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Natural or artificial substance containing the chemical elements that improve growth and productiveness of plants. Fertilizers enhance the natural fertility of the soil or replace the chemical elements taken from the soil by previous crops. The use of manure and composts as fertilizers is probably almost as old as agriculture. Modern chemical fertilizers include one or more of the three elements most important in plant nutrition: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Of secondary importance are the elements sulfur, magnesium, and calcium.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on fertilizer, visit Britannica.com.