Gardening Tips: What You Need to Know about Garden Fertilizer

Spraying flowers with garden fertilizer

When it comes to gardening, you probably have one goal: to make sure your garden thrives and produces plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. But how do you do this? With the right garden fertilizer, of course. After all, if you don’t give your garden the proper nutrients, it won’t provide you with tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, etc. Don’t let this happen! We’re giving you the scoop on garden fertilizer, so you can have a garden that grows. Ready? Let’s grow your garden with the right fertilizer!

Gardening Tips: Give Your Garden the Right Fertilizer

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Before exploring garden fertilizer, you’ll want to learn about feeding your garden. As a beginner, you may not know the nuances of it. As an experienced gardener, you may learn something new that will improve your garden’s growth. Here’s what to know about feeding your garden.

Facts about Feeding a Garden

Think about feeding your garden as you would your body: you have to give it the right amount of nutrients. For instance, too little results in weak growth, while too much can attract aphids (minute bugs) that suck fluids from leaves and flowers. Also, shoots may become sappy, which can leave plants vulnerable to frost damage. By looking at your plants, you can tell if they need nutrients because they won’t look healthy. For instance, leaves with yellow edges and between the veins indicate an iron deficiency.

How To Feed Your Garden

There are many types of garden fertilizers available. But how do you know which one will work for your garden? How much should you give your garden? Many factors are involved, including the soil (clay, loamy, or sandy) and type of plants you grow. You can conduct a soil test to find out what shape it’s in. You can either buy a kit or perform your own test. Below is a recipe for at homemade soil testing.

Soil Test Ingredients and Supplies

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of baking soda
  • Distilled water
  • Two containers

Soil Test Directions

  1. Collect 1 cup of soil from different areas of your garden.
  2. Put 2 spoonfuls of soil into separate containers.
  3. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to one of the containers.
  4. Add distilled water to the other container of soil until it’s muddy and then add 1/2 cup of baking soda.

If the soil with the vinegar fizzes, it’s alkaline and may have a pH (acidity) balance between 7 and 8. You can either add composted leaves, pine needles or peated moss to the soil. You may also plant plants that thrive in alkaline soil.

If the soil with the distilled water and 1/2 cup of baking soda fizzes, the soil is acidic with a potential pH between 5 and 6. If the soil doesn’t react, it’s neutral with a pH of 7. Great news!

Fertilizer Nutrient Ratio – What Does it Mean?

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Commercial fertilizers have three numbers that indicate the nutrient rati0. For example, 5-10-5, 4-12-0, and 12-12-12. The first number shows the percentage of nitrogen (N). The second number represents the percentage of phosphate (type of phosphorus, P2O5). The third number indicates the percentage of potash (a form of potassium used, K2O). The 5-10-5 fertilizer contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate, and 5 percent potash and considered a complete fertilizer because it has a good balance of each nutrient. The 4-12-0 represents bone meal, which is a good source of phosphate. However, it doesn’t have any potash.

Types of Garden Fertilizer

Chemical vs. organic fertilizer organic - pros and cons of each

There are two types of fertilizers: chemical and organic. The one you use depends on your preference. Factors to consider are costs, ease of use, environmental impact, geographical area, etc. Here’s a breakdown of chemical and organic fertilizers.

Chemical Fertilizers

Synthetically manufactured, chemical fertilizers include elements of potassium chloride, sodium nitrate, and superphosphate. They come in granular, liquid, pellet, or powder form. If you use a liquid, you can use it when you water your garden with your hose or sprinkling can.  If you use a granular fertilizer, sprinkle some around each plant.

Studies have shown that chemical fertilizers may harm microorganisms in the soil, which may hinder long-term plant growth. They’re concentrated and fast acting but may not have any long-term benefits. Chemical fertilizers are usually manufactured with nonrenewable resources and require large amounts of energy. Even though some commercial fertilizers are organic, they’re manufacturing using energy.

Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers consist of animal and green manure, blood meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, granite dust, and rock phosphate. But like anything, there are pros and cons.


  • Improves structure
  • Supplies a slow, steady diet for plants
  • Feeds soil microbes
  • Fights fungal and bacterial diseases
  • Maybe inexpensive or free, if you create them
  • Contributes micronutrients
  • Has a complete with a 5-5-5 ratio


  1. Compost and manures are bulky. You may find them challenging to transport and store.
  2. Organic fertilizers slowly release nutrients and may hinder the supply that’s needed.
  3. They’re lower in nutrients when compared to chemical fertilizers.
  4. Depending on where organic fertilizers are produced, their contents may be lower, so you may under or over fertilize your garden.

Forms of Garden Fertilizer

Now that you know the difference between chemical and organic fertilizers, here’s a breakdown of the different forms.


A dry garden fertilizer can enhance soil fertility before planting, so you’ll want to apply a granular or powdered form in early spring. Use it to feed established plants in raised garden beds, borders, or pots. You may also scatter it around your perennials, shrubs, and trees. Treating a large area? Consider dividing it with garden sticks for even distribution. When handling dry fertilizer, always wear gloves.


Most slow-release garden fertilizers are chemical based. They gradually release over a period of time and are great for the short-term because you only need one application. Keep in mind that the speed of the release depends on the weather. Hot, sunny days and rainy days release the fertilizer faster. However, you may use greensand, a mineral and natural source of potassium that’s derived from 70-million old marine deposits. No matter what you use, chemical or organic, wear gloves when spreading slow-release fertilizer.


A liquid garden fertilizer acts fast, can be applied to soil or compost, and diluted once. When used as a foliar spray, plants almost immediately receive the nutrients. Liquid fertilizers tend to be higher in potash and can improve the number of tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries produced. They can also extend flowering annuals. If you’d like to make an organic liquid fertilizer, use chicken manure, grass clippings, or seaweed (kelp). These can help your plants become stronger and become more productive. As always, wear gloves and read the instructions before using liquid fertilizers or use ready-mixed feeds.


Manure, a rich source of nitrogen, comes from domestic pets (must compost for at least two years – do not apply directly to food crops) or livestock. It adds nutrients, improves the structure and water-retaining ability, and contributes to the growth of beneficial organisms in the soil. Apply manure in the fall to established beds, or into areas that you’re preparing to use for planting in the spring.

What You Feed Your Garden Matters

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Whether you want to start a garden or have been gardening for years, the type of garden fertilizer you use will affect its growth. You must decide which type to use: chemical or organic. Consider the pros and cons of each and choose the right option for you and your plants. And most importantly, have patience, especially if you’re new to gardening. You may experience a trial and error period in finding the garden fertilizer that works best. If you’ve been gardening for years, consider testing the soil to see if it’s changed throughout the years.

Happy gardening! Do you have any garden fertilizer tips? Share them in the comments!

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Posted in DIY Projects, Home Gardening Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted by: Amandah Blackwell

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