What is phosphorus fertilizer? (with photos)

Phosphate fertilizer in its liquid form can be easily applied to fields and crops.

All plants need phosphorus to grow. The phosphorus fertilizer can be any fertilizer that contains phosphorus or a fertilizer that has an especially high phosphorus content. Many US cities have banned or limited the use of high-phosphorus fertilizers on home lawns and gardens because their overuse causes serious damage to lakes and rivers.

Most prepared synthetic fertilizers sold in garden stores are made up of a mixture of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The amount of each element in NPK fertilizers is indicated by numbers that refer to the percentages of the elements contained in the mixture by weight, so an NPK 4-3-3 fertilizer has 4% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus and 3% potassium. Different balances of elements are required by different plants, so NPK fertilizers are often marketed with labels such as grass fertilizer, tomato fertilizer or rhododendron fertilizer. It’s actually the balance of nutrients that’s important, not the specific type of plant written on the bag.

Phosphorus is one of the three main nutrients found in fertilizer mixes.

Synthetic phosphorus fertilizer is usually made by chemically processing rock phosphate from the soil. Organic phosphorus fertilizer can be found in composted animal manure or in shredded animal remains left over from food production and usually sold as bone meal. Unprocessed rock phosphate is also used as an organic fertilizer, but it can take several years to break down enough for plants to be able to access nutrients.

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Phosphorus fertilizer can be a threat to water quality because it enters waterways through culverts.

Phosphorus is essential for plant growth because it plays a role in photosynthesis, cell division, and the plant’s ability to use sugars and starches. Depending on soil conditions such as pH, temperature and other available nutrients, plants can make use of synthetic or organic phosphorus to varying degrees. Apparent phosphorus deficiencies, such as leaf redness, can indicate other deficiencies that are preventing the plant from using phosphorus. Often there is adequate phosphorus in the soil, but plants cannot use it because the pH of the soil is too high or the nitrogen content is too low.

Many gardeners believe that phosphorus makes the roots grow. This is true to some extent, but without other nutrients, large doses of high-phosphorus fertilizer do not have a significant effect on the roots. Most of the phosphorus used in the home ends up being leached out of the soil by rain and irrigation before plants can use it. Excessive use of phosphorus fertilizers is a serious threat to water quality because it enters waterways through culverts. Phosphorus can cause blue-green algae and other unwanted aquatic plants to bloom that deplete the water’s oxygen and compete with other wildlife.

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