary macro nutrients.

There are other 12 elements which are essential for the growth of plants.

Generally most of these elements are absorbed form the soil in the surrounding environment. However, you can get most of these elements in the organic plants foods.

Besides that, you should note that the natural and organic based plant foods have no effects on the PH level of the soil.

Actually, the organic plant foods help to balance the soil PH level to neutral that is from a PH of 6.5 to 7.

A good example is the compost manure. Addition of compost manure to your garden draws the soil PH towards neutral and hence balancing things out.

Final Verdict

When you understand the basics behind the plant food numbers, you can now choose the right ones for your garden with confidence. Therefore, dont let those numbers intimidate you the next time you go shopping for the different fertilizers to use in your garden.

All you need to do is match the needs of your plants to the numbers and ratios provided and you will be good to go. Don’t worry, anyone can figure out about the plant food numbers and do it like a pro as long as they have the basics laid out in this article.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.