QUESTION: What is the best fertilizer for gardens? There are so many different types and brands and I’m totally confused. Eliza H
ANSWER: When you look at any fertilizer, you should notice three numbers. These numbers represent how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are within the fertilizer, expressed on the package as NPK.
For example, if you’re purchasing 10-10-10, this means there are ten pounds of each nutrient in the fertilizer. Then there’s seventy pounds of natural filler (such as sand) to make up the rest of the product.
Nitrogen is an important ingredient in any fertilizer as it’s what helps your plant produce healthy foliage. Phosphorus helps your plant to establish strong roots and to produce fruit and flowers. Potassium helps plants with photosynthesis. This is the process which allows plants to make food.
Before applying any fertilizer, be sure to test your soil. This will let you know what your soil is lacking and help you to purchase the right balance of fertilizer.
Under most circumstances, it’s recommended that you purchase a fertilizer with double the amount of phosphorus in comparison to the other two ingredients. This will help keep your plants balanced.
The phosphorus ensures your plants will produce. If you purchase a fertilizer with equal amounts of each nutrient, you may end up with more foliage than fruit.
There are different types of fertilizers. Some are organic and some are chemical-based. Which you use will be solely based upon your personal preference.
If you choose to use an organic fertilizer, you might notice that the numbers are lower. Instead of 10-10-10, they might be 3-3-3.
Don’t let this discourage you. Though organic fertilizer might not be as strong as chemical fertilizer, it should still contain the same ratio of desired nutrients in the product.
You now understand how to find the appropriate balance in a fertilizer. It’s also important that you understand a few things you shouldn’t do with fertilizer.
Some gardeners use lime around their gardens. Be careful when adding lime to your soil. This is a source of calcium and if added in too large of quantities, it can upset the pH of your soil.
You should also avoid using lawn fertilizer on your garden. This type of fertilizer is heavy in nitrogen and can throw off the balance in your garden area.
Before we end our discussion, we must talk about types of natural fertilizers and also the proper amounts of fertilizer to add to your growing space.
You may use totally natural fertilizer (such as manure) in your garden. Be sure that it’s fully composted to avoid harming your plants.
Also, you must understand when using this type of fertilizer that there won’t be exact ratios of nutrients within it. You also must decide which type of manure you’ll use in your garden.
The top choice is chicken manure. This type of manure is highly acidic, therefore, it’s vital that you compost it thoroughly.
However, chicken manure is usually less expensive than other types of manure because it’s readily available in most places.
Also, it contains higher amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. As we discussed earlier, this is great for your plants.
Some people might consider using pig or cow manure as fertilizer. Pig manure is generally lower in these desired nutrients and can be more expensive than chicken manure.
Cow manure is also typically more expensive and has lower nutrient ratios. We know this because most cows are sustained on grains and grass which explains the ratio of nutrients in their manure.
The final thing we must address when discussing the best fertilizers are the quantities that should be applied to your growing space.
When using totally natural fertilizer (i.e. manure), apply approximately ten pounds per 100 square feet of your garden.
If you’re using purchased fertilizer (organic or chemical-based) ensure you read the package instructions to know how much to apply to your garden. This is vital when applying any type of fertilizer because if you apply too much it could harm your plants instead of help them.
In conclusion, there is no best fertilizer. It’s more about understanding the balance your soil needs, deciding on your personal preferences, and supplying nutrients in appropriate amounts. If you can do this, your garden should be fertilized adequately and produce well.