What are heavy feeders, medium feeders, & light feeders?


I love plants. I have a BSc. in Turf and Landscape Horticulture, an MSc. in Crop Production, and a Ph.D. in Crop Science, as well as over 20 years of experience in landscaping, gardening, horticulture, and agriculture. The central focus throughout my career, has been on caring for the soil, as healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and plants are integral to the sustainability of life.

Favourite vegetables: basil, garlic, onions and leeks
Favourite fruits: ripe figs, blueberries and dates

Understanding the nutrient requirements of your plants helps greatly in caring for them. It is also important when it comes to planning your garden layout and in seasonal crop rotation.

Garden with lettuce and onions
Plan your garden layout and your fertilising schedule ahead of time based on the nutrient requirements of your crops [Photo: Marbury/ Shutterstock.com]

It is important to distinguish between heavy feeders, medium feeders, and light feeders in your garden. Plants have different nutrient requirements and are split into these three groups. Proper planning of your garden space, companion planting, as well as developing crop rotation plans all hinge on the nutrient requirements of the crops you intend to grow. Read on to learn about the differences between the groups and get examples of each feeder group of plants.

Garden separated into sections for crop rotation
Always consider the nutrient requirements of your crops when developing a crop rotation schedule [Photo: Josef Hanus/Shutterstock.com]

Note: plants do not neatly fit into these three categories. Some can tolerate lower nutrient levels, but will produce more when properly fed. Others, like some herbs, can tolerate higher levels, but their characteristics change in unwanted ways. Examples include changes in taste, decreased fruit quality and an increased leaf and shoot growth with a decrease in fruit yield.

What plants are heavy feeders?

In general, plants that grow fast and produce lots of leaves and abundant yields will be heavy feeders. Their fast, explosive growth consumes a lot of nutrients. These plants are hungry for nutrients and utilise over 25g/m2 of nitrogen per growing season. Even in fresh, nutrient-rich soil, it may be necessary to fertilise and supplement the nutrient supply while the crop is developing. These types of crops require proper soil preparation with a good supply of nitrogen and potassium, the building blocks of healthy plant tissue. Our Plantura Tomato Food is the perfect fertiliser for heavy feeders as it contains appropriate levels of nutrients. Being a granular fertiliser, it releases its nutrients slowly, supplying the plants with what they need as they grow and develop. If your soil isn’t as rich, or even if it is, you may need to fertilise during the growing season to avoid deficiencies. As the plants develop, using a liquid fertiliser like our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food is recommended as a fast-acting solution to keep your plants growing strong and developing properly. Our fertiliser is well-balanced and supports a healthy soil ecosystem.

Liquid Tomato Food, 800ml
Liquid Tomato Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables
  • Liquid fertiliser for healthy plant growth & an abundant harvest
  • Quick & easy application - child & pet friendly

Examples of heavy feeders:


  • Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii)
  • Dahlia (Dahlia spp.)
  • Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)
  • Peony (Paeonia spp.)
  • Poppy (Papaver spp.)
  • Rose (Rosa spp.)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annus)


  • Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus)
  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Aubergine (Solanum melongena)
  • Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)
  • Brussel sprouts (Brassica oleracea)
  • Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)
  • Capsicum and chillies (Capsicum annum)
  • Celery (Apium graveolens)
  • Corn (Zea mays)
  • Cucumber (Cucumissativus)
  • Leek (Allium porrum)
  • Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
  • Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo)
  • Rhubarb (Rheum x hybridum)
  • Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
  • Courgettes (Cucurbita pepo)


  • Melon (Cucumis melo)
  • Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)


  • Basil (Ocimumbasilicum)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)

Someone harvesting potatoes
Nightshades like potatoes are very heavy feeders, consuming large amounts of nutrients throughout the growing season [Photo: benjamas11/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: when planning your planting and crop rotation schedules, keep in mind that growing a crop of legumes before planting heavy feeders can help out your soil greatly. Legumes fix nitrogen from the air and deposit it in specialised nodules on their roots. If you leave the root systems in the soil after harvesting, the roots will decompose, releasing this nitrogen into your soil. This will supply some of the nitrogen required while growing a heavy feeder crop. The most effective method of restoring nitrogen to your soil is through a legume cover crop like vetch (Vicia spp.) or red clover (Trifolium pratense). That being said, a crop of peas (Pisum sativum) or beans (Phaseolus spp.) will also add some nitrogen to the soil even after harvesting the fruit.

What plants are medium feeders?

Medium feeders, as the name suggests, require lower amounts of nutrients throughout the growing season than heavy feeders. These plants can utilise between 10 to 25g/m2 of nitrogen per growing season. In a crop rotation schedule, this group of plants usually follows heavy feeders. It is a good idea to amend your soil before planting with a long-lasting organic fertiliser. When fertilising medium feeder plants, a smaller amount of fertiliser is required compared to what is needed by heavy feeders. Again, our Plantura Tomato Food is perfect as it has an ample supply of the nutrients required for healthy plant growth in a slow-release form that can last up to 3 months.

Tomato Food, 1.5kg
Tomato Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, cucumber & more
  • For healthy plants & an abundant tomato harvest
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

The following table has examples of medium feeders:


  • Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)
  • Day lily (Hemerocallis spp.)
  • Salvia (Salvia spp.)
  • Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica)


  • Arugula (Eruca vesicaria)
  • Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
  • Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)
  • Chicory (Chichorium intybus var. foliosum)
  • Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis)
  • Beetroot (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea)
  • Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes)
  • Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
  • Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
  • Onion (Allium cepa)
  • Pak choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis)
  • Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
  • Radish (Raphanus sativus)
  • Salsify (Scorzonerahispanica)
  • Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Spring onion (Allium spp.)
  • Swede (Brassica napus)


  • Apple (Malus domestica)
  • Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
  • Currant (Ribes spp.)
  • Grape (Vitis vinifera)
  • Pear (Pyrus spp.)
  • Peach (Prunus persica)
  • Plum (Prunus domestica)
  • Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)


  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Strawberries on a plant in a garden
Strawberry plants are medium feeders [Photo: sanddebeautheil/ Shutterstock.com]

What plants are light feeders?

Light feeders are plants that use less than 10g/m2 of nitrogen per growing season. These plants can usually thrive in poor soils with low levels of nutrients. The leguminous vegetables belonging to the family Fabaceae are all nitrogen fixers, so they usually increase the nitrogen levels in the soil throughout the growing season. Plants that are light feeders are usually last in the crop rotation cycle.

Here are some examples of light feeders:


  • Catmint (Nepeta cataria)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
  • Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
  • False indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • Sedum (Sedum spp.)
  • Yarrow (Achillea spp.)


  • Beans (Phaseolus spp.)
  • Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum)
  • Endive (Cichorium endivia)
  • Peas (Pisumsativum)
  • Garden cress (Lepidium sativum)
  • Good-King-Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus)
  • Lambs’ lettuce (Valerianella locusta)
  • Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris)
  • Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliata)
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)


  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Mint (Mentha sp.)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Savory (Satureja hortensis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Bean plants with beans on them
Beans and other legumes are not only a great source of protein, but the plants also feed the soil as they fix nitrogen from the air [Photo: Mathia Coco/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: in order to properly fertilise your garden, you need to know the levels of available nutrients in your soil. Testing your soil after a growing season is the most efficient way to see what is left in your soil. It also helps to estimate what your plants will need for the coming growing season. There are a variety of soil tests available at consumer outlets and some universities and government extension agencies will also run soil tests at nominal fees.

Want to learn how to develop your own crop rotation plan? Visit our detailed article on crop rotation for all you need to know and get tips on developing a plan for your garden or allotment.

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