Which Fertilizer Should You Use? A Gardener’s Guide to Fertilizer Selection

Come springtime, gardeners around the country will flock to their local nurseries, eager to once again begin planting. But choosing which vegetables to plant in time for the coming July 4th cookout isn’t all you’ll need to worry about. Gardening itself is hard work, but ensuring maximum yield, healthy and nutritious crops, and vibrant plants is even harder. There are so many products on the market, so many tools and tricks to use, that gardeners can become overwhelmed. One question we often receive is which fertilizer should I use? It’s a good question because marketers will often use buzz words to trick you into thinking that their product is best. But don’t worry: we’re going to tell you exactly which fertilizer you should use for your plants, and we’re going to explain the science behind it.

What are Fertilizers?

In order to understand which fertilizer is best for plants, you should know what fertilizer is and why plants need it. Fertilizer is essentially plant food. It’s a combination of nutrients that can be derived using synthetic chemicals or organic materials. Every plant needs nutrients in order to survive–13 nutrients, to be exact:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfur
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Boron
  • Zinc
  • Molybdenum

These nutrients are already found within the soil in very limited quantities. Normally, the amount of nutrients present in healthy soil is just right for plant growth. However, there are three nutrients–the BIG 3–of which plants need more: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

The BIG 3

These three nutrients are essential to plant growth and health, so plants require more of them than the other nine nutrients. Plants will often soak up all of the available BIG 3 nutrients in the soil, which is why gardeners need to apply fertilizer.

Nitrogen is the most important of the three nutrients, as it is responsible for protein, chlorophyll, and protoplasm production. Without nitrogen, plants lose their color and become weak and wilted. Plants with a lack of nitrogen are also less nutritious.

Phosphorous, a component of ATP, helps supply plants with energy.

Potassium helps to regulate plants’ water content and expansion as well as resist disease. It also helps increase crop yield.

Gardeners who compost and have healthy soil only need to apply small amounts of fertilizer, and they only need fertilizers that contain one or more of the BIG 3 nutrients. The other nine nutrients plants need are found in optimal quantities within healthy soil.

So now you know: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the main ingredients you should look for when buying fertilizer. But, then, which fertilizer is the best option for your garden?

How Fertilizers are Made

Your fertilizer choice will depend on your plants, your soil, and your unique needs.

It’s no secret that fertilizer isn’t good for the environment. There have been countless studies linking greenhouse gas increases, soil degradation, fish kills, and toxic algae production to fertilizer use. So, if you’re an environmentally-conscious person who loves to garden, looking for fertilizer might make you anxious.

There are organic options out there, but organic is not synonymous with ecofriendly.

Organic is a buzz word used to trick consumers into thinking the product is good for the environment. But often, these fertilizers can pose serious problems. Manure produces greenhouse gases; biosolids stimulate toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes (and are hazardous to human health); and bone-meal can make wildlife sick.

Synthetic fertilizers aren’t so great either.

Typically, synthetic fertilizer is created as follows:


  • Natural gas and steam are combined and then burned to remove oxygen, leaving nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is removed and then an electrical current is introduced to create ammonia. (Sometimes, the process stops here and the ammonia is all that is used. Often, the process continues.)
  • Ammonia is combined with air in a tank. A catalyst is introduced, converting the ammonia to nitric oxide. Then the nitric oxide is converted to nitric acid.
  • Ammonia and nitric acid are combined to produce ammonium nitrate.


  • Phosphate rock is treated with sulfuric acid, creating phosphoric acid.
  • Sulfuric acid and nitric acid are mixed to create triple super-phosphate or phosphoric acid is mixed with ammonia to create ammonium phosphate.


Potassium chloride is granulated to be mixed more easily with other fertilizer ingredients.

BIG 3  

Ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, and potassium chloride are mixed.

While it’s great that these fertilizers give gardeners access to the BIG 3 nutrients their plants need, what isn’t great is the chemicals and residual salts these fertilizers possess.

The Problem with Conventional Fertilizers

The fertilizers listed above all possess high salt contents, which can negatively impact soil and plant health by:

  • Increasing soil pH, making it more acidic
  • Reducing seed germination
  • Preventing water absorption
  • Weakening plants and
  • Killing vegetation.

Conventional fertilizers are also harmful to the environment. When these fertilizers are applied to soil, they often clump together in hotspots, which are carried by rainwater to rivers and streams. There, they are deposited, depleting the dissolved oxygen levels within the water and, thus, killing aquatic life and causing algae blooms.

Nitrogen fertilizers also contribute to greenhouse gas increases. When nitrogen is applied to soil, it is often applied aggressively, as people think that more = better. Plants only absorb 50 percent of nitrogen within the soil, so the other 50 percent is often consumed by soil microbes, who convert the nitrogen into nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.

So if conventional fertilizers and organic fertilizers can harm the environment (and your plants), then what should you use? Is there an alternative?

A Natural Alternative

There is a brand new product on the market, one that serves as an alternative for those seeking environmentally-friendly options. Not only is it environmentally-friendly, but it is also great for plants.

xVital is an all-natural nitrate solution. Unlike the above nitrogen fertilizers, xVital is created naturally. Our patented machine mimics the earth’s natural nitrate conversion process, so it doesn’t require salts or chemicals. In the natural world, nitrate is created when lightning strikes the ground. Gaseous nitrogen is then converted into nitrate, a usable form for plants. Our machine does exactly this, converting gaseous nitrogen straight to nitrate. The only ingredients are nitrate and ionized water.

Without the salts and chemicals that other fertilizers possess, xVital won’t harm your plants. It provides plants with the most essential nutrient they need–nitrogen–and nothing else.

In addition to this, xVital is so easily absorbed by plants that there is no runoff. This is perfect for areas in which algae blooms, saline fresh waters, and fish kills are prevalent.

Used with a natural form of potassium, such as potash, xVital can improve plants’ water absorption; nutrient absorption; growth rate; color; and vigor. So what are you waiting for? Read more about xVital now!



Why do we Need Fertilizers?