I know the feeling—your beloved garden is looking sadder than usual. Your flowers won’t bloom, your fruit won’t ripen. And then it hits you: what about fertilizer?
But you need a quick fix, of course. You don’t have months to wait around for your tomatoes to redden or your peonies to bud.
Well, that’s what I’m here for!
All fertilizers are not made equal, and today I’ll be telling you all about the different kinds of fertilizer and how they work.
There is a multitude of different fertilizers out there, and since you’re in a hurry, I’ll be discussing how quickly (or slowly) they all work. That way, you can make the choice that’s right for your garden so that you can get great results, quickly. Keep reading to learn more about how quickly fertilizer works.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- The pros and cons of different types of fertilizers
- Which type of fertilizer works fastest
- Which type of fertilizer is best for your garden
- And so much more!
What Are The Different Types Of Fertilizers?
If you’re a beginner gardener, you’re probably wondering what the different types of fertilizers are. Even as an experienced gardener, I learn something new every day (and sometimes it’s closer to 8 different things. Man, those are crazy days).
For the sake of this article, I’m going to be focusing on the different types of fertilizer as they are applied to the soil. Pretty much, any of the fertilizers I talk about today can come in both organic and inorganic form.
Not sure what the difference is? That’s okay! Here’s everything you need to know about organic and inorganic fertilizers. Always good information to have as a gardener, but like I said, for the sake of this article, I’ll be differentiating types of fertilizers based on how they’re applied. Now let’s get into it!
Granular fertilizer is probably the most popular type of fertilizer. You can find it pretty much anywhere, even at your local Walmart depending on the season.
While it’s not my favorite type of fertilizer, it is popular and has its perks. Granular fertilizer is usually cheaper, even the organic ones, and like I said, you can find it just about anywhere.
It’s also easier to store in the winter. If you live in a colder climate like I do, granular fertilizers are easier to keep since they don’t need to be stored at a certain temperature. While I prefer to use all of mine up and then buy a new bag the following season, I can just take any leftover product and chuck it in the shed for the winter. Pretty simple.
Granular fertilizers are also great for pre-plant application since you can literally take handfuls and sprinkle them over your whole garden (please wear gloves if you do this). Granular fertilizer is super easy to apply like this, and it gives your garden a nice early boost, getting you to harvest season faster. Make sure to choose a fertilizer that’s made for starters, aka one with a gentle nutrient ratio, so the nutrients don’t shock your plants.
Granular fertilizer does have its downsides, though. When applied improperly, it can cause a lot of damage to your garden.
Crusting is a pretty big issue I’ve personally experienced with granular fertilizer being applied improperly. It’s my own fault, but I’m here to make sure you don’t make this mistake, too! When applying granular fertilizer, I find it best to stir up the dirt before and after application. Again, wear gloves to do this. In fact, you should check out this YouTube video about gardening safety to ensure no accidents or injuries occur:
If you’ve never gotten fertilizer in your eye, consider yourself lucky. I shudder just thinking about it!
Like I said, working granular fertilizer into the soil is the best way I’ve found to eliminate problems. When using granular fertilizer as a pre-plant product, I till up all the soil, sprinkle it in, and then till it again to make sure it’s properly mixed in.
By mixing the fertilizer into the soil (which you can also do by hand if your plants are already in the ground) you prevent crusting on the soil. What that means is the fertilizer forms a hard shell over the soil and the nutrients don’t reach the roots. And nobody wants that!
Granular fertilizer definitely has its ups and downs, but don’t worry. If you don’t think granular fertilizer is right for you, keep reading to hear about the other types of fertilizer out there!
Read More >> How To Dispose Of Fertilizer?
I really love liquid fertilizer, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, you avoid a lot of the problems that you can run into with granular fertilizer. In liquid form, fertilizer can’t crust on the soil, and it’s easier for your plants to get the proper nutrients like this.
In liquid form, nutrients have easier access to your plant’s roots (yay!). That also means this type of fertilizer is usually quicker-acting, however, it isn’t a slow-release product. You may find yourself having to fertilize your plants more often.
It’s also usually more expensive due to its convenience. Instead of having to disturb the soil, you just have to pour liquid fertilizer and you’re done. It’s really easy, but you do wind up paying for it.
That being said, sometimes that ease is amazing. I buy a liquid fertilizer for houseplants and it’s perfect for all my leafy greens—pothos, fiddle leaf fig, and my newest addition, a philodendron. All I have to do is dilute my liquid fertilizer into some water and it’s that easy.
It’s tougher to store in winter, however. If you live in a colder climate like me, it has to be stored inside or it’ll freeze, and all sorts of weird things can happen. The solubility of the minerals changes and wonky chemical reactions can take place that can mess with the nutritional content.
I try to store my liquid fertilizer in a closet or somewhere else hidden in my house to avoid these issues, and I definitely recommend that you do, too.
Liquid fertilizers also tend to be gentler, which is especially good for delicate or young plants. Tropicals tend to be pretty picky about their fertilizer, so liquid is good for them, and the same goes for really any young plant. There are strong liquid fertilizers out there, but generally speaking, they’re less harsh.
Want the speed of liquid fertilizer for the price of granular? You can make your own liquid fertilizer at home in just 24 hours! Check out our article linked below.
Read More >> How to Make Liquid Fertilizer from Dry Fertilizer?
The other great thing about liquid fertilizers is that they can be hydroponic-grade. I don’t know about you, but I love propagating my plants and, well, making more plants! I do this a lot with my pothos which is slowly taking over the house, so having a liquid fertilizer that I can put in their water is awesome! It speeds up root growth and my slow pothos crusade.
Just like granular fertilizers, liquid fertilizers have their pros and cons. If you’re a visual learner, you might appreciate this pros and cons list for granular and liquid fertilizers. It spells everything out really clearly, but it does forget my last type of fertilizer…
Powder fertilizer is probably the least-known type of fertilizer, to be honest. People tend to mix it up with granular fertilizer, although they are different things. The best way to spot a powder fertilizer is to check if it says ‘water-soluble.’ This is usually a good indicator that it’s a powder, rather than granules.
Because powder fertilizer is diluted in water, it has all the same pros and cons of liquid fertilizer. The only downside is that there’s usually math involved. For example: you need 2/3 cup of water to water your plant. The fertilizer packaging says 1/2 teaspoon per half-cup. See the problem?
It’s really not a big deal, but I hate math, a lot, so I consider it a downside because it’s another area in which you can make a mistake. Other than that, I love powder fertilizers, since they’re usually cheaper than liquid but have less problems than granular. They’re the true Goldilocks fertilizer if you find one that’s right for you.
Read More >> Best Fertilizers for Blueberries
What Do You Need To Consider When Choosing A Fertilizer?
Let’s get back to our original scenario: your garden is in need of nutritional help, and fast. What do you do? Fertilizer, of course! There are a few extra variables to consider when choosing the right fertilizer, however.
How Much Area Do You Need To Cover?
Like I mentioned before, granular fertilizers are great for covering a large swath of garden. If your plants are already in the ground, this is a bit tedious, since I recommend mixing it into the first few inches of topsoil to prevent crusting.
If you need to fertilize a large patch of garden and quickly, my recommendation is liquid or powder fertilizer. Add the desired amount to a watering can and get to work!
What Stage Is Your Garden In?
Are you hoping for one last bloom burst before fall, or are you preparing your garden for transplants in May?
The answer to this question will help determine what kind of fertilizer is right for you. Granular fertilizer is good for pre-plant fertilizing, so if you want to quickly fertilizer young plants, that might be the right choice for you.
Liquid and powder fertilizers are better for established plants, in my opinion, so if your garden is in a later stage and needs a boost, that’s what I’d recommend for you.
Read More >> Which fertilizers to use for Raspberries?
How Long Does Fertilizer Take To Work?
And finally, now that you have all the background information you need, I can finally tell you how long it takes fertilizer to work! I’ll go in order from fastest time to longest.
You guessed it—liquid fertilizer is the fastest-acting fertilizer on this list! You should be seeing results in around 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the product.
If you really need quick results, I recommend looking for a product that’s labeled as “fast-acting” or totes “instant results.” You could be seeing progress within just a few days, but be careful that the nutrient composition isn’t too strong for your garden.
Powder fertilizer is right up there with liquid, but they tend to have slower-releasing formulas and can take just a few days longer. Again, you can look for a “quick-release” product and have almost instant results.
Powder fertilizers tend to be a little gentler in composition than liquid fertilizers, which means that sometimes the results won’t be as profound, especially for hardy and established plants. Just keep that in mind if you need quick results!
And last but certainly not least, granular fertilizer. It’s great in so many ways, but just not for quick results. Of course, some products work faster than others, so always check the label, but it could be 2-3 weeks before seeing results.
Granular fertilizers take longer to release nutrients because the nutrient molecules are not as mobile. In liquid form, nutrient molecules are able to move faster, enabling them to reach your plant’s roots and be processed in a more timely fashion.
Granular fertilizers are awesome, but for speed, sometimes they’re not the best. Although there are fast-acting granular fertilizers, sometimes they can burn your plants. Always be sure to check the nutrient composition before applying.
My Final Thoughts On How Fast Fertilizer Works
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the product you use. There are liquid fertilizers that are slower than granular, and vice versa. Generally speaking however, liquid fertilizer does work faster
Like I mentioned before, you can convert granular fertilizer to liquid in just 5 easy steps. If you’re a gardener on a budget like I am, definitely check it out.
Fertilizing your garden is beneficial no matter what, so I highly recommend any of these types of fertilizer. In my first year of gardening, I didn’t fertilizer at all—my yields were okay, but nothing in comparison to my second year. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated entirely to recipes for cucumbers—I had so many!
If your garden seems a little unhappy, it’s time to fertilizer. Heck, I like to fertilize before then and avoid the problem entirely. But if you need a fast-acting fertilizer, my recommendation is to get a liquid one.
You’ll be enjoying bigger blooms and abundant harvests before too long!