As you've learned from our previous Indoor Planting 101 Series, plants usually send warning signals to communicate if they need more or less light or water. However, things become more challenging when it comes to feeding them as the signals are far more subtle. So you'd have to be attentive to keep your plants healthy and well-fed.
So in this blog, we're going to tackle all the things you need to know to properly start feeding your plant babies and help them grow healthily.
Why plants need plant food?
Just like us, plants need the right nutrients (essentially a mixture of minerals) to live and grow especially if you're noticing slowed or stagnant growth. This also helps them produce beautiful blooms and fruit and be stronger against harsh weather conditions and diseases.
And they get these nutrients through the plant food or fertilizers we add to their soil. These minerals and nutrients within the soil are absorbed by the roots of the plants every time you water so your plant can absorb all that goodness.
Here are three main nutrients of most plant food:
- Nitrogen (N)- for healthy foliage growth
- Phosphorus (P)- for healthier blooms, and root development (especially helpful for baby plants)
- Potassium (K)- for a stronger root system, improved resilience against diseases and stressful growing conditions (like drought and heat), and overall plant health
Yes, if you've noticed this is the label that you usually see on the packaging (e.g N-P-K 10-10-10). The numbers stand for the percentage of each nutrient in the fertilizer - the first for nitrogen, the second for phosphorous, and the third for potassium.
Plants also benefit from other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, which are included in many plant foods.
Why can't I just leave their soil alone?
You can, but after a month or two, your plants will have already consumed the nutrients in the soil, or maybe the nutrients have been washed away already, so you'll have to give them food refills for continued growth. Most of the time, there's a nutrient deficiency in native soil meaning there's not enough nutrition for plants to properly grow - so think of plant food as vitamin supplements that give your plants further boost to grow.
How often should I give them plant food?
Unless you repot your plants with fresh soil regularly, your plants will need to be fertilized once or twice a month during Spring or Summer. Why Spring or Summer? Because these are months that they are in a natural growth phase (they usually go dormant in colder months).
Keep in mind that it’s best to be conservative when applying fertilizer (underfertilize > overfertilize). You don't wanna go overboard if you don't want to "burn" your plants. Try to follow the recommended dosage. I also find diluting fertilizers with water to be effective (well, nothing really bad happens, so I guess that's still a good thing). Better safe than sorry!
How do I know what type of plant food to give them?
Different types of plants prefer different soil, usually based on the amount of water the soil holds. But really, there's no need to complicate this, most indoor plants do fine with an all-purpose mix when it comes to soil. Some potting soil also comes filled with the nutrients your plant needs. 👌
All-purpose mix fertilizers - they contain the basic macronutrients that plants need to grow - NPK. Some might also include micronutrients like boron, magnesium, and manganese which also encourage plant growth.
To help you understand more this concept, let us also quickly tackle different types of fertilizers.
Common Types of Fertilizers
- Liquid fertilizers - diluted into water and applied with a watering can. This provides you precise control as you can easily increase feeding or suspend feeding. This is usually applied more frequently (bi-weekly, monthly, etc) than other fertilizers.
- Slow-release fertilizers - these are coated in time-release shells that slowly leach nutrients into the soil. The individual pellets have coatings of different thicknesses that dissolve at different rates, so the actual release of the fertilizer is staggered over time. A single application can last from 3 to 9 months.
- Granular fertilizers - dry pellets of pure fertilizers to be mixed with the soil. It gets activated at once when the plant is watered, making it hard to control how much the plants are receiving at once.
Liquid and slow-release fertilizers are the best for indoor plants as you have more control over these types of fertilizers. Granular fertilizers, on the other hand, are more commonly used for outdoor plants.
We're a team here, so I'll be honest, I have not been so great when it comes to feeding my plant friends. Luckily, my indoor plants are forgiving so all of them are still thriving. But of course, I don't want them to be nutrient-deficient, so I'm currently doing my best to satisfy their nutritional needs. Happy planting! 🙌