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  • Melissa Lareau

N P K: What is it and why should you care?

Updated: Feb 7, 2018




If you are new to gardening, you may have encountered the letters N P K along with numbers on the packaging of chemical and/or organic fertilizers. Have you ever wondered what is N P K and why should I care? Great question!


These elements are considered the “most important” nutrients to support plant life by current industry standards. They have been singled out as they each serve a vital role in the health and growth of the plant.


N P K stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (Potash)

  • N Nitrogen

Nitrogen’s primarily helps the plant make green leaves, which is critical for its ability to photosynthesize. This is also connected to its ability to store and use stored energy.

  • P Phosphorus

Phosphorus’s main function is to help with roots and blooms. Due to its effect on root and flower production, the presence of this nutrient also directly affects the structural strength and seed production of the plant.

  • K Potassium aka Potash

Considered the second most important nutrient after Nitrogen because it affects the overall health of the plant. It is crucial to the growth and reproduction of the plant.


Can you imagine limiting yourself to only three nutrients because they are good for you?

Dating back to the 1800’s, this theory does not account for the benefits and necessity of dozens of other nutrients essential to plant health such as sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, magnesium, copper, cobalt, sodium, boron and zinc etc. This oversimplification of the plants’ needs also does not include an awareness of the power of beneficial microorganisms which help plants to flourish and to fight off pests and diseases.


My recommendation as a professional gardener and landscaper is to use compost and other natural methods to support micro organism life and also natural methods will automatically contain a wide variety of nutrients and organic material which will break down over time and feed the soil and then plants.


The majority of chemical fertilizers on the market focus only on these three nutrients and represent an outdated understanding of soil and plants. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of micro-organisms, chemical fertilizers please read my other blog posts “The inside scoop on the soil beneath your feet” and “Chemical fertilizers are BAAAAD for your garden”.

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