Friday, April 16, 2010

Fertilizing Basics

'Fertilizing Basics'
By: Kimberley Pacholko


Proper timing is essential when it comes to fertilizing your plants. The required nutrients must be available in the soil when the plants need it most. If you fertilize to early the nutrients may be leached out of the soil before the plants have a chance to use it. If you fertilize to late the essential nutrients may not be available when the plant needs it most.
Application time varies depending upon your climate and the type of plant being grown I.E. grass, perennials, annuals, trees. Typically speaking fertilizing should begin at the first signs of growth. For perennials that means once you begin to see your plants emerging from their winter slumber it is time to fertilize.

Fertilizing Perennials:
Once you have completed this early season fertilizing you may not need to fertilize again that season. This will depend on the type of plant you are growing, the type of soil you have and whether your soil was properly prepared at the beginning of the season. As mentioned in previous posts sandy soil requires more fertilizing as its nutrients are quickly leached out of the soil and thus must be continuously replaced. If you have a very sandy soil you may have to experiment for a couple of season to determine the frequency of your fertilizing.

Some types of perennials require more frequent fertilizing than others. Roses are one example of this. For roses fertilize at first signs of growth then again just prior to bloom time (in my region that is early June). If it is a repeat blooming rose fertilize again in about 1 month.

Important Note: You should discontinue fertilizing all perennials and woody plants with a complete fertilizer, at least 2 months prior to first autumn frost. The plants need to stop putting forth new growth and begin to harden off to prepare for the long winter months ahead. A few exceptions to this rule are the addition of phosphorus and potassium. These can be added in early autumn and actually help the plant to adapt to the cold weather. I typically add bone meal every second year to all of my plant beds.

Fertilizing Annuals:
Fertilize annual flowers and plants either just prior to planting or at time of planting then typically , fertilize once a month through -out the growing season right up until frost. Use a complete fertile like 1:2:1, 1:2:2 or 2:3:1 A lower level of nitrogen (the first number) keeps plants from producing lush foliage at the expense of flowers. (Note: for lawns you want a high nitrogen number).

Fertilizing Vegetable Gardens:

If you properly prepare you soil prior to planting your garden you will greatly reduce its fertilizing requirements. Typically fertilize soil just prior to planting and then again on a monthly basis. For me I only fertile in the spring, at time of planting, then I top dress every once in a while with compost or sheep manure. If the plants growth slow or it shows signs of any deficiencies I apply a spray of fish emulsion and liquid sea weed (early in the morning). Some garden vegetable like tomatoes and corn are heavy feeders. You will need to single out these crops and feed them more often than your other garden vegetables.

Note: by practicing crop rotation you can reduce fertilizing requirements for these heavy feeders. Bean plants place nitrogen into the soil. Plant a heavy feeder like tomatoes in that location the following year and plant your beans some-where else.
Try to never use synthetic fertilizers or chemicals in your food gardens. There are so many healthier options now available to gardeners. Remember you are going to eat those plants and ingest a portion of those chemicals.

Fertilizing Herbs:

Many herbs require little to no fertilizing. Many thrive in poor quality soils. Check the requirements of your herb plants before you begin a fertilizer program for them.


When using dry fertilizer gently scratch them into the soil with a small hand tool. The fertilizer must make contact with the soil in order to begin breaking down, so if you have mulches in place, pull them back, fertilize and then replace the mulch. (Avoid getting the fertile on the leaves as it may burn the plant).

For liquid fertilizers apply to soil near the root ball of each plant. Liquid fertilizers are fast acting but leach from the soil quickly. They work great for potted plants and for plants that require an immediate boost of nutrients.

Foliar sprays like liquid sea weed and fish emulsion should be sprayed directly on plant leaves early in the morning. Never spray a foliar spray when temperature will rise above 32 degrees C. (90 degrees F.)


•Remember that many soil amendments, even mulches, have some fertilizer value. You will need to take this value into account.
•If your foliage turns crisp brown after fertilizing it may be a sign that you have over fertilized (unlikely with natural fertilizers). Water the plant heavily in order to leach the fertilizer out of the soil.
•Organic fertilizers tend to break down more slowly and leach out of the soil slower.
•Some fertilizers have a PH value that you must consider.
•On a fertile product they will show you 3 numbers. The first number refers to nitrogen, the second to phosphorus and the third to potassium (potash).
•Fertilize early in the day.
•It is better to under fertilize than to over fertilize.

Properly preparing your soil in the spring and following a simple fertilizer program, using natural fertilizers, should be enough to keep most plants happy and healthy throughout the growing season.

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