We all love seeing our gardens flourish. We water carefully, maintain the pH of the soil and keep our plants constantly fertilized so they can start reaching for the sky. But in two weeks time when your plants are looking weak and unhealthy the troubleshooting process begins. A good place to start is with your fertilizer; it is possible to over-fertilize and, essentially, overdose your plants causing them to become sick or even die. Plants must maintain a delicate balance of nutrients in order to thrive so that extra fertilizer that you were hoping would give you prize-winning zucchinis could be sabotaging your efforts.
There are a few key things to remember when fertilizing that will help you avoid damaging your garden. First, read the instructions. Not only the ones on the fertilizer itself but also on your packet of seeds, the container the plant came in or the tag. Some plants require a monthly feeding and others might recommend feeding more often. For instance, liquid fertilizers reach the roots more quickly and offer a timelier boost to your plants but also must be reapplied more frequently. Also, be certain you aren’t just picking up any old fertilizer for your garden. Some fertilizers are meant to be for your lawn and are specifically designed with a proper balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fertilizers that are meant to assist blooming plants often have slightly lower nitrogen content and will be higher in phosphorus and potassium. Time-release fertilizers are often tailor made for vegetables, tomatoes and roses. These bead-shaped fertilizers will release nutrients over time when it rains or you water. The time-release feature also helps give you sustained blooms and production so you’ll have a longer, healthier season.
Secondly, there are organic options that provide the gentle boost of nutrients your plants may need. Compost or other organic materials, like manure, can improve soil texture, nutrient balance and introduce organic organisms that naturally contribute to replenishing the soil. Another bonus of this sort of fertilizer is that you’re less likely to burn your plant or the delicate surface roots and the benefits go well beyond just providing nutrients; there can be enzymes and hormones in compost or manure that also contribute to the health of your plant. If you have the time and materials to start your own compost pile I highly recommend it. You’ll reduce your kitchen waste (just throw your non-protein scraps in the pile) and improve your garden. If you would like to use manure, but don’t have deer or rabbit droppings to collect nearby, look up a local horse stable and give them a call. Most barns are happy to have a local gardener haul away their waste.
Finally, no matter what kind of fertilizer you’ve decided to use you must be careful with the application. Most fertilizers prefer to be applied to dry soil and then watered thoroughly into the ground. Also, do not just toss your fertilizer all over the garden covering your soil and plants alike. You do not want to get fertilizer on the leaves or stem of your plants and risk burning them. It is best to make sure you have an even application of fertilizer with no high density spots. Applying fertilizer in a concentrated area could, again, burn your plants or over-feed the plant it is concentrated around.
Fertilizing properly can be one of the simplest and most beneficial things you do for your garden. Remember that above all else, read the directions and be patient. Picking and applying the right fertilizer isn’t going to provide fabulous vegetables immediately. Overtime though you’ll have the most, the biggest and the brightest vegetables!
About the Author
Emily Hall is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club and a gardening enthusiast who lives with her husband in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This season in her 8’x10’ raised bed she is growing red bell peppers, yellow sweet peppers, roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red leaf lettuce, green onions, cilantro and three types of basil; all of which were grown from organic seeds.