A Gardener’s Guide to Fertilizer


A Gardener’s Guide to Fertilizer

Healthy plants require soil rich in organic matter and a continuous supply of nutrients to maintain consistent growth. But, sometimes, nature struggles to replenish the essential nutrients your plants need for continued growth. In those cases, fertilizer can help plants grow healthier, faster and lusher by replenishing missing elements.

Read on for fertilizer best practices to ensure your landscape exceeds your expectations.

What is in a Bag of Fertilizer?

Fertilizer is created by mixing two or more nutrients to form a blend called a “mixed fertilizer.” The “NPK” levels on the label correspond with levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. For example, a bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium, along with iron, manganese, and zinc in lesser amounts.

NPK fertilizers provide the nutrients necessary for vegetative growth in stems, root growth, seed and flower formation, bud growth and ripening of fruits.

Do You Need to Fertilize Your Yard?

Fertilization of a lawn is critical to the health of turf plants. Always test your soil to determine its PH levels and nutrient absorption. This test will also indicate the appropriate fertilizer formulation. We recommend you select a fertilizer with both macro- and micro-nutrients to ensure your soil is at its optimal health.

Soil samples can be tested through a professional landscape company, a county extension office, or through garden store tests. Private tests provide a more detailed micro-nutrient analysis by examining calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron and manganese levels. We recommend performing this test annually, either in the autumn or just before positioning new plants.

Types of Fertilizer

There are two basic types of fertilizer, with the critical point of difference being feed duration. You can use a slower time-release fertilizer applied 3-4 times per year or a quick-release formulation. Be aware that quick-release fertilizer disappears rapidly, creating excess growth post-application and limited growth before the next application.

  • Slower time-release fertilizers

    Contain dry granules or spheres that break down in the soil, slowly releasing a steady supply of nutrients for your plants. Effects of these fertilizers can be seen between 6-12 weeks.

  • Quick-release fertilizers

    Deliver nutrients immediately to the soil. Quick-release fertilizers are often mixed with water, but dry forms are also sold. Exercise caution with quick-release fertilizers, as their rapid growth effects may weaken the root structure of your plants.

Within these two categories, you can choose either:

  • Organic fertilizers

    Are obtained from natural sources. Organic fertilizers, unlike uncoated synthetic, will feed your plants over time. Therefore, the plants will not grow as fast as they would with synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are more expensive than synthetic fertilizers but are still a viable option for a small area.

  • Synthetic fertilizers

    These are not natural but formulated and manufactured by scientists. They are faster-acting than organic fertilizers and come in a wide variety of forms that can be more convenient or easier to use in the garden.

How Do You Spread Fertilizer Efficiently?

Have you ever seen a lawn that looked like it had different colored stripes? The most likely culprit: spreading fertilizers the wrong way. Fertilizers must be distributed evenly to ensure that your plants’ color and growth remain consistent.

We recommend you do two passes with a broadcast or rotary fertilizer spreader: apply half the rate of fertilizer once vertically and once horizontally across your lawn. Dry fertilizers need to be worked or watered into the soil. They should be worked into the top 3-5 inches of soil. Follow the instructions on the back of your fertilizer to ensure the product has time to seep into your soil.

After you apply the fertilizer, hydrate your soil to ensure it absorbs the nutrients. You can either time fertilizing with an upcoming storm or thoroughly water your yard after application. 

Fertilizer Timing and Tips for Your Yard’s Needs

You can select a specific ingredient concentration to address a plant’s needs or nutritional deficiencies. Studies have found that the ideal NPK fertilizer ratio of those nutrients for flowering plants is 3-1-2 (3% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus & 2% potassium.). For best results, we recommend the following:

  • Early summer is typically the best time to fertilize annuals and perennials because this is when they are growing most vigorously.
  • For strong, healthy grass, test your soil and select a fertilizer with optimal levels of the nutrient/s your yard is lacking. Remember, too much of any nutrient will not be absorbed by the plant.
  • For fruiting and flowering plants, look for a fertilizer with high phosphorus or potassium and relatively lower nitrogen levels. Higher nitrogen levels often promote foliage vs. flowers.
  • Do not over-fertilize, as this can decrease growth and leave plants weak and vulnerable to pests and diseases. Particularly if you are growing vegetables and herbs, too much fertilizer can alter the taste and smell of your produce.

Discuss Your Landscaping Needs With an Expert

Our team welcomes the opportunity to discuss your vision for your property. Contact us today to schedule an on-site consultation and soil analysis. Learn more at http://garrettchurchill.local/planting.