Fertilizer is a powerful mixture of nutrients that helps plants thrive and keeps them vigorous and productive. If you want to get the highest yields and best quality vegetables from your garden, fertilizing is a must. Careful fertilizing of your garden helps you replenish the lost nutrients and ensures that your vegetables are well-fed and have the food they need to grow. However, if not applied correctly they may not only be harmful to the plants but to the environment as well.
Plants need to be fertilized to flourish because most soil contains an insufficient amount of the nutrients plants need for optimum growth. When the soil doesn’t get fertilizer, the nutrients in the soil are not properly replenished. This results in poor quality and texture of the soil. Even if you are blessed with great garden soil, as your vegetables grow, they absorb the nutrients leaving the crop less fertile. To grow a healthy veggie garden, you need to make sure that it has healthy soil.
If you are new to gardening and are wondering how to properly fertilize your garden and keep it healthy, productive and beautiful, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of how and when to use fertilizer in your vegetable garden to get the best results.
What is Fertilizer?
Fertilizers are nutritional supplements that are added to the soil to improve the plant’s health, growth, and productivity. They contain all the key nutrients needed by plants. These three nutrients are listed below.
The nutritional deficiency in plants can be judged from a variety of symptoms. From yellow leaves and reduced flowering to weak stems and blossom end-rot. Plants can deplete nutrients that should be replaced. Fertilizer restores these missing nutrients so the soil can retain more water. This also increases fertility and crop yield. However, the long-term use of fertilizers can disturb the pH of the soil and reduce microbial activity.
The Two Main Fertilizer Types
There are two main variants of fertilizer. These are organic and synthetic. Both of these have their own use and place in the garden when it comes to providing nutrients for the plants.
When fertilizer is naturally-derived and created from animals and plants, it is an organic fertilizer. These types of fertilizers provide carbonic compounds to the soil which are needed for proper growth of plants. They release the nutrients slowly as the microorganisms in the soil break down so you don’t need to apply them as often. Organic fertilizer is superior because plants fully absorb the nutrition provided. They also don’t pollute waterways like many water-soluble and synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are mostly obtained from livestock manure and wastes such from municipal, industrial and agriculture sources.
Synthetic or processed fertilizers are derived from natural ingredients like sodium chloride, phosphate rock and potassium chloride. Most synthetic fertilizers are water-soluble and quick-release products to ensure nutrients are delivered to the plants quickly. Some synthetic fertilizers are coated with various time-release materials to slow down fertilization. Synthetic fibers are great to improve the long-term fertility of your garden’s soil.
What are the Advantages of Fertilizers?
Here are some advantages of fertilizers you must know:
- They are great for increasing the crop yield, improving the poor-quality land and keeping the soil healthy for future harvests.
- Micronutrient fertilizers enrich crops with vital nutrients such as zinc, which is really important for human health, especially children.
- Fertilizers dissolve in water and therefore are easily soaked up by plants which helps provide rapid results.
- Manure is great for improving the texture of the soil, as it recycles nitrogen and introduces bacteria to the soil, which is essential for healthy plant growth.
- Fertilizers improve the amount of water that plants can hold and also cause roots to grow deeper.
- The potassium in fertilizer causes the stalks and straws of plants to grow stronger. Nitrogen causes extra growth of the plants themselves and helps increase the color of the plants.
- Fertilizers increase the plant’s resistance towards pests, thus producing healthier plants.
Choosing the Best Product for My Vegetable Garden?
Plants are primarily composed of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen, which are absorbed from the air and water. A fertile vegetable garden must have 14 additional micro and macronutrients to improve soil texture and grow healthy vegetables. To determine which nutrients your plants are lacking, look for the deficiency symptoms and apply the fertilizer accordingly. In most cases, a general 5-5-5 fertilizer will give your plants everything they need. Some vegetables may need additional potassium while leafy greens only need nitrogen.
Testing your soil will help you learn which additional nutrients are needed for your specific plants. While choosing inorganic fertilizer for vegetable gardens, always go for ones with controlled release. On the packaging, you’ll notice numbers that are referred to as the NPK ratio and tells you what proportion of each micronutrient the fertilizer contains. The first number shows nitrogen percentage, the second shows phosphorus percentage and the last number shows the percentage of potassium in the fertilizer. To build the long-term fertility of your vegetable garden and ensure active growth, use granular organic fertilizers supplemented with water-soluble fertilizer.
Best Time to Fertilize Your Vegetable Garden
Regular fertilizing keeps your plants healthy and prevents diseases. The ideal time to fertilize your vegetable garden is in the spring. This would be before you plant annual flowers or vegetables. If the plants are turning yellow or showing hindrance in growth, fertilizer may help to deal with the problem. Vegetables growing in porous and well-drained soil need fertilizer more frequently. An application of balanced fertilizer every 2-3 weeks after planting vegetables is typically enough. If your garden soil is mostly sand, the plants may need one or two additional applications every 3-4 weeks. Remember that too much fertilizer is harmful to the plants and can burn them. It is extremely important to remember which nutrients plants need for proper growth, and when to apply said nutrients.
Potatoes and Tomatoes usually need extra nitrogen in the middle of their growing season. Switch to low-nitrogen fertilizer once the tomatoes start producing flowers as too much nitrogen can affect fruit production.
For leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce and kale, the NPK fertilizer of 20-10-10 is helpful in the early growth stages. Too much nitrogen, however, can lead to stunted plant growth.
For longer season crops like corn and squash, quick growth occurs in the middle of summer. So place a smaller amount of fertilizer at during seeding and then increase the amount at the beginning of summer.