Garden Fertilizers

Written by Sarah Provost
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Fertilizing your garden properly is much simpler than it may seem at first sight. Many beginning gardeners are intimidated by the wide array of products available. Which one should I use? When should I apply it? How much? And what do those numbers mean, anyway?

The numbers refer to the proportion of the three essential nutrients plants need: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. A balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, is sufficient for most needs. Apply it according to the instructions on the package, and don't make the mistake of thinking that if a little is good, a little more is better. Too much fertilizer can burn tender seedlings and cause more mature plants to develop foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit.

Excessive nitrogen is usually the culprit, so many gardeners recommend using a starter formula of 5-10-10 for the seedling stage. You can dig it into the ground in the fall, before planting in the spring, or after the first true leaves appear. If you are growing a lot of one specific kind of plant, such as roses or tomatoes, you might want to use a formula made specifically for that species.

Organic Fertilizers

If a fertilizer is labeled organic, that means that the nutrients contained in the product are derived solely from the remains or a by-product of a living organism rather than a chemical process. Cottonseed meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, and manure are the most commonly available organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers need the action of organisms in the soil to release their nutrients, so they are most effective when the soil is moist and warm enough for the microorganisms to thrive.

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