Fertilizing Plants 101: Everything You Need to Know to Do It Right

This article was originally published by Jennifer Poindexter on www.morningchores.com

Did you know fertilizing your plants is fascinating? Most gardeners don’t.

In fact, most gardeners don’t know how to fertilize their garden properly. I’ll admit it. In my earlier years of gardening, I fertilized when I felt like it or if I felt like it.

Beyond that, my garden was on its own.

However, I’ve since learned that fertilizing is something every garden needs. Your garden soil, the nutrients which fill it, and the proper application of fertilizer can make all of the difference in your harvest.

Which is why I’m going to fill you in.

What Nutrients Do Plants Need?

Plants require specific nutrients from the soil. The issue is when you plant each year, the plants will draw those nutrients out of the soil, and they don’t magically restock themselves.

Therefore, it is important to fertilize your plants, to ensure they are getting the nutrients previous plants could have already taken from your soil.

Also, it is important to fertilize plants while rebuilding your soil. It will allow the plants to be able to naturally pull what they need from the soil without any additives.

Here are the nutrients plants need:

1. Nitrogen

Nitrogen is naturally in short-supply within nature. All plants need it, and over the years, plants have learned to pull as much as they possibly can out of the soil to ensure they have enough to survive.

However, when looking at how vital nitrogen is, you’ll understand why. It helps plants to make protein which helps them create new tissues and keep building and is vital to their survival.

2. Phosphorous

This nutrient is essential to plants because it is what they need to produce reliable root systems. Phosphorous is what encourages their roots to grow.

Also, it helps plants to produce buds, blooms, and flowers to produce fruit. It also helps the plant to create healthy seeds for more offspring.

3. Potassium

We’ve heard carbohydrates are bad. For plants, they are not. Plants need carbohydrates to feed themselves.

Well, potassium enables them to make carbohydrates. It also helps the plant to become disease-resistant, which encourages a healthy life.

4. Calcium

Plants don’t need much calcium added to the soil, but you will need to make sure there is enough of it in there.

The reason is calcium is what helps bind the soil together. Calcium will improve soil conditions and give the plant an easier chance of survival.

5. Magnesium

If you’ve made it through any science class, you’ve heard of photosynthesis. It is the process plants use to produce their food.

The source of the food is the sun. Plants need magnesium to process sunlight to feed themselves. Without it, they won’t survive.

6. Sulfur

Plants need proteins to build and rebuild itself if it becomes damaged. Sulfur is a vital part of proteins.

Without sulfur, a plant could struggle to make proteins which could be the downfall of the plant altogether.

Each of these nutrients can be placed into your soil using different varieties of fertilizer, which we’ll discuss further down.

However, it’s important to know what your plant needs, what it could be lacking, and make sure you either build those nutrients back into your soil or apply them directly to your plant.

If not, you could lose your harvest altogether.

Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of land to become completely self-sufficient. In fact, 1/4 acre is enough, if you follow this comprehensive guide.

The Different ‘Feeders’

Different varieties of plants require different amounts of fertilizer to be happy producers. The terms are: plants could be a heavy feeder, moderate feeder, or a light feeder.

It is essential to know what type of feeder each of your plants is to make sure you fertilize accordingly.

Heavy Feeders

Heavy feeders are as the name implies. They require a significant amount of nutrients to efficiently produce.

You should apply fertilizer as you plant the crops and again later in the growing season. You could use a fast-acting liquid fertilizer on occasion as well.

The plants which are heavy feeders are:

Moderate Feeders

Plants which are considered moderate feeders react better to fast-acting liquid fertilizers than any other type.

However, they seem to like mulch being applied to them because it helps the soil to drain better. Mulch allows them to pull nutrients they need from the soil as needed.

Plants which are moderate feeders are:

Light Feeders

Light feeders don’t require much fertilizing. Instead, add a smaller amount of fertilizer when you are planting the crop.

Beyond that, they take care of themselves. Plants which are light feeders are:

  • Bush beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Peas
  • Turnips

Understanding what type of feeder your plants are, will let you know what they need during planting and how much attention you need to give them during the growing season as far as applying more nutrients.

Nothing is more empowering than growing a garden and harvesting food in your yard. For more helpful information, check out this guide on how to make a year-round self-sustaining garden.

Types of Fertilizers and Their Uses

There are many different types of fertilizers. There are some which are more common than others, and it is important to know how to utilize the more common options.

However, you need to understand upfront, fertilizing is a balance. If you don’t feed your garden enough, you could end up with weak plants.

But if you fertilize your garden too frequently, you’ll end up with a great deal of foliage on your plants and minimal harvest.

Some common types of fertilizers:

  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Liquid fertilizer
  • Granular fertilizer
  • Powdered fertilizer

1. Dry Fertilizer

When you use a dry fertilizer, you will want to use them on plants which are already established. Dry fertilizer is a good option if you are giving your heavy feeders the second feeding later on in the growing season.

2. Slow-Release Fertilizers

Most slow-release fertilizers are either specialty synthetic fertilizer or organic fertilizers. They are meant to feed your crops over a period. Slow-release fertilizers are a good option for long-term healthy plants, but not for plants under distress.

3. Liquid Fertilizers

These fertilizers are fast acting. They are an excellent option for plants under distress and in need of a boost. If you buy a specialty fertilizer high in potash, it could boost your harvest as well.

4. Manure

When you apply manure to your soil, it helps it to hold moisture. It will also add nutrients to your soil. Manure is an excellent fertilizer to add to your soil in the fall to give it time to break down and build up your soil.

It is also a good thing to add to your soil after planting. You can apply two to three inches of manure around your plants as a type of mulch.

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Organic vs. Man-Made Fertilizers

Fertilizers can either be items you find naturally out in nature, or you can purchase chemicals made by man. They each have their pros and cons. It is essential to understand what they are because both fertilizers can be helpful, and both have their downfalls.

Here is what you need to know:

1. Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are items such as compostmanure, blood meal, bone meal, and cottonseed meal which can be raised or purchased. They can be applied to your crops and give them a natural boost.

However, you need to be aware; organic fertilizers can be useful. Yet, they have their shortcomings too. The pros of using organic fertilizers are:

  • Organic fertilizers are not water soluble. Therefore, they are released slowly to the plant.
  • Improves the soil structure
  • Organic fertilizers can be grown or raised, which could make them inexpensive or free.
  • Manure and compost are easy to find in most areas, making organic fertilizers easily accessible.

The cons of organic fertilizer are:

  • The items you use to fertilize organically are frequently bulky, making them hard to transport, store, or distribute.
  • Because organic fertilizers slow-feed, they could be ineffective when dealing with plants in distress.
  • Since organic fertilizers aren’t usually packaged and aren’t manufactured, the components could be different for each batch. This could make it difficult to know how much to apply to your garden.

2. Synthetic Fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers are human-made chemical-based fertilizers. Because they are manufactured, they are water-soluble which makes them release quickly.

Like organic fertilizers, synthetic fertilizers have their pros and cons. Here are the advantages of using synthetic fertilizers:

  • Less expensive
  • Easily accessible
  • A quick release which makes them work fast

The cons of using synthetic fertilizers are:

  • Add nothing to your soil
  • Bad for the environment because of production methods and potential of contaminating water supplies
  • Could burn your plants because of how quickly they work

How to Apply Fertilizer to Your Garden

Now that you know about the different types of fertilizers, their purposes, pros and cons, and what different plants need from the soil, you are ready to talk about the different methods of applying fertilizer to your garden.

Here is what you need to know to fertilize your garden well:

The Numbers Matter

When choosing a fertilizer from a store choose a well-balanced option. You’ll see fertilizer labeled 5-5-5 or 10-10-10.

But what do the numbers mean? The figures not only show the fertilizer is balanced, but they are balanced in key ingredients.

The first number tells you how much nitrogen is in the fertilizer. The second number tells you how much phosphate is in the fertilizer. The final number tells you about the amount of potash.

It is important to know what you are buying and what the numbers mean to purchase what is best for your specific gardening needs.

2. Feed the Roots

You can feed the roots of your plants by applying manure and compost during planting and before the growing season to build up the nutrients in your soil.

Also, when your plants are well established, you can add fertilizer to the base of the plants to add necessary nutrients to the plants.

3. Feed the Foliage

It is essential to make sure you feed the foliage of your plants too. Plants can absorb eight to twenty times more nutrients through their foliage than through the roots. Which is why it is a good idea to apply liquid fertilizer to your plants from time to time.

Also, liquid fertilizer can increase your harvest drastically, if applied at the right times. It is a good idea to spray your plants when transplanting, when they’re blooming, and after the first fruits begin appearing.

However, check the list of what type of feeder the plant is because you may not need to fertilize quite as much for some varieties.

4. Check Your Soil and pH

Finally, you need to check your soil and find if there are any deficiencies. If there are, you’ll need to add a balanced fertilizer and whatever nutrients the soil is deficient in.

Also, check the pH of the soil because if the soil is not balanced, the plant won’t be able to absorb nutrients.

Most plants prefer a pH balance of 6.0-7.0.

Well, you are now fully in the know about fertilizing your plants. If you feed your plants at key times, you should be fine.

However, if your plants begin to look weepy it might be a sign they are in need of nutrients. Plants have a way of letting you know when they are in need.

But I’d like to hear from you. What is your favorite type of fertilizer? What’s your preferred method of application? Do you have any secrets to ‘keeping the balance’ of fertilization in your garden?

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