Fertilizer is anything that provides nutrients to plants. This includes organic and inorganic substances. A garden with good natural soil and enhancements via compost might not be in urgent need of additional nutrients, however vegetable tend to need a lot of nutrients. Fertilizing your vegetable garden can speed up growth and help bring about a better harvest.
The key elements of any fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is the nutrient that helps enhance the growth of leaves and stems. Phosphorus help with flower, seed, fruit and root production. Potassium is key to the general health of plants and increases your vegetables’ resistance to disease. While there are other nutrients necessary for successful plant growth most are already available in the soil and in commercial fertilizers. It is the three I mention above that need the most attention.
When reading the label of any commercial fertilizer you will see numbers such as “10-10-10” or “15-0-0”. These numbers refer to the balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer. For most vegetable gardens a balanced “10-10-10” is the best bet. Fully read the label of any fertilizer you plan on using and understand the directions before taking it home. If you need any extra equipment or have any questions about the fertilizer and if it is the best one for your needs ask. Any home and garden center or nursery selling fertilizer should have an understanding of the process and the specifics of their products. If they do not, then go to a different location where the staff is informed and helpful to make your purchase.
There are three basic methods of fertilizing your vegetable garden; side-dressing, top-dressing and foliar feeding. Side-dressing involves sprinkling fertilizer beside each plant, rather than on the plant itself. You can also scratch dry fertilizer into the soil with a trowel, fork or your gloved fingers. Remember to water the garden before and after fertilizing when using dry fertilizer. Top-dressing is simply applying fertilizer over the surface of the entire garden. Foliar feeding involves spraying diluted liquid fertilizer on the leaves of your plants.
Good timing in your fertilizing is important. In general you should fertilize at planting time to help your vegetables get a head start. A second application in mid-season can also be helpful, particularly if you are inter-cropping or growing a succession of crops in the same area.
Regardless of which method you use, or if you are using dry or liquid fertilizer, be sure to follow the directions. Failing to do so can overdose or burn your plants with too strong of an application or be a waste if to weak a dose is applied. Also be certain to follow all safety precautions, a well fertilized garden does not mean much if you or someone else becomes injured or ill in the process.