Different Types of Fertilizers: The Complete Guide

Written by Samantha Agostino

 In This Article:

Plant Fertilizers

Are you someone who loves plants and gardening? If you are, you must know about the importance of fertilizers for plant growth. For proper plant growth and nourishment, appropriate types of fertilizers are required. Every plant is different in terms of its growth pattern and nutrient requirements. Knowing what the right fertilizer is for every plant can be a daunting task, but, to help you learn the different types of fertilizers, as well as, which plants to use them on, we have curated all the necessary information in this article.

Before jumping into the different types of fertilizers, we should first have a basic understanding of what fertilizer is and why it is so important for plant growth.

What Are Plant Fertilizers?

What Are Plant Fertilizers?

Fertilizers are a mixture of any substances, chemicals, or natural products added to soil to promote plant growth. They are also sometimes referred to as "plant food" as they help in proper plant growth. Different types of fertilizers are available in soluble, granular, powdery, or compost forms, which can be added directly to the soil.

The main function of fertilizer is to provide essential nutrients to growing flowers, plants, or crops. Other than providing nutrients to the plants, some fertilizers can also help water retention or better airflow in the soil for plant roots. The most common fertilizer ingredients are N (Nitrogen fertilizers), P (Phosphorus fertilizer), and K (Potassium fertilizers).

N, P, and K elements help with plant growth in the following ways:

  • Nitrogen is a part of the chlorophyll molecule (responsible for the plant's green color) and helps the plants make food through photosynthesis. The lack of this element results in chlorosis (yellowing of plants). N is also a primary building block for plant protoplasm. Nitrogen also helps to increase the plant's capacity to grow stems, fruits, and flowers.
  • Phosphorus is an important element in the nucleic acid structure of plants, which is responsible for protein production. Apart from protein synthesis, it is also responsible for new tissue growth and cell division. Along with this, P is also responsible for root development and maturity.
  • Potassium is also important for enhancing growth in plants, especially in fruits and vegetables. It is a macronutrient responsible for the proper function of all living cells. Along with this, K is also responsible for photosynthesis regulation (by regulating the opening and closing of stomatal pores) and other plant biochemical reactions.

Now that we have learned the basics of fertilizers and the most common fertilizer ingredients, we will look at the different types available.

Types of Fertilizers

There are two basic types of fertilizers - Organic and Inorganic, and then we have subcategories for these. Let's jump straight to it, then.

1. Organic Fertilizers

Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are a combination of plant or animal-based products. These are made either as the by-product or end result of any naturally occurring process. Organic fertilizers include plant-derived materials, like dried or fresh plants, animal manures, or agricultural waste or by-products. The nutrient source in organic fertilizers varies greatly from the source material, but the biggest advantage is that all the products are biodegradable. They majorly provide organic materials to the plants. Apart from this, organic fertilizers provide a manure effect, too. This results in the promotion of microorganisms and changes in soil structure both physically and chemically. The main types of organic fertilizers are:

  • Livestock manures are made from the waste of cows, chickens, rabbits, pigs, or any other farm animals. They help by improving soil conditions by incorporating nutrients and organic matter.
  • Agricultural waste is an easier way of providing nutrients and organic elements to the soil. They help greatly in increasing crop yields by helping improve soil fertility. They can be made from straws, a cottonseed meal, and many others. They are usually used directly in the soil to boost plant and crop growth.
  • Depending on its origin, industrial waste can also be a good source of organic fertilizers. Some industrial waste, like vinegar residue, distiller grains, or sugar-free grains, can be helpful for plant growth. Using industrial waste as fertilizers also reduces environmental pollution.

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2. Inorganic Fertilizers

Inorganic Fertilizers

Inorganic fertilizers, also called inorganic manure, are composed of mineral deposits manufactured from synthetic compounds. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus-based fertilizers are commonly known examples of inorganic fertilizers. One major advantage of inorganic fertilizers is that they provide the required amount of nutrients without overdosing on the plants. They are also cost-effective and easily available in the market.

Now, we will discuss the common types of inorganic fertilizers that we commonly come across.

Nitrogen Fertilizers

One of the major nutrients involved in plant growth. Nitrogen fertilizers play an important part in protein synthesis and are a building block of amino acids. The main types of nitrogen fertilizers are:

Ammonium Nitrogen Fertilizers

Ammonium nitrogen fertilizers are a type of nitrogen fertilizer and majorly contain ammonium sulfate ((NH4)2 SO4), ammonium bicarbonate (NH4HCO3), ammonia (NH3), and ammonium chloride (NH4Cl). They help provide a ready supply of nutrients to plants and are easily absorbed by the soil. By easy oxidation, ammonium nitrogen becomes ammonium nitrates.

Nitrate Nitrogen Fertilizers

Nitrate nitrogen fertilizers commonly include nitrates, like calcium nitrate (Ca(NO3)2), sodium nitrate (NaNO3), and ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3). Nitrate nitrogen fertilizers have high degradability and solubility. They help to promote cation absorption along with facilitating organic anion synthesis. Some plants and crops where nitrate is required are wheat, corn, vegetables, and tobacco.

Amide Nitrogen Fertilizers

Amide fertilizers are the most concentrated group of solid nitrogen fertilizers. They contain almost 46% of nitrogen. They are usually white, crystalline substances, which are easily soluble in water. Urea, commonly known as carbamide, is one of the easy examples of amide nitrogen fertilizers. Because of its neutral nature, urea is good for a wide range of plants and the soil. It is used as the base fertilizers for many crops. Apart from being used as base fertilizer, it is also used as seed fertilizer or top dressing fertilizer.

Phosphorus Fertilizers

Phosphorus is one of the important nutrients of plants as it is one of the main components of cell protoplasm in plants. Phosphorus has an important role to play in cell proliferation and cell growth. Phosphorus fertilizers also help in root system growth and fruit ripening. All phosphate fertilizers are derived from phosphate rock. There are different types of phosphorus-based fertilizers.

Water Soluble Phosphorus Fertilizer

These types of fertilizers are most suitable for plants and are readily highly water soluble. The main types of water-soluble phosphorus fertilizers are calcium superphosphate and triple superphosphate.

Mixing Soluble Phosphate Fertilizers

This fertilizer (Nitrophosphate) is obtained by decomposition of nitric acid (N/P ratio at 2:1). They are important as they provide trace elements in the soil structure and are also responsible for improving the quality of agricultural products. This is mainly used as base fertilizer for common fields and as a top application for industrial important crops.

Potassium Fertilizers

Potassium is one of the essential nutrients required by plants for their reproduction and growth. Potassium is important in plant-soil and water relations. It is an important element to activate enzymes important for plant growth. Potassium fertilizers are mainly of two types, i.e., potassium combined with chloride (muriate of potash) or sulfate (sulfate of potash).

The muriate of potash is a fast-acting fertilizer suitable for crops like rice, wheat, or cotton. In contrast, potassium sulfate is suitable for crops like tobacco, potato, grapes, or sugarcane.

Other than these two major types of fertilizers and their sub-parts, few other types are available. Few such examples are magnesium, calcium, sulfur-based fertilizers, and micronutrient fertilizers. These are not required by plants in major quantities, but might be required under special conditions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the most commonly used fertilizer?

Urea is the most commonly used fertilizer. Since it is a great source of nitrogen, it is very commonly used in farming to provide plants with their required dose of nitrogen.

2. Which fertilizer makes plants grow faster?

High-Nitrogen fertilizers are used to help plants grow faster. They also help in deep pigmentation in plants.

3. What is N-P-K ratio?

The N-P-K ratio is the amount of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) in any brand of fertilizer. The ratio in every mixture determines the type of fertilizer.

Wrapping up

Tending to plants with the right amount of care is very important. Maintaining plants requires knowledge of plant nutrients, optimal lighting conditions, the right water amount, and much more. Through this article, you have learned the different types of fertilizers available in the market and their composition to help you better understand plant care.

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