As garden vegetables grow, they strip nutrients from the soil. Adding fertilizer gives your vegetables what they need to thrive.
Choosing the right type of fertilizer depends on the soil and the plants you’re growing. Some plants, such as watermelons and squash, are heavy feeders and require more fertilizer. Even if you have enriched garden soil with extra amounts of compost and composted manure, you may still need to fertilize. A soil test will give you all the information you need to figure out what kind of fertilizer to use. (See more on soil testing.) Your Garden Center associate is able to guide you based on your specific needs.
Always read product labels for usage directions, wear gloves and water plants before feeding to avoid burning the plant.
Choose a Vegetable Fertilizer:
Fertilizers are generally represented with numbers, such as 10-10-10 or 5-10-5. These numbers denote the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.
- General or “complete” fertilizers are meant to meet most plants’ requirements throughout the season because they contain each type of nutrient. An example of a complete or general fertilizer would be a 5-10-5 fertilizer which contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate, and 5 percent potash.
- Special-purpose fertilizers are formulated for certain plants or garden situations. Fertilizers designed for use on specific plants, such as tomatoes, feature ratios to stimulate the best performance for the particular plant.
Now that you understand the numbers, choose between organic and chemical fertilizers.
- Most organic fertilizers are made up of living organisms, like blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and fish emulsion. Organic fertilizers are slower at releasing nutrients, can improve soil structure, and enrich the soil with nutrients.
- Chemical or synthetic fertilizers are fast acting, which makes them a good choice for plants in severe distress. They are often less expensive, and are derived from chemical sources.
How to Apply Slow-Release Fertilizer:
Slow-release or timed release fertilizers have a semi-permeable resin coating that releases small amounts of nutrients each time you water. These vegetable fertilizers feed plants for about 60 days and are often mixed with potting mixes.
- You can buy a slow-release fertilizer and till into the soil before you plant.
- Or, sprinkle in the garden bed at planting time or after planting, according to label directions.
How to Apply Liquid Fertilizer:
Feeding plants weekly or every 2 weeks with liquid fertilizer is an easy way to deliver nutrients. Adjust the frequency of application based on overall appearance and growth, and label directions. Check appearance and growth to decide whether you need to feed weekly at full or half strength.
- Choose fish meal emulsion or synthetic fertilizers and dilute with water, according to package instructions.
- After watering the garden, spray plant leaves and surrounding soil, or pour the solution at the base of plants every 2 weeks.
- If you choose to feed garden beds or containers weekly, you may need to dilute the liquid fertilizer to half strength.
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