Plant Food vs Plant Fertilizer: Unearthing the Differences

If you want to help your plants grow big and strong, you’ll need to feed them well. But many gardeners are a little confused by terms like plant food and plant fertilizer. They sound similar, but is plant food and fertilizer the same thing?

Is Plant Food and Plant Fertilizer the Same Thing?

The one question that many newbie gardeners have asked: Is plant food and plant fertilizer the same thing? Simply put, yes. Fertilizer is the technical, or horticulturally correct, term. While plants technically make their own “food” via photosynthesis, plant food is more commonly used on consumer garden products.

Nutrient Composition

Whether plant food or plant fertilizer, these products vary in the amounts and types of nutrients they contain. They may also contain non-nutrient ingredients.

All plants require 16 elements for growth and development. Plants receive Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen from water and the air. The remaining 13 elements must come from the soil or through the application of fertilizers.

Macronutrients are essential for plant growth and development and required by plants in the largest quantities. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are known as primary macronutrients and are the most abundant in plant tissue. The secondary macronutrients, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur, are needed in smaller amounts.

Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Copper, Molybdenum, and Chlorine are known as micronutrients. They play important roles in plant growth and development but are only required in trace amounts.

Enhancing Growth

Fertilizers help enhance plant growth by adding some or all of these essential nutrients to the soil. By replenishing the nutrients in the soil, plants are able to grow quicker and stronger, and in the case of fruits and vegetables, produce higher yields. It’s also important to note that excessive use of fertilizer or plant food, whether at higher rates or more frequent application than indicated on the package directions, can have adverse effects. Be sure to read the recommendations on the product label before use.

Outcompeting Weeds

Weeds are another of the many menaces that can interfere with plant growth. They can prosper in certain areas and spread quickly. Fortunately, fertilizers can be very helpful in the battle against weeds.

Plant food helps to promote healthy growth of plants. They help plants develop deeper, stronger root systems that can better access water, deeper in the soil. As the plants grow stronger and bigger, there's far less space, sunlight, water, and nutrients available for weeds to interfere.

Timing can also be key when using plant food against weeds. By timing the application just right, it’s possible to give plants the advantage and help them soak up the nutrients they need before any weeds can start to spread.

Liquid vs Granular

Plant food can be either granular or liquid. Liquid plant food like Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food can be used to feed all types of in-ground or container flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, and houseplants. It’s easy to apply with the Miracle-Gro® Garden Feeder that features three unique spray patterns so that you can work with the contours of your yard or garden perfectly.


Granular plant foods are formulated to contain both fast-acting and slow-acting nutrients allowing them to feed over a longer period of time so they don't need to be applied as often. Miracle-Gro® Shake' N Feed All Purpose Plant Food is a granular plant food that feeds your plants for up to 3 months.

Interpreting Product Labels

When shopping for plant care products, it's always important to pay close attention to the labels. Whether it's marketed as "plant food" or "plant fertilizer," always check the read the label so you know exactly what you're getting and how to use it.