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Published Sep. 24, 2021

Whether you grow plants in a hydroponic setup, the yard, in isolated pots, or even if you are only concerned about the state of your lawn, plant food is an ideal solution to help your flowers, vegetables, grass, and other plants thrive. Plant food is a more attractive label that some manufacturers give to fertilizers. It’s made up of the essential nutrients that plants need to grow and be fruitful, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and more. 

The best plant food can help facilitate photosynthesis, aid in the creation of proteins, and ward off pests so that even if the plant is trying to grow in nutrient-deficient soil, plant food can help it get the nutrients it needs to thrive. Consider these top options to bring your garden to life.

How We Picked the Best Plant Foods

Methodology

Keeping the lawn and garden maintained has been a yearly project that’s both challenging and rewarding. This experience and extensive product research was used as the basis for selecting the best plant food products from 40 different options. Careful consideration was given to the nutrient content of each solution, the application method, and the longevity of the plant food, as well as any favorable effects that the plant food may have outside of the usual benefits, like weed prevention. 

The location and growing method were also noted during this selection in order to identify plant foods that were specifically engineered for hydroponic setups, isolated indoor plants, lawns, or vegetable gardens. Preference was given to products that were easy to use, contained sufficient nutrients, and that would last for a long period of time before needing to be reapplied.

The Best Plant Foods: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Miracle-Gro 1000283, 3-Pound Fertilizer

Vigorous Growth Formula

Enhance flower, vegetable, shrub, tree, and even houseplant growth with this plant food formula. Miracle-Gro

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Why It Made the Cut: Made to rapidly increase the growth and yield of a variety of different plants, this plant food formula starts to work instantly.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.
  • Quantity: Various quantities available from 0.5 pounds to 10 pounds.
  • Longevity: One to two weeks

Pros:

  • Easy-to-use, water-soluble formula
  • Various sizes available
  • 1.5 pounds feeds about 600 square feet
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Molybdenum in the formula

Miracle-Gro Plant Food is a water-soluble option that is suitable for both indoor and outdoor plants, though it isn’t suggested for hydroponic setups. This option is available in multiple quantities ranging from just 0.5 pounds to 10 pounds, but it should be noted that 1.5 pounds of this plant food can be mixed with and applied to about 600 square feet of garden. To use it, just mix it with water in a water can or use Miracle-Gro’s Garden Feeder and attach it to the hose to automatically mix with the water as it’s being sprayed. 

Be sure to thoroughly soak the base of each plant for optimal results and make sure to reapply the plant food every one to two weeks, as needed. The formula includes nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. However, it should be noted that because this plant food contains molybdenum, it isn’t suitable to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, or other products that may be fed to ruminant animals, like cows or goats. 

Best Value: Osmocote 274150 Smart-Release

Wallet-Friendly

Keep the garden looking great all season with this slow-release plant food formula by Osmocote. Osmocote

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Why It Made the Cut: Users can simply apply at the base of the target plants and allow up to six months to pass before reapplication.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.
  • Quantity: One pound, two pounds, or eight pounds.
  • Longevity: Up to six months

Pros:

  • Slow-release formula remains effective for up to six months
  • Suitable for a wide range of vegetation
  • Inexpensive
  • Biodegradable linseed oil resin shells aren’t harmful to the environment

Cons:

  • Molybdenum in the formula
  • Shells remain in the soil for well over six months

This slow-release Osmocote Plant Food is the ideal option for users that don’t want to have to treat their garden on a regular basis. It contains linseed oil resin shells, known as prills, which can take up to six months to release the nutrients into the soil. This means that users don’t need to worry about reapplication for about six months, though the shells take longer to break down. If the sight of these biodegradable shells in the soil isn’t appealing, then this plant food may not be the best option. 

Users can apply the plant food to indoor or outdoor plants, including flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees, and shrubs. It’s an inexpensive option that is made up of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. This product is available in one-pound, two-pound, and eight-pound sizes, but users should be aware that any vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, or other products that are grown with this plant food should not be fed to ruminant animals. This is because the molybdenum in the plant food can be harmful to these animals due to their unique digestive process.

Best Organic: Joyful Dirt All-Purpose Organic Plant Food

Organic Ingredients Only

Naturally encourage the growth of the yard and garden with this organic plant food. Joyful Dirt

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Why It Made the Cut: With Joyful Dirt, users don’t need to worry about kids and pets eating or otherwise absorbing potentially harmful ingredients.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and mycorrhizae.
  • Quantity: Three ounces.
  • Longevity: Up to one month

Pros:

  • Suitable for a wide range of vegetation
  • Organic ingredients are safe for kids and pets
  • Easy to use by pouring or mixing

Cons:

  • Basic plant food formula with a small variety of nutrients

The Joyful Dirt Organic Plant Food is a suitable choice for users that don’t want to have to keep a close eye on kids and pets when they are playing outdoors. It contains the primary essential nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as mycorrhizae, which is derived from the roots of fungi. Mycorrhizae is an organic nutrient that works to increase the water absorption of the plant’s roots. This completely organic plant food product doesn’t include toxic ingredients to kids or pets, and it even comes in a recyclable container. 

The basic formula isn’t ideal for precisely controlling the growth of the plants, but it’s good enough to add essential nutrients to a wide range of vegetation, increasing the vitality and yield of the treated plants. To apply the plant food, just open the top of the three-ounce bottle and shake it out evenly across the target soil. Alternately, mix the plant food with water, then apply the nutrient mixture to the yard or garden.

Best Weed Prevention: Preen 2164116 Plant Food Garden Weed Preventer

Protect And Revitalize

Don’t just settle for healthy plant growth, when this Preen plant food can also help to stop weeds. Preen

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Why It Made the Cut: Easy-to-use granular formula provides plants with the three primary essential nutrients and prevents weed growth.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and chlorine.
  • Quantity: 5.625 pounds.
  • Longevity: Up to three months

Pros:

  • Enhances plant growth while preventing weeds
  • Blocks weeds for up to three months
  • Suitable for a wide variety of plants
  • Built-in flip-top applicator cap

Cons:

  • Missing several important micronutrients

Preen Plant Food and Weed Preventer is a good solution to keep an outdoor garden in check. It contains the three primary essential nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as sulfur and chlorine, though the purpose of the chlorine is to prevent nearby weed growth by forming an invisible barrier on the surface of the soil. Use the built-in flip-top applicator cap to make application easy. The cap is intentionally designed to split the plant food as it’s poured, so that it can be evenly distributed over a broad area in a short period of time.

This product can be used on a wide variety of plants, including over 200 types of flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees. The container comes with 5.626 pounds of plant food and only needs to be reapplied about once every three months. However, it should be noted that this formula is lacking several key micronutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, and iron, so it may not be as effective for rapid plant growth as competitors. In addition, one of its main ingredients, trifluralin, can also be toxic for fish, so it’s not a good option if you live near waterways.

Best Hose Attachment: Miracle-Gro Garden Feeder

Quick, Effective Application

Rapidly water the entire garden or lawn with this innovative hose attachment plant food applicator. Miracle-Gro

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Why It Made the Cut: The effective formula and convenient method of application set this plant food to stand out from competitors.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.
  • Quantity: One pound
  • Longevity: One to two weeks

Pros:

  • Convenient hose attachment application
  • Just 15 minutes to feed 500 square feet of garden
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Molybdenum in the formula
  • Short reapplication period

The Miracle-Gro Garden Feeder is an excellent plant food for both the lawn and the garden with a formula that includes nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. While the plants treated with this product should not be fed to ruminant animals, like cows or goats, due to the presence of molybdenum, it is safe for growing vegetables, fruits, and other edible plants for non-ruminant species, like humans.  

The built-in hose attachment allows users to rapidly feed up to 500 square feet of garden or lawn in just 15 minutes by adding the water-soluble plant food to the garden feeder cup, connecting the hose, and spraying the target area. Note that this product only comes with about one pound of plant food and it must be reapplied every one to two weeks for continued growth. It’s a quick, affordable method to ensure that plants receive sufficient nutrients, improving the growth and yield of the entire garden.  

Best for Hydroponics: General Hydroponics MaxiGro Plant Food

Water Soluble For Hydroponics

Designed for hydroponics setups, this plant food can also be used for both indoor and outdoor soil-based gardens. General Hydroponics

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Why It Made the Cut: This water-soluble plant food is easy to mix and it is specifically formulated to aid in seedling and cutting growth.

Specs:

  • Primary nutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, and molybdenum.
  • Quantity: 2.2 pounds
  • Longevity: Use as needed (1 to 2 teaspoons per gallon of water)

Pros:

  • Simple formula is easy to mix and apply
  • Encourages seedling and cutting growth
  • Suitable for both hydroponic and soil-based grows

Cons:

  • Molybdenum in the formula 
  • No stated longevity, so users must determine when to reapply

If you’re growing plants without soil, General Hydroponics MaxiGro Plant Food comes with 2.2 pounds that can be mixed to make between 100 to 200 gallons of nutrient solution. It’s a completely water-soluble formula, helping to reduce the chance of nutrient lock-out due to accumulated salt deposits on the roots of the plants. While this plant food is intended for use with hydroponics setups, it can also be used in an outdoor garden or even with indoor potted plants. It’s especially useful for enhancing the growth of seedlings and cuttings, making it ideal for newly planted flowers, vegetables, and other plants.

This plant food contains many different primary nutrients and micronutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, and molybdenum. Though, as with other plant food formulas that contain molybdenum, it should not be used on vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, or other products that will be fed to ruminant animals, like cows or goats. Also, keep in mind that this plant food does not give a specific time period between reapplication, so users will need to determine when to reapply based on the health of the plants.

Things to Consider Before Buying Plant Food

Make sure that your plants get the nutrients they need by taking the time to learn about key product factors, like the primary nutrients in plant food, the type of plants you are growing, the longevity of the plant food treatment, as well as the application method.

Type of Plants

Before choosing a plant food for the garden, yard, potted plants, or a hydroponic setup, it’s necessary to decide on the type of plant or plants that you want to grow. Different plants have very different nutrient requirements, so while there are basic fertilizers that can help almost any plant, these more universal products don’t have the precision required to treat the specific needs of various plants. This is especially true for potted plants and hydroponic setups because the plants are essentially grown in isolation, whereas plants that are in the garden can draw on the naturally occurring nutrients in the soil to help fill any nutrient deficiencies. 

Basic levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are all good for the plant, but may not be sufficient for plants to truly thrive. Common plants that are grown at home include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, bell peppers, various herbs, roses, azaleas, ivy, aloe vera, and many more. To get the best outcome, take some time to do additional research on the specific plants you are growing and the nutrients they need to develop properly.

Nutrients

The best plant food contains a mixture of essential nutrients that are intended to help the plant grow through the facilitation of photosynthesis, cell wall strengthening, the creation of chlorophyll, helping to regulate carbon dioxide intake, and more. The most common nutrients in plant food are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

  • Nitrogen is one of the three primary nutrients that make up the majority of plant foods and fertilizers. It is the first part of the NPK ratio and is vital for healthy stalk and leaf growth because it’s an important component in the creation of chlorophyll.
  • Phosphorus is another of the three primary nutrients in plant foods and fertilizer. It’s indicated by the ‘P’ in NPK. Phosphorus is an impressive nutrient that helps to synthesize proteins and ward off pests, allowing the plant to build healthy roots, buds, and flowers.
  • Potassium is the third and final part of the NPK ratio. It’s primarily responsible for facilitating and improving photosynthesis by regulating the carbon dioxide intake of the plants. Without carbon dioxide, photosynthesis cannot occur. 
  • Calcium is a key component to help the plant build strong, healthy cell walls and neutralize cell acids, allowing for betting water and nutrient absorption.
  • Magnesium boosts phosphorus intake, helps to create chlorophyll, and enhances photosynthesis.

Longevity

The longevity of a plant food refers to the duration that the plant food remains effective in the soil. This is typically based on the amount of essential nutrients in the plant food and the time that it would take for these nutrients to be absorbed by the plants. Just keep in mind that if the plant food is used to treat a larger area than indicated by the manufacturer’s directions, then it may not last as long as initially stated. Alternatively, if the plant food is used for a smaller area, then you may be able to store the extra fertilizer until it needs to be reapplied.

Application Method

Another decision to make when selecting the best plant food for your garden or potted plants is the application method. Choose between a concentrated liquid solution, a granular formula, or plant food that is applied with a garden hose attachment.

  • Liquid plant food is usually easier to precisely measure and mix before adding to the plants, so it’s ideal for potted plants and hydroponic setups. However, liquid plant food is more difficult to apply evenly to a large area, so granular plant food is a better option for an entire garden.
  • Granular plant food can be stored safely for a longer period than liquid plant food and it may cost less for shipping because liquids tend to be heavier. This type of plant food is easy to spread, but precise measurements will need to be weighed. Also, make sure that the plant food is 100 percent soluble if it will be used in a hydroponics system to help prevent nutrient lockout.
  • Hose attachments are ideal for applying plant food to the entire yard or garden. The plant food attaches directly to the hose and the pressure from the hose mixes with the concentrated plant food, spraying the mixture out onto the grass or into the garden. This method is convenient for treating large areas, but it’s ineffective for precisely controlling the amount of nutrients each plant should receive.

FAQs

Q: Do my plants need plant food?

Whether or not your plants need plant food is entirely dependent on the quality of the soil. Plants require essential nutrients to grow, just like any other living creature, so if the soil is lacking in one or more of these essential nutrients, then the plants may not grow properly or may produce a low volume of flowers, fruits, or vegetables. In this case, the plants would benefit greatly from the addition of plant food.

Q: What is plant food?

The term plant food can be used to describe the naturally occurring sustenance that a plant takes in, including water, sunlight, and essential nutrients, but it is also regularly used to refer to a type of fertilizer that is manufactured for use in nutrient-deficient soil.

Q: Is plant food the same as fertilizer?

Fertilizer is a mixture of essential nutrients intended to improve the quality of the soil and provide the plants with the necessary minerals and other nutrients it needs to thrive. Plant food is simply an attractive name that some companies give to fertilizers.

However, the term plant food can also be used to refer to the naturally occurring substances that the plant requires to create energy. This includes water, sunlight, minerals, and other essential nutrients. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that a bag of fertilizer labeled as plant food somehow contains sunlight and the two meanings of plant food should remain fairly obvious to differentiate.

Final Thoughts

Having a garden and growing your own fruits and vegetables can be very fulfilling. But plants can be finicky and they need proper nutrients to thrive. Get rapid plant growth and an impressive yield from your vegetable, fruits, or herbs with the Miracle-Gro Plant Food, or rely on a slower method to gradually enhance the nutrient content of the soil with the slow-release Osmocote Plant Food. Then sit back and enjoy the bounty of your harvest.

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