Garden Fertilizer Application


Not every garden is blessed with perfect soil with just the right blend of nutrients that ensure an abundance of praise-worthy fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The average gardener has to furnish some of those nutrients as amendments to the soil so that the plants can maximize their growth and output. Fortunately, it is easy to purchase virtually any kind of fertilizer at the local store. Organic, non-organic, blended, fast-acting, slow-acting, specific plant application, and liquid vs. dry are just some of the varieties that gardeners may choose from.

Applying The Right Fertilizer

Commercially sold fertilizer is marked with the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that make up the contents. Known as NPK, the numbers would look like this: 10-5-10 or 14-8-8. These numbers are important to ensure that the needs of the plants are balanced against what the fertilizer provides in the application. A plant that needs higher amounts of nitrogen should be fertilized with a product with a higher first number. Wintering over plants need a higher level of potassium in the fall to help their root system.

Application Methods

Fertilizer can be mixed into the ground either by manual digging or rototilling. It is most effective only in the top few inches of the soil so this method may place the fertilizer in too deep if not carefully done. Broadcasting is sowing the fertilizer evenly over the ground, while side dressing is carefully placing the fertilizer a few inches away from the growing plants and scratching it shallowly into the ground. A band of fertilizer in a shallow trench may also be laid close by when setting out the plants.

Water-based Application

Many popular fertilizers are water-based. These require no digging at all, just spray them onto the plants and ground. Because they are applied directly to the leaves, the nutrients are quickly taken up by the plants resulting in fast improvement. According to Scotts, a leading manufacture of liquid fertilizer, the applications have to be repeated as often as weekly for vegetables and fruit gardens.

Applying At The Right Season

Cabbage, spinach, lettuce, and other leafy vegetables require early nitrogen fertilizers. Other vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are better when fertilized when they begin to flower and set fruit. Over fertilizing too early may postpone plant maturity and vegetable production. Early flowering annuals have less need for early fertilizer but cool-season pansies and the like will benefit. Four to six weeks after warm-season annuals are set out they can receive a side dressing, and summer-long annuals are boosted with an application in the late summer.


Over-applying fertilizer can do damage to the plants as well as the ground water. All fertilizers are salts, and too much can cause the plant roots to burn. Even all organic fertilizer may do the same if used in excess. The nitrogen may escape to the water table and become a problem for area lakes and ponds by overstimulating the growth of algae.

Keywords: applying fertilizer, fertilizer applying, doing fertilizer right

About this Author

Jack Burton started writing professionally in 1980. He has written for "Word from Jerusalem," "ICEJ Daily News" and Tagalong Garden News. Burton managed radio stations, TV studios and newspapers, and was the chief fundraiser for Taltree Arboretum. He has a Bachelor of Science in broadcasting from John Brown University, and retired from the Navy Reserve in 1999.