Vegetable plants, like people, need food in order to thrive. With the aid of the sun, vegetable plants are then able to “digest” the nutrients in that food. Those nutrients help vegetable plants to grow a strong, supportive root system and healthy foliage. Once flowers bloom and are fertilized, that food helps to grow the vegetables gardeners will put on their tables after harvest.
Food for vegetable plants, also called fertilizer, provides them with the nutrients they need not only to survive, but to thrive. By ensuring the health of the vegetable plants, this food gives them a strong base from which to grow healthy vegetables that, in turn, nourish humans.
Vegetable fertilizers are available both in organic and conventional formulas. Additionally, both types of fertilizers are available in liquid and granular forms. Vegetable fertilizers are available in pre-mixed quantities that specify for which vegetables they work best. More experienced gardeners can select individual fertilizer components (bags of greensand, or potash, or ammonium sulfate, as examples) to create a custom fertilizer based on what their vegetables and soil need.
Fertilizer for vegetable plants should be worked into the soil prior to planting. Side-dressing (application after plants have become well-established) is also recommended in most cases for most productive and healthiest growth. Additionally, individual vegetable plants will have feeding schedules to which gardeners should adhere throughout the growing season. Some vegetable plants will only require feeding once every three to four weeks, while very heavy feeders (such as tomatoes) may require feeding more frequently.
Judicious application of the proper amount of vegetable fertilizers will not only ensure vigorous plant growth, but will also help protect against diseases and pest incursion. Healthy plants have a better chance of not developing diseases. Additionally, healthy plants are better able to cope with problems posed by pests and the vagaries of sudden weather changes during the growing season. Proper use of vegetable plant fertilizers not only encourages vigorous, healthy plant growth, but it also encourages the same growth in the vegetables themselves. Stunted, weak plants produce stunted, weak vegetables—if they produce vegetables at all. Production amounts may suffer on such plants as well.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to vegetable plant fertilizer. Only the recommended amount for a garden's square footage should be applied. Gardeners should measure very carefully, then double-check their measurements before applying any fertilizer. Excess fertilizer application can burn tender plants, causing more harm than good.