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How to Fertilize Vegetable Plants

By Jenny Harrington ; Updated September 21, 2017

Most vegetable plants are annuals or grown as such, and are pulled from the garden once they stop producing. Producing in a short period of time takes a lot of energy, which the plants get from nutrients in the soil. Nitrogen is most quickly depleted. Fertilizing your vegetable garden, both before and after planting, ensures thriving plants and a good harvest.

Perform a soil pH test, available at garden centers or at extension offices. Apply lime as recommended by the soil test if pH is below 6.0. Apply sulfur to the garden bed prior to planting if the pH is above 6.8.

Add a 3-in. layer of fresh compost over the planting bed before spring sowing. Till the compost into the soil using a hoe or power tiller. Compost aids drainage and soil aeration while providing organic nutrients for the roots.

Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to beds before planting leaf vegetables such as lettuce. Apply 2 lbs. of fertilizer per 100-foot planting row. Work the fertilizer into the soil 6 in. from where the plants will be.

Apply a phosphate-rich fertilizer before planting fruit bearing or bulb bearing vegetables such as tomatoes or onions. Work in 2 lbs. of fertilizer per 100 feet. Apply the fertilizer 6 in. out from where the plants will be rooted.

Plant the seedlings or sow the seeds as usual. Water the garden well after planting so the roots absorb the fertilizer.

Apply a second course of the same fertilization method used at planting either at mid-season or when fruits begin to set. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in direct contact with roots, stems or seeds.


Things You Will Need

  • PH test kit
  • Lime
  • Sulfur
  • Compost
  • Power tiller
  • Fertilizer


  • Beans and peas rarely require fertilization; they produce their own nitrogen.
  • Container vegetables require fertilization with a balanced liquid fertilizer every two to four weeks.


  • Always fertilize out from the plant roots 6 to 8 in. Fertilizing too close will cause the roots to burn and the plant could die.
  • More fertilizer is not better. Too much fertilizer will damage plants, or may cause lush foliage but few fruits.

About the Author


Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.