Side Dressing

Side Dressing

Giving crops an extra boost of fertilizer is called side-dressing. Good side-dressing helps crops grow evenly and smoothly and helps deliver better harvests.

If you've mixed plenty of organic matter into your soil over the years and grow green manure corps like peas, beans and buckwheat, chances are your soil is pretty rich in nutrients. If your soil is fertile and you have added a little fertilizer to the soil before planting, your crops probably will do very well without side-dressing. Two exceptions are corn and onions which are heavy feeders and almost always require regular side-dressing.

If you've just started to improve your soil by adding organic matter, side-dressings are important. This is especially true in a sandy soil with little organic matter. Plant foods drain down through a sandy soil and away from the roots of your crops. To keep crops growing smoothly, you'll probably need to side-dress.

Not all crops need side-dressings. Peas and beans, greens and root crops grow fine when fertilized only at planting time. Carrots, beets and turnips need only a little extra bonemeal at planting time to provide phosphorus for the roots.

Applying Side-Dressings

Side Dressings are usually applied by either circling the plants or banding.

Circle the Plants
With tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and other transplanted crops, dig a shallow circular furrow around each plant. Sprinkle the fertilizer in evenly and cover it. Put this circle of plant food about 5-6 inches away from the plant stems. If the plant is quite large, put the circle of fertilizer around the outer leaves or "drip line" of the plant.

With the corner of a hoe, open a furrow 1-2 inches deep in a straight line next to a row of plants. Keep the furrow about 5-6 inches from the line of plants. Put the fertilizer in the furrow and cover with soil. Covering the fertilizer is important because a heavy rain may splash it onto the leaves causing burns.

Crop When to Side-Dress How Much
Broccoli When the head begins to form. 1-2 tablespoons per plant.
Brussels Sprouts When you can harvest the first small sprouts. 1 tablespoon per plant.
Cabbage When the head starts to form. 1 tablespoon per plant.
Cauliflower When the leaves are full size or 5-6 weeks after transplanting. 1-2 tablespoons per plant.
Chard After the first harvest. ½ tablespoon per foot of row (16 inches wide)
Corn Side-dress twice: at knee height and when silk forms. 1 tablespoon per plant or 3 cups per 25 feet of row.
Cucumbers, Melons and Winter Squash Before they begin to spread and run. 1 tablespoon per plant.
Leeks When 8-12 inches tall. 1 tablespoon per plant.
Okra When plants bloom and again about a month later. 1 tablespoon per plant or 3 cups per 25 feet of row.
Onions When 6-8 inches tall and every couple of weeks thereafter until bulb starts to expand. 3 cups per 10 feet of 16-inch wide row.
Peppers When plants bloom Very small amount.
Pole Beans Don't usually need side-dressing.  
Potatoes Six or seven weeks after planting. Side dress before hilling. 1 tablespoon per plant or 3 cups per 25 feet of row.
Tomatoes When blooms appear or when first tiny green fruits appear. 1-2 tablespoons per plant.

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