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Plant food is something of a counterintuitive term for many. After all, plants rarely have mouths, and all that should be needed to sustain them is sunlight and water.
This sort of thinking is reinforced by many mediums, from children’s books to beginner science classes, but the fact is that plants, like people, need a particular diet with specific nutrient content to survive.
In the more widely known process of photosynthesis, plants take in chemical compounds harmful to humans and synthesize beneficial oxygen, a sort of the chemical reverse of human respiration.
Similarly, plant food contains elements generally harmful to humans. However, plants thrive on these chemicals and extrude compounds beneficial to humans.
As with humans, younger plants will need a different diet than older ones. Which one is appropriate can be tricky to determine. Especially in plants like grass that lack a woody stem and does not generally grow to any great height.
Plant food, known more colloquially as fertilizer, is available in an enormous variety of quantities and compositions to suit any lawn, garden, or nursery. There are even medicated or genetically modified varieties prepared specifically to treat plant disease.
Among these, we will be looking at ordinary fertilizer as compared to ‘lawn starter’, a chemically modified blend designed to help your grass survive infancy.
Fertilizers are impregnated with essential nutrients to support grass development. They provide a much-needed boost in unfavorable local soil conditions.
Keep in mind that fertilizers are not interchangeable. We will be discussing how the two differ from one another, and under what conditions each should or can be used.
Related Article: Best Lawn Fertilizer For Spring In 2020
In general, fertilizer is a chemical agent applied to improve plant development. The ancient methods of using dung or decomposing animal bodies aided in plant growth. This was achieved through allowing these fertilizer ‘ingredients’ to decompose and blend with the soil around it.
This promoted topsoil to be rich in nutrients and loose enough to permit easy sowing and planting.
Modern fertilizer is simply a purified chemical in the form of a powder or spray. This method speeds up the fertilization process and reduces the burden of storing organic fertilizers.
Many fertilizers are compounds that are concentrated and remain in the soil for a predetermined amount of time. This offers the user the ability to create a more precise maintenance schedule for their lawn.
Regular fertilizer is blended in quantities that are suitable for plants with developed root structures. These plants maintain a consistent photosynthesis process to support the chemical reactions that occur when the plant incorporates the fertilizer into its capillaries.
These chemicals and the quantities used can be detrimental to lawns that have not yet created a large photosynthesizing area or developed a stable root network.
Regular fertilizer is also applied differently than its starter counterpart. It is spread onto the roots of the plants or sprayed over the leaves. This allows the grass to take in the maximum quantity of plant food without losing any of the beneficial material to foot traffic or wind and rain.
As a general rule, regular fertilizer is the ideal choice for your soil that you can spread around for your plants to enjoy. Its function is that of the optimizer. Its purpose is for the homeowner to preserve or strengthen an existing lawn or orchard.
Starter fertilizer leans more towards the remedial side, aiming to stimulate seeds into rapid germination and prevent them from dying or reentering a dormant state.
Towards this end, starter fertilizer tends to contain far more phosphorus and nitrate than regular fertilizer. This serves to artificially start the germination process that triggers plant seeds to send out roots and leaves, even without the moisture usually required for the process to begin.
This is a delicate step and should be done only after carefully researching how to start a lawn in your current conditions. Forcing the grass to try and root prematurely could leave the roots without enough purchase in the soil and dying for lack of water or nutrients.
Unlike regular fertilizer, which is applied above the ground, starter fertilizer will often be mixed into the ground before seeding. As the ground to be seeded or sodded is often carefully aerated or tilled before the grass is introduced, the plant food can be easily introduced and made to surround the grass seeds for maximum effectiveness.
Although beneficial to seeds or new shoots, starter fertilizer tends to be chemically unbalanced and will actually harm developed plants if used continuously. Likewise, the nutrients are not meant to be absorbed by roots or leaves, but rather seeds, and so may remain above the soil in a harmful concentrated layer if applied to mature plants.
As discussed above, there is more to fertilizing your lawn than simply buying a bag of plant food and spreading it around. Like any part of botanical science, artificial fertilization needs to be undertaken with care and research taking into consideration the exact conditions of the plants in question.
Failure to do your homework is comparable to composing a diet without knowing what foods the patient is capable of eating. There is perhaps a small chance of success, but it is vastly outweighed by the likelihood of an erroneous diagnosis and doing more harm than good.
Thankfully, homeowners are rarely alone when determining what fertilizer and application methods are best for their lawns. A growing body of peer assistance and readily available information exists to allow you to pinpoint what your plants need and when, and the best tools and methods to deliver it.
Many retailers will be happy to furnish at least some measure of professional advice along with their product, born of experience if nothing else. So take advantage of this to help to select the correct product for your lawn.
It is worth noting that even before you begin to gather advice, you should make sure to research conditions in your locale. You want to be proactively informed of any nearby events that could impact your lawn. Neighbors, wildlife, and road work can all affect your grass to the point where a change in fertilizer may be necessary.