Is there anything more disheartening than planting your vegetable garden with high hopes, only to have your hopes dashed when the garden doesn’t produce like you thought it would? In many cases, the culprit is the soil. Specifically, lack of nutrients in the soil. Many veggies are heavy feeders, needing the proper amount of nutrients to grow and thrive.
Here’s where fertilizing your veggies comes in handy. With proper planning and a bit of knowledge, your veggie garden will have all the good stuff it needs to give you the harvest you dream of. But there’s a caveat — there is actually a danger in applying too much fertilizer, thereby foiling your own plans for a whopping harvest. How to know? Keep reading!
When to Fertilize Your Vegetable Garden
This part, admittedly, is a little tricky, because the answer is “it depends.” It depends upon the type of soil you have and the kind of veggies you’re growing. But, in general, well-drained, porous soil needs fertilizing every 3-4 weeks, while clay soil prefers every 4-6 weeks. Got well-amended organic soil? You may need to fertilize only 1-2 times the entire growing season, if at all. The big clues are 1) poor plant growth and 2) yellow foliage. When you spot these bad boys, it’s time to hop on it.
How to Fertilize Your Vegetable Garden
The cardinal rule in fertilizing is to always read and follow the directions on the package (if you’re using a packaged product). Raise your hand and repeat after me: “I will not be a lazy gardener and apply more fertilizer than recommended thinking this will get me off the hook for future work.” The problems with over-fertilizing are numerous, both for the plant and for the environment. First, too much fertilizer can actually harm the plant by burning it, or lead to lots of leaf growth with little fruit production. But hey, if you want to just eat tomato leaves, that’s up to you. Second, excess fertilizer can run off into storm drains that lead to open water sources. Yeah, no.
So, start with knowing what kind of soil you have, and the specific nutrient needs of the veggies you are growing — then apply fertilizer when necessary, and always at the recommended amount.
What Types of Fertilizer to Use for Vegetables
There are a lot of great organic fertilizers that are specially made for your vegetable garden. Organic fertilizers can be granular, like Tomato, Vegetable, & Herb Fertilizer, or liquid, like Fish & Kelp Fertilizer. Granular fertilizers can be mixed into the soil at the time of planting and every two months for established plants. Liquid fertilizer can be mixed with water and can be applied once a week through the growing season.
A great fertilizer is one you can make yourself — compost — and it’s free. If you regularly add compost to your veggie garden soil, there might be little need to fertilize further. Spread ½” layer of compost over the soil after each crop is finished.
Another great way to fertilize your garden is by using worm castings, like Gardner & Bloome Organics WORM-GRO Earthworm Castings. Worm castings can be mixed into the soil when planting or mixed into the top two inches of the soil surrounding existing plants. Worms eat organic materials, and as they digest them, the nutrients are refined to their most usable form with a neutral pH of 7.0.
Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen — add ½” into the soil in the spring, or a 1-2” layer on top of the soil around the plants. Animal manures (horse, chicken) are also great to use, but be sure to use manures that are well-rotted and not fresh to avoid damaging your plants.
Fertilizing veggies only helps if the cause of the poor growth/production is a lack of nutrients in the soil. Excessive shade, competition with heavy tree roots, or lack of pollination or water all lead to poor vegetable garden performance — none of which is fixed by fertilizing.
Still not sure if you need fertilizer? Do a soil test! Call your County Extension Office for more details.