Fertilizing Vegetable Garden Soil

Many inexperienced gardeners think that since their vegetables have done fine so far without fertilizer, they'll continue to do fine without fertilizer next year. But it's not quite that simple. Although your plants will probably provide you with vegetables without using fertilizer, you won't be getting their best effort. Properly fertilized vegetable plants will be healthier and better able to resist disease and attacks from pests, providing more and higher-quality produce.

Organic fertilizers come from plant and animal sources.
Organic fertilizers come from plant and
animal sources.

There are two types of fertilizers: organic and inorganic. Both contain the same nutrients, but their composition and action differ in several ways. It makes no difference to the plant whether nutrients come from an organic or an inorganic source as long as the nutrients are available. However, the differences between the two types are worth your consideration.

Organic fertilizers come from plants and animals. The nutrients in organic fertilizers must be broken down over a period of time by microorganisms in the soil before they become available to the plants. Therefore, organic fertilizers don't offer instant solutions to nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Dried blood, kelp, and bone meal are types of organic fertilizers.

Manures are also organic. They are bulkier and contain lower percentages of nutrients than other natural fertilizers. However, they offer the advantage of immediately improving the texture of the soil by raising the level of organic matter.

Because organic fertilizers are generally not well-balanced in nutrient content, you'll probably need to use a mixture of them to ensure a balanced nutrient content. The directions on the package may be used as a guide to making your own mixture. Incorporate the mixture into the soil while preparing your spring garden. Apply it again as a side-dressing midway through the growing season.

When you fertilize with an inorganic fertilizer, nutrients are immediately available for the plant's use. Any container of fertilizer has three numbers printed on it, such as 5-10-20, to indicate the percentage of major nutrients it contains. Nitrogen is represented by the first number (5 percent in this example); phosphorus is represented by the second number (10 percent); and potassium by the third (20 percent). The remaining 65 percent is a mixture of other nutrients and inert filler. A well-balanced complete fertilizer consists of all three major nutrients in somewhat even proportions. A complete fertilizer is recommended for vegetable garden use as long as the nitrogen content isn't more than 20 percent. A typical complete fertilizer used in vegetable gardens is 10-10-10.

Keep reading to learn more about organic fertilizers.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:
  • Starting a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to get your vegetable garden started, from planning your plot to planting seeds and sprouts.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.