Plant Food & Fertilizer

Plant Food & Fertilizer: How They’re Not the Same Thing [2023]

Do you need clarification about plant food & fertilizer and what the difference is between them? If so, you’re not alone! With so much conflicting information on why gardeners use one or the other — or even both in combinationit can be hard to make sense of it all.


It’s 2023, and fertilizer is becoming increasingly expensive as its production falls short of demand. Many people are turning to plant foods, thinking that this will provide the same benefits as fertilizers. We’ll discuss their benefits to your garden in their ways and which one may be best for your growing needs.

So let’s dive in and learn more about these helpful gardening tools!

Definitions of Plant Food & Fertilizer

Plant food

Plant food is any material that provides nourishment and sustenance to the plants in an environment.

Plant food helps plants grow stronger and healthier and can give them better yields of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other crops they produce.

Organic Plant Foods

Organic plant foods are derived from natural sources like manure or composted plants.

It primarily contains macronutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium, and phosphorus but also supplies micronutrients like Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron, which are essential for healthy growth.

Synthetic Plant Foods

Synthetic plant foods are chemical-based fertilizers designed to quickly deliver a specific amount of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and other nutrients directly to a specific area at a particular time.

They can be used for short-term applications but should be used with caution as they can cause sudden changes in the chemistry of the soil that can be harmful to sensitive plants if not properly monitored.

Antony Trivet


Fertilizer is a natural or synthetic material added to soil or water to supply essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals for the growth of plants.

Fertilizers can provide all the necessary nutrients for optimal plant growth in one or multiple applications over time. They can also replenish depleted soils or help compensate for nutrient-poor grounds.

Depending on the type of fertilizer used, it may need to be applied every few weeks or at least once a growing season. Different fertilizers are available based on the nutrients required for specific plants and soil types.

Organic fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are derived from living organisms such as animal manure, bone meal, fish emulsion, and seaweed extract.

These fertilizers add organic matter into your soil, encouraging healthy root growth and better water retention – great for those with sandy soils!

Synthetic fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers contain chemically formulated combinations of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).

These components make up a majority of commercial-grade fertilizer products available today because they’re easy to measure out into proper ratios quickly.

Key Differences Between Plant Food & Fertilizer

As we’ve discussed the definitions of both terms, it’s time to dive into the key differences between plant food and fertilizer.

Plant Food Is Naturally Occurring & Fertilizer Is Not

This is the key point to remember when discussing the differences between plant food and fertilizer-plant food is constantly naturally occurring, while fertilizers are not.

Plant food is made by houseplants themselves through a process called photosynthesis. Plants use water from their environment and the energy from sunlight to turn air, water, and minerals into usable sugars. It’s an entirely natural process that happens automatically with any healthy houseplant.

As long as you give your plants enough light and water, you don’t need to worry about adding anything extra to make their food.

Fertilizer, while it can come in natural forms, isn’t naturally occurring like plant food. Fertilizer is any substance used to add additional nutrients to the soil that your plants may be lacking.

Regularly adding fertilizer helps ensure that your plants stay in tip-top shape and have all the necessary ingredients for survival and growth! Fertilizing isn’t something that happens on its own-you need to add it into the mix for optimal results!

Markus Spiske

Fertilizers are Commercially Available

The difference between plant food and fertilizer is that plant food is not something you can buy commercially.

Plant food helps plants to mature and thrive, providing them with the essential nutrients they need. On the other hand, Fertilizers can help supplement a plant’s nutrition by providing essential minerals and compounds that the soil wouldn’t typically contain.

Plant food tends to break down more slowly than fertilizer, which leads to longer-lasting benefits for plants. This slow release of nutrients helps to provide a steady supply of essential minerals and compounds over time.

Fertilizers may provide an immediate boost to plant growth due to their higher concentration of nutrients but can also cause a nutrient burn if not used correctly.

Fertilizer Isn’t Necessary For Houseplants

Though both plant food and fertilizer can help keep your houseplants healthy, you may not need to use fertilizer on your houseplants. Like people, plants have different nutritional needs depending on their age and environment.

Soil naturally contains some nutrients that help sustain a healthy houseplant without additional supplementation from fertilizer. However, fertilizing may be necessary if you’re noticing nutrient deficiencies—such as yellowing leaves.

When it comes to fertilizing your houseplant, it’s important not to overdo it! Too much fertilizer will create an imbalance of nutrients in the soil, leading to the burning of roots or other visible damage to your houseplant.

When fertilizing your indoor plants, it’s best to stick with slow-release formulas such as granular fertilizers instead of liquid ones so you don’t overwhelm them with too much nutrition at a time.

Make sure that whatever type of fertilizer you choose has all three major elements: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Remember that most plants will only require NPK-balanced fertilizer once every 3-4 months; any more frequently than that could be harmful to your houseplants!

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Which Is Better: Plant Food or Fertilizer?

In determining whether plant food or fertilizer is the better choice for your plants, it’s essential to understand the role that each plays in a healthy garden

Fertilizers are designed to supply nutrients that are not available naturally in the soil. This could be due to poor soil quality, overcropping of crops, or simply natural depletion of certain essential elements.

Plant food is also applied to soils but typically consists of organic matter such as compost or manure, which provide long-term benefits to the ground and promote beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms. 

 Karolina Grabowska

Plants need both fertilizer and plant food to thrive. Fertilizers provide immediate nutrition, while plant foods allow for the slow release of nutrients over time, helping plants maintain their health and vitality between fertilization applications.

Plant foods also help improve soil structure by promoting good drainage and aeration while improving water retention capacity. As a result, you can often reduce the fertilizer you need when adding more organic material into your soil. 

Which is better – plant food or fertilizer? The truth is that they both have their merits, so the best choice depends on what type of plants you’re growing and their specific needs. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide which will work best for your garden!

Choosing the Right Type of Fertilizers For Your Plants

When caring for your plants, nothing is more important than fertilizing them properly. Fertilizers provide essential nutrients to your plants, helping them thrive in their environment. Many different fertilizers are available, so choosing the right one for your plants can be difficult.

Organic fertilizer is a natural product that consists of plant, animal, or mineral sources. It releases vital nutrients slowly over time which helps to maintain a steady supply of necessary nutrients throughout the growing season.

Organic feeders are usually made from composted manure or decomposing materials such as seaweed or cottonseed meal. They also contain beneficial microorganisms that can help improve soil health, adding additional minerals and increasing soil fertility.

Inorganic fertilizer is composed entirely of synthetic compounds derived from inorganic sources such as ammonia nitrate, urea, or potassium sulfate. These products are quickly absorbed by the plant’s roots and provide an immediate boost in nutrient levels – making them ideal for new seedlings, transplants, or fast-growing crops that need a quick increase in growth rate.

Charles C. Collingwood

However, because this fertilizer contains no organic matter, it lacks beneficial microbes in organic feeders and may require more frequent applications to sustain healthy growth over time.

Liquid fertilizers are great for quickly delivering nutrients directly to the roots without physically mixing components before application, like with granular feeds. Stick with liquid forms if you want instant results but be aware that they must be applied more often. They have shorter-lasting effects on soil fertility due to their higher water content and faster decomposition rate when exposed to air or moisture.

If you don’t have access to specialized feeders or want something that provides balanced nutrition over long periods, then slow-release fertilizer could be perfect for you. Slow-release contains both organic and synthetic ingredients combined into pellets that dissolve over time.

Releasing its contents gradually – giving your plants a consistent source of nourishment throughout the growing season without having to apply multiple doses throughout the year like with other feeders! Choose this type if you want sustained nutrition for extended periods with minimal effort required on your part!