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How to Fertilize Your Garden Like an Expert

 Farmer holding a big tomato.
Whether it's a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes or flowers that stop you in your tracks, the handiwork of experienced gardeners can trigger envy. While "green thumbs" may count for something, there's a more tangible reason behind their garden success. These expert growers understand that plants benefit from specific nutrients at different growth stages — and they feed their plants accordingly. By fertilizing like an expert, you can put your plants on track for expert results.

  1. Understanding Nutrient Basics
  2. Matching Nutrients to Growth Stages
  3. Providing Extra Essentials Plants Need

Understanding Nutrient Basics

Plants naturally rely on healthy soil to provide 14 of the 17 essential nutrients they need to live. The other three come from water and air. All 17 nutrients are equally "essential" — plants can't survive without them all — but plants need larger quantities of three nutrients in particular: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Every fertilizer product you buy has three numbers on the label, known as the N-P-K ratio. The letter "N" is the scientific symbol for nitrogen. "P" stands for phosphorus, and "K" represents potassium. The three fertilizer numbers, always in that same order, reflect the percentages of each of those primary nutrients in that fertilizer product. Other nutrients may be included, but they're not part of the N-P-K.

The ratio of these three primary nutrients is important because of the way each one influences plant growth. Nitrogen (N) promotes vigorous, green, leafy growth and rich, green color. Phosphorus (P) supports strong root development and helps plants use all nutrients more efficiently, which directly relates to flower, fruit and seed production. Potassium (K) enhances overall growth, regulating top and root growth and keeping plants healthy and balanced. Old-time gardeners use the saying "Up, Down and All Around" to remember the roles that N, P and K play in plant growth.

colorful organic lettuce.

Lettuces rely on nitrogen for vigorous, leafy growth.

Matching Nutrients to Growth Stages

As plants mature and pass through different growth stages, the blends of nutrients they need shift, too. Experienced gardeners use this knowledge to their advantage and change the way they fertilize to support and enhance growth at two following stages, in particular:

  • the vegetative stage. As seeds germinate and establish, plants enter this initial "Grow" period of green, leafy growth. Plants at this stage need higher percentages of nitrogen (N) compared to phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Alaska Naturals Step One Grow Liquid Plant Food 2-1-0, formulated for vigorous vegetative growth, makes it simple to give plants the precise blend of nutrients they need for leaf and stem growth at this early stage.
  • the flowering/fruiting stage. As plants mature and enter the "Bloom" period of flowering and eventual fruiting, leafy green growth is less important. Nitrogen (N) at this stage can even inhibit flowers and fruit. Instead, flowering plants need higher percentages of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) instead. With Alaska Naturals Step Two Bloom Liquid Plant Food 0-3-2, your plants get the specific nutrients they need for abundant flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Experienced gardeners apply this information to the types of plants they grow as well. Lettuces and other greens grown just for leaves flourish with extra nitrogen all season. That's why fertilizers for lawn grasses focus on nitrogen as their main nutrient. Fruit-producing plants, such as tomatoes, benefit from early nitrogen, but they rely on phosphorus and potassium to deliver tasty crops for your table. With Alaska Naturals, your plants receive premium, stage-specific, natural-based nutrition derived from sources such as kelp, bone meal, blood meal, rock phosphate and molasses.

Small tomato cluster on a branch.

Phosphorus and potassium support flowering and the fruits that follow.

Providing Extra Essentials Plants Need

In addition to the primary nutrients that make up N-P-K ratios, plants also benefit from fertilizers that provide other essentials, known as secondary nutrients and micronutrients. These extras are just as necessary to plant life, but they're needed in smaller quantities than nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Calcium and magnesium are secondary nutrients that are especially important in overall plant growth and fruit development. When plants don't get enough, their leaves, roots and fruits all suffer. Calcium deficiency is one cause of blossom end rot, the disease that causes sunken, black rot on the bottoms of tomatoes, squash and other garden favorites. With Alaska Naturals Calcium Nitrogen Magnesium Liquid Plant Food 3-0-0, you can give plants targeted feedings of these essentials, just as the experts do.

A final key to impressive expert results is the use of micronutrients, those essentials plants only need in the smallest quantities. When plants lack even tiny amounts of micronutrients such as iron, trouble appears in the form of yellow leaves and less visible problems. Experienced gardeners supplement other fertilizers to ensure plants have the micronutrients they need. Alaska Naturals Micronutrients Liquid Plant Food delivers a blend of eight essential nutrients to enhance development in all stages of plant growth.

Flower blooming on squash plant.

Squash need extra calcium to avoid blossom end rot disease.

By fertilizing your plants like the experts, with nutrient blends and extra essentials timed for when plants need them most, you're on your way to results that rival the pros. Natural-based Alaska Naturals makes it as simple as Step One Grow, Step Two Bloom and go. You can count on Alaska brand for premium, natural-based products to help you enjoy beautiful, productive gardens and the joys that gardening brings to your life and home.

Alaska is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

Pennington Fertilizer Resources