How to Feed Plants

Overview

All garden plants benefit from regular fertilization. Fertilizers provide the vegetation with a nutritional boost, especially helpful in regularly farmed soils or container gardens where nutrients may be lacking. Though some plant species have specific feeding requirements, several general fertilization guidelines apply to the broad garden plant categories of houseplants, vegetables and flowers.

Houseplants

Step 1

Water the potted houseplant to moisten the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.

Step 2

Apply a 20-20-20 fertilizer specifically labeled for use on houseplants. Use either a dry granular product or a liquid fertilizer, spreading the fertilizer at the rate listed on its label since potency varies widely by product.

Step 3

Repeat once a month during the spring and summer while the plant is experiencing the fastest growth, according to North Carolina State University. Reduce fertilization to bimonthly during the fall and winter seasons.

Step 4

Leach the houseplant every six months to remove excess fertilizer salts that buildup in the potting soil and can kill your houseplant over time. Apply water to the pot at a rate of twice the pot's soil volume. For example, if your pot can hold seven cups of water, pour 14 cups of water into it. This floods the soil and, as the water drains, pulls out excess salts.

Vegetables

Step 1

Fertilize the vegetable garden plot before planting the vegetables. Lay a strip of fertilizer--the University of Vermont recommends applying 1/2 lb. of 10-10-10 fertilizer along every 50 feet of row--parallel to the vegetable row and 4 inches from where the plants will be placed. Alternatively, place the fertilizer strip directly in the row, burying the strip of fertilizer 2 inches below where the seeds or vegetable transplants will lie.

Step 2

Side dress the plants with a second dose of fertilizer. Side dressing times vary by species. For fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, side dress when the plants produce their first set of flowers. For leafy vegetables, side dress when the plants are 6 inches tall. Spread the fertilizer at the same rate as the initial application, but in a strip that's approximately 8 inches from the vegetable row. This accommodates the wider root network of the established vegetables.

Step 3

Rake the fertilizer into the top inch of the soil and water the area thoroughly. Use enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 1/2 foot to carry the fertilizer nutrients to the vegetables' root network.

Flowers

Step 1

Fertilize the flower bed before planting the flowers. Mix the fertilizer into the top 1/2 foot of soil. The University of Connecticut recommends using any fertilizer with a nutrient ratio where the nitrogen level is equal or less than the level of phosphorous (e.g. a 5-10-5 or a 10-10-10 product). Follow the application rates listed on the specific fertilizer product's label, as potency varies by product.

Step 2

Fertilize established flower plants by spreading fertilizing between the flower rows or around the flower plants themselves. For newly planted annuals and perennials, the University of Connecticut suggests fertilizing two months after planting. For established perennials, spread the fertilizer when the plants emerge from dormancy in the spring and again two months later.

Step 3

Water the area immediately after fertilizing. This carries the fertilizer to the flower plants' roots for immediate feeding, and also reduces the risk of fertilizer burns on the plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Fertilizer
  • Water
  • Rake

References

  • "Burpee: The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener"; Karan Cutler, et al.; 1997
  • "The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual"; Barbara Pleasant; 2005
  • North Carolina State University: Fertilizing Houseplants
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden
  • University of Connecticut: Fertilizer Practices for Flowers
Keywords: fertilizing houseplants, fertilizing vegetables, feeding plants

About this Author

Josh Duvauchelle is an editor and journalist with more than 10 years' experience. His work has appeared in various magazines, including "Honolulu Magazine," which has more paid subscribers than any other magazine in Hawaii. He graduated with honors from Trinity Western University, holding a Bachelor of Arts in professional communications, and earned a certificate in applied leadership and public affairs from the Laurentian Leadership Centre.