Fertilizers have been used for generations to support healthy plant growth and thriving gardens. Fertilizers provide nutrients that you may lack in your soil—and promote abundant growth. With various fertilizer types available for specific goals, one of the most common questions is— does fertilizer make plants grow bigger?
Fertilizer makes plants grow bigger by adding essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil. These nutrients improve cell regeneration and water retention, simultaneously strengthening the plant’s roots and allowing them to grow larger than they would without fertilizer.
If you want to boost your plant growth, there are several ways to achieve your goals! I will explore how fertilizer contributes to healthy plant growth in this article. I will also share the benefits of various fertilizers, when and how they should be applied, and how to choose the right fertilizer for your garden.
How Does Fertilizer Contribute to Plant Growth?
The three primary nutrients plants need to flourish are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Almost all fertilizers contain all three of these nutrients and display an N-P-K rating on the packaging, identifying the percentages of each nutrient the fertilizer contains.
Some fertilizers, like most all-purpose fertilizers, will include an even, balanced amount of each nutrient. Other fertilizer options will have varying levels of each nutrient, with a heavy emphasis on the nutrient that will achieve that specific fertilizer’s intended results.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are all available to plants organically through the soil and the oxygen around them. Still, releasing these nutrients is far slower than when you add fertilizers to the soil.
Fertilizer acts as a time machine, speeding up the availability of nutrients to the plants and increasing the amount the plants receive, resulting in more leafy, green, blossoming plants.
When fertilizer is applied correctly, it can:
- Increase the size of the plant
- Encourage the plant to spread and multiply
- Increase the production of fruit and vegetable gardens
- Supports large, sweet-smelling blossoms in flowering plants
- Fertilizer is also known to improve coloring and flavor.
What Nutrients Promote the Best Plant Growth?
As I mentioned above, the three vital macronutrients to promote more extensive growth in your plants are the NPK trio. If you supply these nutrients in a balanced fertilizer—your plants will develop faster and larger. Let’s take a look at what these nutrients’ role is in plant growth.
- Nitrogen: Nitrogen is essential for protein growth and supports the structure of your plant in its active growth stages. This nutrient also dramatically enhances leaf growth.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is a vital nutrient that plays a complex role in energy production in growing plants. Phosphorus also plays a significant role in root development and stimulating plants to mature more quickly.
- Potassium: Another vital macronutrient, potassium plays a significant role in plant growth, respiration, and nutrient absorption.
Secondary Macronutrients To Enhance Plant Growth
- Calcium: This builds a more robust structure in plants and aids in water regulation.
- Magnesium: This macronutrient is vital for photosynthesis and light absorption.
- Sulfur: Sulfur activates the enzymes and vitamins essential for healthy plant growth.
Micronutrients To Enhance Plant Growth
Although not as essential as the above macronutrients, these micronutrients enhance and promote plant growth:
Commercial fertilizers usually contain a balanced ratio of your plant’s nutrient requirements and take the guesswork out of supplying a range of necessary nutrients.
I recommend Jobes Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer (available on Amazon.com). This product contains the necessary macronutrients and also offers various microorganisms essential for nutrient uptake in plants. USDA listed as certified organic, this fertilizer is also available in spikes and suits all plants, including fruit bearers, shrubs, and flowering varieties.
When Should Fertilizer Be Applied for Optimum Growth?
You should apply most fertilizers in the spring—to achieve optimum results. When fertilizer is first applied, it provides a sudden boost in essential nutrients, and plants will go through a bit of a growth spurt.
Here are some signs that it is time to fertilize your garden or lawn:
- The Spring season has begun.
- The ground has started to soften.
- The final freeze of winter has thawed, and temperatures are beginning to rise.
It would be best to use fertilizing treatments only after the final freeze. If your plants begin their “growth spurt” when still exposed to freezing temperatures—all of the growth progress will be for naught—and severely damage the plants in the process.
That’s because fertilizers don’t usually protect plants from freezing. I discuss this topic in a complete article: Does Fertilizer Keep Plants from Freezing?
Some experts suggest timing your first fertilizing treatment of the season with the final freeze of winter. By fertilizing while the freeze is present, the plant’s growth spurt is encouraged to begin once the freeze ends and the temperature rises.
There are some exceptions to this springtime fertilizing window, however. One such example is WinterGuard (available on Amazon.com). This treatment is ideal for you to apply to lawns at the beginning of fall, before the first freeze.
Winterizer provides a healthy dose of nitrogen to the soil and repairs any damage the summer heat may have done to the vegetation. Restoring the soil before the first freeze increases the health of the grass, making it possible for it to remain healthy throughout the cold of winter.
How To Apply Fertilizer for Enhanced Growth
The technique necessary for applying fertilizer varies, depending on the type of fertilizer and the plants you administer. Fertilizers come in several different formulas, including the following:
- Granular: Small granules that come in quick-release or slow-release forms. Granular fertilizer is probably the most common form used in home gardens and landscaping.
- Liquid: The quickest-acting fertilizer form available. Liquid fertilizers are sprayed on the plant or poured directly into the soil, creating an opportunity for immediate reaction and plant improvement.
- Powder: Less common but still effective. Powder fertilizers can be sprinkled on top, mixed with soil, or mixed with water to create a liquid fertilizer.
- Spikes: Spikes are pushed directly into the soil, releasing nutrients into the soil as they break down over time. Gardeners often use this form of fertilizer for shrubs and trees.
Here is a table displaying the best application techniques for each type of fertilizer and what plants you will commonly use them on:
|Fertilizer Type||Application Technique||Commonly Used On|
|Granular Fertilizer||All-purpose, used on a wide variety of plants|
|Liquid Fertilizer||All-purpose, mainly used in agriculture|
|Powder Fertilizer||All-purpose, mainly used in agriculture|
|Spike Fertilizer||Large plants, bushes, and trees.|
It is essential to note that you should never spread fertilizer with bare hands. Always wear gloves to protect yourself. If you are applying a dry powder fertilizer, you may want to wear a face covering to prevent unwelcome inhalation of the product, should the wind pick up.
Fertilizer spreaders are a great tool for even distribution and are user-friendly. You can read more about the benefits of fertilizer spreaders in my other article: Do You Need a Fertilizer Spreader? How to Decide
How To Choose the Best Fertilizer for Plant Growth
To choose the best fertilizer for bigger plant growth, you will want to evaluate a few key factors, which you can do by following these easy steps:
- The first step to choosing the proper fertilizer for your garden is to test the soil. You don’t know where you need to go if you don’t know where you’re starting. Conduct a soil test and evaluate the results. These tests are usually quick and easy to detect any nutrient deficiencies or overabundances in your current soil.
- Next, you’ll want to consider what plants you are growing. Some plants prefer a highly acidic environment, while others require alkaline soil to thrive. For example, if you have a garden box full of strawberries, you will not want to use a fertilizer that increases the soil pH, as strawberries prefer an acidic environment with a low pH level.
- Finally, you’ll want to decide what fertilizer to use. You can choose between organic fertilizer (compost, mulch, coffee grounds, or organic store-bought fertilizer formulas, to name a few) or a synthetic option.
If your goal is to achieve quick results and large, flourishing plants, consider that synthetic fertilizers usually work faster than organic ones.
Fertilizers can increase the size and speed up the growth process of plants when applied correctly and maintained with a healthy routine. Using fertilizer strengthens the roots of your plant, increases the health of the soil, and can even support healthy cell growth and water retention.
When plants are healthy and supported by an appropriate fertilizer application routine, they are more likely to grow large, leafy green leaves and produce flourishing crops and flowering blossoms. Before fertilizing, you should constantly evaluate the formula to determine whether the nutrients the fertilizer provides are the right match for your garden.