Get to Know Fertilizer

The fertilizer aisle is not many people's favorite place to be. It stinks, your head gets light and numbers in triplicate begin swimming before your eyes. Don't get faint! Get to know the top water soluble, natural and synthetic fertilizers at McLendon Hardware.


First thing to cover: Those numbers on the packaging. The three numbers are telling you how much “NPK” is in the fertilizer. N stands for nitrogen, P for phosphorous and K for potassium (potash). But those aren’t important to remember!


The thing to remember is this: “Up, down & all around.” "NPK" means, “Up, down & all around.” Nitrogen works up above the ground; it's in chlorophyll and increases green growth. Phosphorous gets down with roots (and flower buds) and helps with the transfer of energy. Potassium increases all around good health. It also helps build cell walls, making plants less susceptible to drought and heat stress.


Now, let’s get down to business and crack a few bags, pop a few bottles and get you up close and personal with the top performers from the ever-popular fertilizer aisle.

miracle grow


Miracle Gro All Purpose Plant Food
Check out that nitrogen number. That’s a huge difference between the other two. This is basically plant candy. Use it with annuals or other showy flowers that can afford to burn bright but then burn out.

  • 24-8-16
  • Very little scent
  • Use with annuals & other showy flowers
  • Made with: Not specified on packaging; unlisted online

jack liquid


Jack's Classic All Purpose 20-20-20
Why is plant food blue? It’s tinted so you can see where you’ve sprayed—nice for foliar feeding (dousing a plant so the leaves absorb nutrients), less convenient when it stains. That said, this is a great balanced fertilizer, meaning all three numbers are equal.

  • 20-20-20
  • Smells faintly like fish-tank water
  • Use with any plant
  • Made with: Urea, monopotassium phosphate, potassium nitrate, et al.

fish fertilizer


Alaska Fish Fertilizer
It doesn’t smell as bad as you think. It could smell better. Organic, water-soluble plant food that won’t burn and plants love? Stink up the joint, I say! The smell fades quickly, even indoors, and you’ll forget it completely come bloom-time. When in doubt, dilute.

  • 5-1-1
  • Smells like tomato paste gone off, sour
  • Use as foliar feed or apply to roots
  • Use for organic gardening
  • Made with: Fish solubles

dr earth all purpose


Dr. Earth All Purpose Fertilizer
Here’s an example of a great, balanced fertilizer made for organic gardening. It’s my go-to for growing vegetables. You can top dress established plants or toss some in the hole when putting in new plants.

  • 5-5-5
  • Pungent, earthy aroma
  • Use for organic gardening
  • Made with: Fish bone meal, fish meal, alfalfa meal, feather meal, et al.

dr earth acid


Dr. Earth Acid Lovers Fertilizer
The earth around Puget Sound is acidic. Take advantage of our sour soil and plant acid-loving blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons and maples. A little plant food will help you get abundant blooms.

  • 3-4-3
  • Light, hay aroma
  • Use with acid-loving plants
  • Use for organic gardening
  • Made with: Alfalfa meal, fish bone meal, bone meal, feather meal, et al.

gb starter


G&B Starter Fertilizer
What makes a “starter” fertilizer different? It’s all about NPK. Starter fertilizers will generally have a high middle number. This ensures new plants get nutrients where they need it: down below, building strong roots.

  • 3-5-2
  • Mild, earthy aroma
  • Use when planting starts & new plants
  • Use for organic gardening
  • Made with: Dried poultry waste, bone meal, feather meal, alfalfa meal, et al.



Osmocote Flower & Vegetable Plant Food
My first recollection of “fertilizer” as a thing was the little balls littering the soil of my grandmother’s potted plants. Whether they’re an eyesore is up to you. Knowing they’re great for long-term feeding? Pure wisdom.

  • 14-14-14
  • Mild, middle-school auditorium aroma
  • Use for prolonged feeding of any plant
  • Made with: Polymer-coated ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, calcium phosphate, et al.

citrus spike


Jobe's Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer Spikes 
The great thing about spikes is that, placed correctly, the plant does all the work for you. Put spikes directly beneath the “drip line” of your fruit trees and every rain shower will release more food.

  • 9-12-12
  • Smells like the licorice-scented Mr. Sketch marker
  • Use with established fruit & citrus trees
  • Made with: Ammonium phosphate, ammonium sulfate, potassium chloride, et al.

rose spike


Jobe's Rose Fertilizer Spikes
The other great thing about spikes is you place them once a year. For that reason, they’re great for established plants and long-time bloomers. Set it, forget it, then stop and smell the roses.

  • 3-5-3
  • Smells like sweet doggie biscuits
  • (Editor’s note: The author may have lost her olfactory senses. We are confirming the above. It’s the next day: They still smell like sweet dog biscuits. How peculiar.)
  • Use for organic gardening
  • Made with: Feather meal, bone meal, sulfate of potash, et al.