One of the secrets of a successful vegetable garden is fertilization. The right fertilizer applied in the proper amounts gives the plants the nutrients they need to grow healthy and productive. While exact requirements differ between plants, there are general rules that tend to apply no matter what you are growing.
Perform a soil test in spring before planting the garden. Tests are available at garden centers or through your county extension office. Follow the directions in the test kit for collecting a sample.
Add agricultural lime or sulfur to the soil at the rate recommended by the soil test if necessary. Vegetables grow best in a soil pH between 6.0 to 6.8. Lime raises the pH while sulfur lowers it. Apply the applicable amendment at least two weeks before you sow the garden.
Lay a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost over the garden bed and till it into the top 6 inches of soil just before planting. Compost adds organic matter, replenishes nutrients and aids drainage.
Apply fertilizer at the rate recommended by the soil test, or apply a general maintenance fertilization if your bed is established. Fertilize with 6 pounds of balanced fertilizer, such as 12-12-12 analysis, per 1,000 square feet. The numbers stand for the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer. All balanced fertilizers have nearly equal amounts of each.
Fertilize vegetable seedlings as soon as they are transplanted to the garden with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer, as this encourages them to root quickly. Mix 2 tbsp. of 12-24-12 or other phosphorus-rich fertilizer with 1 gallon of water. Water each seedling with 1 cup immediately after planting.
Fertilize most garden plants when they begin setting fruit or at midseason with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Apply fertilizer such as 36-0-0 analysis at the rate 1 pound per 1,000 square feet for most vegetables. Lay the fertilizer in the center of the rows, between the plants, then till it into the soil. Avoid getting the fertilizer on the plants; this can burn and damage them.