How to Feed Houseplants Correctly - Providing Nutrients for Houseplants

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Houseplant Fertilizer Feeding houseplants involves providing them with the nutrients they require for growth and good health. Plants need an adequate supply of the three major nutrients (macro-nutrients) and small amounts of trace elements (micro-nutrients). These nutrients are required for the various biochemical processes that take place in a plant. If these nutrients are missing or are inadequate, the houseplants will present with deficiency symptoms (poor growth). An excess of these nutrients will also cause problems for your houseplants.

The macro-nutrients are needed in relatively large amounts. They include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (ca), Sulphur (S), Boron (B) and Magnesium (Mg). The micro-nutrients are needed in small amounts. They include Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Chlorine (Cl) and Molybdenum (Mo).

Functions of Macro-nutrients;

  • Nitrogen
  • Nitrogen is the leaf maker. It gives the plant a lush, green foliage and also promotes growth.

  • Phosphorous
  • Phosphorous is the root maker. It helps in root development and plant growth. It also helps in the transfer of energy from sunlight to plants and also to hasten maturity.

  • Potassium
  • Potassium is the flower maker. It encourages bud formation and flowering. Potassium also increases vigour and disease resistance of plants.

  • Calcium
  • Calcium is essential for root health, growth of roots and development of leaves.

  • Magnesium
  • Magnesium is a key component of chlorophyll (the greening material of plants) which is essential for photosynthesis (plant's food making process).

  • Sulfur
  • Sulfur is a constituent of plant proteins and is involved in energy production for plants.

Functions of micro-nutrients;

  • Manganese
  • Manganese is necessary for many plant biochemical processes.

  • Iron
  • Iron is needed for chlorophyll formation.

  • Copper
  • Copper is an essential constituent of plant enzymes.

  • Zinc
  • Zinc helps in production of plant hormones necessary for stem elongation and leaf expansion, among many others.

  • Boron
  • Boron is a major constituent of plant cell membranes.

  • Molybdenum
  • Molybdenum is essential for enzyme synthesis and activity.

  • Chlorine
  • Chlorine is required for energy reactions in the plant.

Most houseplants foods commonly called fertilizers are nearly always compound fertilizers containing Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. They come with a label stating the content of each of these elements; if there is no statement for one of them, then it is missing. The best fertilizer for houseplants need to be a balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 for N-P-K. Some contain some micro-nutrients in small quantities.

Houseplants Feeding Problems

If a houseplant lacks these nutrients it will develop what are called deficiency symptoms which vary from one houseplant to another. These symptoms include;

  • Weak stems
  • Yellow leaves
  • Leaf drop
  • Stunted growth
  • Small or no flower formation
  • Little resistance to pests and diseases

Always be careful when feeding to avoid damaging your houseplant; fertilizer is not the solution for all houseplants problems. If a houseplant is fed with too much fertilizer, it will exhibits certain signs which include;

  • Leaves wilting
  • Scorched leaf edges
  • Crisp brown spots on leaves
  • Lanky and weak growth
  • White crust on the surface of the soil and on clay pot

Conditions necessary for proper houseplants feeding

Both macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients are obtained by the roots from the soil. Certain conditions are required for houseplants to obtain these nutrients from the soil.

  1. The soil needs to be sufficiently moist to allow the roots to take up and transport the nutrients. In some cases, correcting improper watering will eliminate nutrients deficiency symptoms.
  2. The PH of the soil must be within a certain range for nutrients to be released from the soil particles.
  3. The temperature of the soil must be within a certain range for nutrient uptake to occur.
Note: The ideal range of moisture, PH and temperature is different for different plants species.

Types of Houseplant Food (Fertilizers)

  1. Slow-release powders and granules
  2. These are deposited on the surface of the soil where they dissolve and get into the soil every time the houseplant is watered.

  3. Water soluble fertilizers
  4. They come in the form of liquids, powders or crystals. They are applied by mixing them with water during watering; this saves time by combining two activities to be performed at once.

  5. Foliar sprays
  6. These are applied by spraying on the houseplant foliage. Most foliar feeds contain micro-nutrients.

Guidelines on Houseplants Feeding

  • The most popular method of feeding houseplants is to feed each time you water the plant when the plant is actively growing or is in flower. The houseplant will not need feeding during the dormant stage.
  • The amount of nutrients needed will depend on the size of the houseplant and the size of the pot. Generally the larger the houseplant the more the nutrients required. A large houseplant, usually in a large pot will require more nutrients than a young houseplant usually in a small pot.
  • Do not feed a new or newly potted houseplant as the potting soil contains enough nutrients to last the plant for about 2 months after repotting.

Do not gamble, look up your houseplant's food requirements in this Houseplants A-Z Guide.

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