What is a fertilizer?
Fertilizers can be defined as materials or substances, which provide the plant with nutrients, and minerals which prove to be essential for the plant’s growth. Fertilizers are usually applied directly to the soil. Fertilizers come in an array of shapes and sizes, ranging from solids to liquids. They also greatly increase the soil fertility, if applied directly to the soil. Soil fertility depends on the aeration and water retention, fertilizers help in maintaining the optimal balance between the two.
Fertilizers can be directly applied to the plants, or the soil depending on the nature of the fertilizer being used. Different types of plants call for different types of fertilizers, which are specifically made to cater to the plant’s requirements. Fertilizers play a vital role in enhancing the growth of a plant. The growth of a plant is enhanced by providing the plant with nutrients and other beneficial additives, or by improving the soil fertility of the plant.
Typically, all fertilizers contain some main elements, which include;
• Potassium (K): Potassium aids in the growth of the plant’s stem, which in return improves the movement of liquids inside the plant. It also helps in the blooming, fruiting or flowering of a plant.
• Phosphorus (P): Phosphorus works from the base level of the plant by developing its roots and it also helps in the development of the plant’s fruits and seeds. Phosphorus proves to be vital in the progress of flowers and the plant’s products.
• Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen helps in the development and growth of the plant’s leaves.
Most of all fertilizers contain some varying proportions of these elements. These elements aren’t used in their purest form in the fertilizers; rather fertilizers are based on a compound of all of these elements. Organic fertilizers however, don’t contain any sort of additives and are made from all natural ingredients. Fertilizers are considered to be, an integral part of growing plants, or crop both –on either a small scale or large scale. Many experts agree to the fact that fertilizers prove to be greatly helpful in the growth of plants.
Classification of fertilizers
generally fertilizers are classified on the basis of how many nutrients they contain. But, basically the fertilizers are classified into 2 main types. Both of which are detailed below:
• Organic fertilizers:
Organic fertilizers contain no additives or synthetic elements and are made up of all natural elements. The most common and widely used organic fertilizer is manure. These types of fertilizers are usually used to treat the soil in which the plant is planted. Organic fertilizers, greatly improve the soil fertility by increasing its organic matter, improving the soil structure, and also increasing the soil’s capacity of water. The organic fertilizers are treated with nutrients before their application to the soils, which ensure the plant gets every nutrient it needs. Organic fertilizers weed out the possibilities of erosion to the plant from wind or water.
• Chemical fertilizers:
Chemical fertilizers are inorganic materials, which are synthetic in origin. Chemical fertilizers are artificially made using many different elements which can potentially benefit the growth of the plant. Artificial fertilizers can be applied –either directly to the soil, or to the plant, depending on the type of fertilizer. Some artificial fertilizers also make use of acid, which can be harmful for the soil in the long run and can interfere with the growth of the plant. Chemical fertilizers contain all the key nutrients and elements, which are vital for the growth of a plant, in varying amounts.
Types of Chemical fertilizers
There are many different types of manmade fertilizers, freely available in the market. But, the type of fertilizer which is suitable for a certain plant or crop depends on a range of factors. Namely; growing conditions, texture of the soil, and also the season. Some of the more popular types of chemical fertilizers are mentioned below:
• Nitrogen fertilizers:
These types of chemical fertilizers make use of a good amount of Ammonia, and are usually found in a gas form. Nitrogenous fertilizers are sprayed directly onto the plant or are injected into the soil hosting the plant. Nitrogen is considered to be the very vital for the growth of a plant. Some examples of nitrogenous fertilizers are; Urea, Ammonium Nitrate, and Calcium Nitrate.
• Phosphate fertilizers:
Phosphorus fertilizers are made up of mainly Phosphate minerals or compounds containing a significant amount of Phosphate. The processes by which the Phosphate fertilizers are derived make use of Acid and Sulfur, to treat the mineral in its natural state. Residue from these elements can prove to be harmful for both the soil and the plant. Phosphorus fertilizers can be found in water soluble forms and even solid forms. Some examples of Phosphate fertilizers are: Ammonium Phosphate, Super Phosphates, and Rock Phosphate.
• Potassium fertilizers:
Potassium fertilizers are an easy to use alternative to other fertilizers and have the same basic characteristics of them. However, some plants may be sensitive to these types of fertilizers, so these may not be suitable for every plant. Potassium fertilizers suck moisture from the air, this makes it hard to keep them for a long period of time. The most common examples of Potassium fertilizers are: Potassium Nitrate, Potassium Chloride, and Potassium Sulphate.
Pros and Cons of Chemical fertilizers
All types of chemical fertilizers come with a wide range of advantages, and disadvantages. These may vary based on the plant or crop, the season involved, the soil texture, and other similar factors. The main difference between organic and chemical fertilizers is, the time they require for the growth of a plant. Chemical fertilizers are generally chosen of organic fertilizers, due to their faster growth time period. Organic fertilizers are much slower in their growing period. Some of the key advantages and disadvantages of chemical fertilizers, are enlisted below:
Pros of Chemical fertilizers
• Quick timeframe
As compared to its counterparts, chemical fertilizers tend to be quicker in showing their result. The results can appear in a matter of days, and the nourishment to the plants is provided almost instantly. These types of fertilizers are very quick to show their improvements. As soon as the fertilizers are applied to either the soil or the plant, the nutrients from the fertilizers are released and start their working.
• Easily Soluble
Chemical fertilizers decompose more easily than organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers wait for the bacteria in the soil to break it down, whereas the chemical fertilizer mixes directly with the soil making it a quicker and easier alternative. Chemical fertilizers contain no such particles that may hinder or interfere, with the growth of the plants.
• Cost effective
Man-made fertilizers give more value to the user as a pound of it, contains all the necessary nutrients required for the growth of a plant. Organic fertilizers may cost cheaper for a pound, but to get the same amount of nutrients from it would take more than a pound. In the end making it a more expensive option!
Inorganic fertilizers usually have standardized labeling, which makes it easier for the user to get an idea of its contents and application procedure. As chemical fertilizers are made of exact ratios and saturations of chemicals and other nutrients! This makes it easier for the user to compute the required amount for his situation.
Cons of Chemical fertilizers
• Harmful for the soil
since chemical fertilizers are basically made from fossil fuels. They decay slowly and leave a lasting impact on the soil. Chemical fertilizers also contain high levels of acid which in the end has a very negative effect on the fertility of the soil. Chemical fertilizers only benefit the growth of the plants, and do not sustain the soils health. They do nothing to improve the soil structure which leads to long term damage to the soil.
• Over fertilization
Using inorganic fertilizers can very easily result in the over fertilization of the plants, as the nutrients are already available to the plants. This may result in killing the plant and even messing up the eco system around it.
• Repeated applications
It is not uncommon for chemical fertilizers to leach away from its target. Because of this, many additional applications may be required in order to get satisfactory results from the chemical fertilizers. This harms both the soil, as well as the plant.
• Possibility of toxic chemicals
Back to back applications of chemical fertilizers can lead to a buildup of very poisonous, toxic chemicals, in the plant. These chemicals can make their way into the fruits or vegetables, and prove to be very dangerous for human health. As chemical fertilizers contain a good number of chemicals and nutrients, its repeated use can create very harmful chemicals such as; Uranium, Cadmium, Arsenic, in the soil or the plant.
• Long term use can be harmful
Long term use of a chemical fertilizer may result in a series of problems such as: upsetting the pH of the soil, eliminating helpful bacteria, release of greenhouse gases from the plants, and even a pest infestation in some rare cases.