When you’re out and about working in your garden, do any of these questions enter your mind?
How can I grow more healthy vegetable plants?
Should I fertilize my garden before I plant?
How often should I fertilize my garden and what should I use?
There’s a lot of confusion in the vegetable gardening world about fertilizing. It’s one of the most common questions other gardeners ask me when I’m traveling around speaking and teaching each season.
Most gardeners are wondering what they should be doing, if anything, and if the actions they already are taking to build their soil fertility are the right ones.
I’m guessing you’re probably unclear about this topic, too. (Don’t worry, so was I, until a few years ago.)
In this post, we’re going to clear up any questions and doubts you have about fertilizing your garden and learn about which products you should be using to build healthy soil and grow lots of delicious and nutritious produce in your garden.
This post contains affiliate links.
Why You Want Healthy Soil
The health of your soil is one of the main factors that affect how successful your garden will be each season.
When your soil contains all of the nutrients the plants need they’ll grow larger and be more productive, the fruit and vegetables they produce will be a higher quality, and the plants will better resist disease and pest pressure.
Also, when we eat vegetables our bodies absorb the nutrients we need from the food. If your soil is lacking nutrients then your food will be as well.
Basically, if you don’t have healthy soil, all of your other efforts will be wasted. You simply cannot have a well-performing garden with unhealthy soil.
A healthy garden yields lots of big and colorful harvests!
What Nutrients Plants Need to Grow
There are three primary macronutrients that all plants need to grow healthy and strong – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are often called N-P-K for short. Plants need these nutrients in the biggest quantities.
Nitrogen helps plants put on vegetative growth. If you don’t have enough nitrogen you may notice your plants turning yellow and/or stunted growth. If you have too much, your plants may grow big and green, but not produce any flowers or fruit.
Phosphorus stimulates flower bloom and root growth. If you’re lacking phosphorus you might notice leaves turning a bit red or purple.
Potassium supports the plants’ immunity to disease and also affects the quality of fruit. If your soil is lacking in potassium you may notice that some of your fruits are thin-skinned or small and your plants are more susceptible to disease.
If you go to the garden store and look at bags of fertilizer you’ll notice there are three numbers listed on the front. They stand for the percentage of the three macronutrients it contains, like 4-5-7, or 12-0-0. (We’ll come back to fertilizer later.)
There are also three secondary macronutrients – calcium, magnesium, sulfur. And several micronutrients, which are needed in a lesser quantity by plants – chlorine, boron, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and nickel.
Getting ready to add some organic garden fertilizer to my soil.
Why You Should Add Organic Garden Fertilizer
Over the years of teaching and consulting with lots of different gardeners, reading about soil fertility, and experiencing a lack of nutrients in my own garden (at two different homes!) I’ve become convinced that every gardener should be adding organic garden fertilizer to their soil on a regular basis.
Even if you think your garden is relatively healthy, you should consider adding fertilizer as an experiment to see if it could perhaps improve your plants’ health and vigor. Healthy and robust plants can mean more food harvested from your garden throughout the growing season.
For an example, last year I counted the number of red peppers on my Carmen pepper plants. Guess how many each one had? Not two or three, but fifteen!
Most of the plants produced 12-15 ripe red peppers. I believe that’s a result of Carmen being a kicka** variety and the fact that I consistently fertilize my garden.
(Grab some seeds for your own garden here. You won’t be disappointed!)
My Carmen pepper plants loaded down with fruit!
Growing vegetable plants year after year demands a lot from your soil because they take a lot of nutrients out of your garden every season. While adding compost is a great practice, it usually isn’t enough to replace the nutrients that have been depleted. For that, you really need a balanced organic fertilizer.
If you’ve had less than stellar results from your vegetable garden in the past few years, you should definitely be adding organic garden fertilizer. If your plants are yellow or pale green, or they don’t seem to grow full size, or they don’t produce a lot of fruit, you may have nutrient issues.
Even new gardens can have soil fertility problems. Even gardens with freshly ordered soil aren’t immune from nutrient issues. I know this firsthand because I built a brand new garden at my current house and then my plants didn’t grow. You can read all about it in this blog post.
If you don’t think soil fertility is the issue, here are four other factors that might be affecting your garden.
What Fertilizer to Use and How to Add It
Even if you’re part way through the season, you can still make a quick trip to the garden store to buy a bag and then add it to your garden, it’s not too late.
I created a video that walks you through how to pick out the correct organic garden fertilizer when you go shopping and then show you how to apply it when you’re planting seeds and plants in your garden beds.
There’s even a checklist you can print out and take with you on your shopping trip.
This year, I encourage you to experiment with adding at least some balanced organic fertilizer to your garden beds to see if you can foster healthier, more high-yielding plants. You don’t have much to lose, and you have a lot to gain!
These organic fertilizers are all good choices.
Download your printable notes to take with you to the store here.
Submit your gardening question to me here.
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