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What are the Most Common Fertilizer Ingredients?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Fertilizers come as one ingredient or a combination of ingredient blends designed to feed plants an adequate amount of nutrients. The overall ingredients consist of synthetic materials as well as from natural resources. Common fertilizer ingredients include non-organic, manufactured sources of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Nutrients can also be derived from natural soil and plant-based matter. Chemical and natural fertilizer ingredients offer some similarities as well as differences.

While some fertilizers contain one kind of active ingredient for specific plants, most others come in blends of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Dry, liquid, and time-release fertilizers usually include percentages on the label. For example, a bag of 5-10-15 inorganic fertilizer may contain five percent nitrogen, 10 percent potassium, and 15 percent phosphorous. These chemical ingredients derive from the air as well as mineral substances manufactured to apply nutrients to plants. Some of these substances include potash salts, lime, ammonium sulfate, phosphate rock, calcium, and magnesium.

Organic fertilizer ingredients require time to decompose and form into the nutrients needed to feed plants. In this case, natural sources of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous come from the soil as well as through leaves and grass clippings. Other organic ingredients include fish emulsions made from fish oil byproducts and ground animal bone meal used as a natural source of phosphorus. Sources such as bird and chicken waste provide positive microorganisms to plants, while greensand and coconut coir loosen and enhance the soil. Greensand, which consists of olive-green sandstone, comes from mineral deposits found in the ocean; coconut coir comes from coconut husks.

Whether inorganic or organic, basic ingredients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium have different purposes when regularly applied to plants. Nitrogen boosts leaf, stem, and grass growth, and phosphorous strengthens plant roots. Potassium protects the flower, stem, grass, and other plant parts from suffering from disease and drought.

Ingredients in chemical and natural fertilizers serve the same function of providing the basics of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and other minerals. All of these ingredients stimulate plant growth, enhance soil quality, and produce abundant plant or crop yields. Fertilizer application usually varies depending on the type of plant and growing season.

Major differences between inorganic and organic ingredients appear to lie in effectiveness as well as long-term use. Chemical fertilizer ingredients offer the nutrients readily available to plants, while natural ingredients tend to form more slowly. Organic fertilizer ingredients boost soil health by holding together nutrients and moisture, while extensive use of inorganic fertilizers deplete soil quality and build toxins over time.

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Discussion Comments

By DylanB — On Jan 16, 2013

@OeKc05 – I use a rose fertilizer that contains those three ingredients. However, since it is designed specifically for roses, I would imagine that the proportions are different.

I use a tablespoon of the blue granules to fertilize my four rosebushes. I mix it with water in a sprinkling can and pour it all over each plant, getting the leaves and blooms wet.

I only have to do this every couple of weeks. It's the best fertilizer I've ever used on my roses. I think it's best to choose fertilizers that say they are intended for certain plants.

By Kristee — On Jan 16, 2013

@giddion – Bone meal is good for tulips. You sprinkle it on the ground after you have planted the bulbs, and then you water it and cover it with some more dirt.

You might want to look into using some kind of pest deterrent, like putting mesh wire down on top of the ground. Animals are attracted to the smell of bone meal, and many will try to dig it up and eat it. My friend said her dog dug all in her tulip bed after she put some of this fertilizer down.

By giddion — On Jan 15, 2013

I don't know a lot about plant fertilizer ingredients, so I never buy a type that doesn't say what plants it would benefit. I want to plant some tulip bulbs, but I have no idea what kind of fertilizer they need. Can anyone help me out with this?

By OeKc05 — On Jan 14, 2013

Potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus are on my garden fertilizer's ingredient list. I have no idea what each one does, but I do know that the fertilizer works to perk up my azaleas.

They weren't doing all that great last spring. The leaves looked pale, and I wondered if they were even going to bloom that year.

A few days after I sprinkled the fertilizer around the base of the bushes and watered them, they perked up a lot. The leaves took on a deeper shade of green and new buds appeared.

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