Translated by Nick R
Planting is not just a matter of using soil, seeds and water, other care must also be considered. Among them is the use of compost and fertilizers that provide your plants with the nutrients they need.
When gardening in pots, you must ensure that the soil has everything necessary for your plants to develop properly. This occurs naturally in the place of origin of any plant because as they grow directly in the soil they absorb what they need.
However, sometimes we don’t have enough space or a suitable area to plant on the floor. So we opt for pots, but there is no need to worry because there is a way to adapt the potting soil so that the plant can develop as it would do naturally.
For this reason, I want to talk to you about the fertilizers and manures that we can find in the market and that will work wonderfully in our crops. In this blog, you’ll find the types of manures and fertilizers that exist, their benefits, how to apply them, and some recommendations so that you can safely buy them.
Table of Contents
Importance of manures and fertilizers for plants
Both fertilizer and compost work and are used to provide the soil and plants with the necessary nutrients. The difference lies in that manure is made up of organic compounds, such as compost or worm castings, and fertilizers are made up of chemical compounds, such as minerals.
In their native habitat, plants absorb the micronutrients (calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, among others) and macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in the soil through their roots. But when a plant is in a pot, for example, it won’t be able to do this process by itself.
You must add the compost or fertilizer they need so that they can grow without problems. For this reason, it’s important that you consider this process in your plant care routine.
Compost and fertilizer have several benefits for plants, people and the environment. Below, I’ll explain them to you.
To create organic compost, you can use all those organic wastes from your home such as fruit peels, vegetable scraps, eggshells, dried leaves, etc. They contribute to the recovery of soils.
- They contribute to the recovery of degraded soils.
- Compost and fertilizers are inexpensive, which makes them affordable.
- They improve soil aeration, structure and water retention.
- They provide the necessary nutrients and help increase crop production.
- They contribute to the preservation of the soil health, the plants and the quality of what is consumed.
- Fertilizers, since they have high concentrations of minerals, they are used in smaller quantities. They have immediate effects and are easily absorbed by plants.
- Organic fertilizers favor environmental preservation as they’re not pollutants.
- They have the potential to create spaces of integration so that those interested in plants and their care can acquire the necessary knowledge.
Types of fertilizers
As I mentioned before, the purpose of manures and fertilizers is to provide the soil and plants with the nutrients they need for their development. However, there are two types, organic manures and mineral fertilizers.
They can be composed of either animal or vegetable matter. In addition, they are a significant source of nutrients for plants and provide the soil with improved structure, aeration and moisture retention.
Fertilizers can increase the production potential of the soil by enhancing its physical, chemical and biological properties. Fertilizers also help the plants’ root development so they can better absorb nutrients and won’t weaken.
Organic fertilizers can be:
It results from decomposing organic wastes when exposed to high temperatures and humidity. This element can be mixed with the substrate that you will use, in this way the soil will become fertile and suitable for cultivation.
There are 2 types of peat, black peat, and blond peat. The first one has fewer nutrients, but a more alkaline pH that allows neutralizing of the acids in the soil. The second has better aeration and water retention capacity but has a lower pH, which makes it not suitable for all types of crops.
Manure is the most commonly employed in agricultural crops and consists mainly of the fecal material of animals such as pigs, cows, poultry, sheep, rabbits, goats and horses. Manure is used because of its high nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content, although it can vary according to the animal feeding.
It can be mixed with plant matter such as straw, hay, dry grass, horse or sheep bedding, etc. As it is rich in organic matter, it favors soil fertilization and improves water retention and absorption.
Its decomposition is carried out thanks to the oxygen received, for this reason, in case you want to compost with dung, you should do this process in a wide and open space.
Your role will be to constantly mix and stir the dung and the plant material. That’s because when it’s compacted the dung generates high temperatures and what doesn’t oxygenate well won’t decompose and won’t work as a fertilizer.
You should not add it directly to the crop, but to the soil and before sowing the plants. This time can be from 15 days to a month before cultivating. The recommended dose of this fertilizer is 170 kg per hectare, which avoids possible water contamination problems.
This manure results from earthworm digestion when they are incorporated into the compost. They accelerate the organic matter decomposition process and a nutrient-rich, odorless and high-quality manure is obtained.
It’s also known as vermicompost and is one of the most recommended for vegetable crops, aromatic plants and fruit trees. Thanks to its microbial load, plants have it easier to develop and absorb the minerals they need.
Worm humus is a highly recommended manure for transplanting plants as it helps prevent diseases, avoids plant injuries and makes rooting easier.
You can find it in nurseries or make it at home simply by adding the worms to the organic waste compost you already have.
It’s obtained as a result of the controlled decomposition of organic elements, especially vegetables. These can be leaves, branches, fruits, flowers, seeds, shells, kitchen waste, sawdust, etc.
It’s one of the easiest to make at home since we need no more than the waste. What is important is to separate the organics from the inorganics. In our blog on how to start planting your vegetable garden at home, we explain step by step the creation of homemade compost.
However, you should keep the following points in mind so that your compost doesn’t encounter any problems.
Oxygen: you must maintain adequate aeration so that the microorganisms can breathe and CO2 is released. Oxygen prevents the compost from becoming compacted and waterlogged. If there is no good aeration, the water doesn’t evaporate and there will be excess humidity, as well as bad odors and acidity.
Humidity: it’s the best ally of the compost microorganisms as they use water as a means of transporting nutrients and energetic elements. The ideal humidity of the compost should be around 55%, you can measure it with a hygrometer or with the first technique.
This technique consists of taking a handful of compost and then opening your hand. If the material drips water, you should add straw or sawdust and stir. If it’s loose, you should add water. Ideally, it should be compact and not leak water.
Temperature: the temperature can vary according to the compost stage. When it begins it has an ambient temperature, then it rises up to 65 °C and in the final phase, it returns to an ambient temperature.
If the temperature drops too low, you’ll need to add material to provide moisture, such as fruit or vegetable scraps. But if the temperature rises too much, you should stir, check the humidity and add material with high carbon content such as wood or dry grass.
pH: it varies as the compost develops. At first, the pH acidifies due to the formation of organic acids. Then, as the compost rises in temperature, the pH also rises and becomes alkaline. Finally, when the process is nearing completion, the pH drops to a neutral level.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, where 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic and more than 7 is an alkaline pH. The optimum range for compost is 5.8 to 7.2.
These fertilizers are derived from mineral elements. Such elements are used by plants and soil to nourish and grow properly. These minerals can also be obtained from organic fertilizers, but mineral fertilizers reach and act on the soil and plants directly.
As I mentioned earlier, plants require micro and macronutrients and next, I’ll talk about them.
Micronutrients are those elements required by plants in minimal amounts to guarantee their adequate growth. They should be supplied to the soil and in small doses when the soil cannot supply them itself.
- Iron (Fe): essential for crop and food production.
- Boron (B): important for fruit growth and synthesis.
- Manganese (Mn): it helps activate the plant’s metabolic reactions and is involved in photosynthesis.
- Zinc (Zn): it helps to obtain high yields.
- Copper (Cu): it activates plant enzymes and contributes to protein synthesis.
- Chlorine (Cl): it helps regulate stomas, which are the plant’s pores or openings and are necessary for moisture release.
- Molybdenum (Mo): is necessary for stomatal synthesis and activity.
These elements are needed in larger quantities and should be applied to the soil when it has deficiencies of one of them.
- Nitrogen (N): essential for the proper growth of plant structures such as stem, leaves, shoots and fruits.
- Potassium (K): it participates in basic plant processes and facilitates water absorption.
- Phosphorus (P): it’s involved in root synthesis and in the woody plant tissues.
- Sulfur (S): is in the process of nitrogen and phosphorus metabolization and has a role in the synthesis of chlorophyll and seeds.
- Calcium (Ca): participates in tissue synthesis.
- Magnesium (Mg): is the main component of chlorophyll, which gives plants their green color.
These fertilizers can be found in 2 types of composition. The first are simple fertilizers based on the use of only 1 element, either N, P or K. And the second one are compound fertilizers which employ 2 or 3 elements and are known as NPK as the main ones and the other compounds as secondary ones.
The quantities of each element vary according to the needs of the plant or soil that you intend to fulfill. So it’s important that you know their characteristics, because depending on the season they will need a balanced composition or not.
Formulation fo fertilizers
There are 2 forms in which we can find fertilizers. In a liquid or solid presentation. Their application will depend on the state of the soil and the plants.
The formats in which we can find them are:
- Powder: it’s applied mainly in traditional cultivation and hydroponic crops. They can be diluted in a little water or applied directly to the crop.
- Granulated: they can be applied more uniformly on the soil to provide the necessary nutrients.
- Macro-granules: these are larger granules that release nutrients a little slower.
- Sticks or tablets: they are placed near the plant, on the soil or pricked into the soil. They release their contents progressively.
This type of fertilizer is applied directly to the plant or diluted in water. Their composition is based on chemical or organic elements. The advantage of these fertilizers is that they act quickly and effectively and are absorbed when applied to the soil or to the plants.
The formats that we can find are:
- Suspensions or mixtures: in this form we find solid powder fertilizer dispersed in a liquid medium, but not totally dissolved.
- Solutions: this is the most common form of these fertilizers. They are solid components totally and homogeneously dissolved in a liquid. They contain different degrees of pH and the required composition of mineral nutrients.
Application of the fertilizers
There are 3 ways in which you can apply the fertilizer to the crops and achieve the desired goal. These are:
Application to the soil
Fertilizers can be applied to the crop’s surface manually or with some tool. It can be applied using a focalized technique and only be in the areas you want. Its application will be done before sowing, during sowing, or after sowing depending on your preferences.
Foliar application of the fertilizers
The fertilizer is applied to the foliage by using a sprayer the fertilizer. You need to consider the dosage and the conditions in which you’ll apply the fertilizer to avoid burning the leaves.
Fertigation method of application of fertilizers
It’s when you mix the fertilizer with the irrigation water and apply it to the plants. In this case, you can make use of some system such as drip or spray irrigation.
We’ve reached the end of this blog about fertilizers, very important elements for your crops. We hope that the couple of recommendations we gave you help you to choose the right products with more confidence.
Do not neglect your plants the manure and fertilizer they need, remember that it's very important for their adequate development and growth. In addition, they help the soil to recover and to remain fertile for the next crops.