The minimalist guide: How to fertilize your garden

Chances are that you’ve skipped the section on soil and fertilizing in your gardening guide. Looks pretty complicated, right?

In fact, it isn’t. It’s also very important because fertilizing your garden incorrectly will waste time and money by harming your plants, promoting diseases and inviting pests.

26 - January - 2009 -- Dead Plant

How to fertilize your garden: Your cheat sheet to understanding nutrients

The three basic parts of your plants (leaves and branches, flowers/fruit and roots) are fed by three basic macronutrients. Keep these in mind and you’ll understand the basics of fertilizing.

The leaves and branches need nitrogen (N. It leaches out of soil faster than other nutrients, and need to be replaced more often.

Flower formation and colour relies on sufficient phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).  Potassium also increases a plant’s disease resistance.

The root system needs phosphorous to develop properly and settle into the soil.

So to apply your cheat sheet:

• If a plant has poor leaf formation or it’s not growing, it might need some nitrogen.

•  If a plant has lots of dark green foliage, but isn’t flowering like it should,  it’s getting too much nitrogen and not enough phosphorous and potassium. A fertilizer with little or no nitrogen, and a higher concentration of phosphorous should be applied.

• Adding a little superphosphate  or bone meal when you’re planting out a new plant, will promote the formation of new roots.

There are specialized types of fertilizer available, with the right ratio of N:P: K and other micro minerals to feed roses, vegetables, lawns et cetera. Just ask at your garden centre.

The secret to fertilizing your garden correctly.

Fertilize at the beginning of the growth season, i.e. the start of spring, when new roots are developing and temperatures have started to go up.

Use specialized fertilizers only for its intended purposes. Lawn fertilizer, for example, may have herbicide added in, and is not suitable for use on vegetables.

The soil must be damp before application, and must be watered again afterward.

Experts believe that healthy established plants should not be given additional fertilizer. Yes. Don’t feed them. Plants that are not getting the nutrients they need will let you know by turning yellow, failing to thrive or producing lots of foliage with no flowers and fruit.

How adding compost will benefit your garden

According to experts, you only need to add a layer of compost one inch thick to your garden once a year. This will keep your garden beautiful by supplying nutrients and improving the soil texture.

Make your own compost out of kitchen scraps, or buy it from your garden centre. It is always a good idea to mix a couple of sources of compost to ensure you get the maximum variety of nutrients.

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have rich, perfect soil already. Let me know in the comments below, if like me, you have to fertilize and add compost. Do you prefer keeping it organic or do you allow some chemicals?

Image: Dead plant by Reway 2007  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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2 responses to “The minimalist guide: How to fertilize your garden

  1. This is very helpful information and well-organized. I never thought about not fertilizing healthy plants, just thought fertilizing everything was a good thing.

    • It depends on the soil and the specific plants. Not all soils are equal and some plants are heavier feeders than others, so they’ll appreciate a bit of extra feeding. Fertilizing won’t do your garden any harm, as long as it’s done correctly for what you want to achieve, i.e. getting more flowers or lush foliage.

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