The Basics of Fertilizing Your Garden

image1Master Gardener William Moss is with the National Gardening Association and is happy to share tips on better growing with beginning and experienced gardeners alike. In this video he’s at the historic Oatlands in Leesburg, Virginia, and using its gardens as a backdrop for a lesson on fertilizing your garden.

What’s the point?

So what’s the point of fertilizing, anyway? Let’s look at how plants grow. They use energy derived from the sun that’s combined with the nutrients that come from the soil. That’s the simplest way of understanding the process. How much can soil hold in the way of nutrients? Well, the organic matter in soil holds nutrients like a sponge until they are needed by plants, soil that is fertile, well-drained, and regularly enriched with compost often holds a reasonable supply of plant nutrients. But it’s not always enough. Just as humans often need to take vitamin supplements in addition to the nutrients derived from their food, so too do plants often need more than what nature provides.


This is especially true when the soil is newly cultivated. Unimproved new soil is generally low in organic matter. And being low in organic matter means that it’s also low in nutrients.  There’s also a question of which plants need more nutrients, and which ones don’t get enough. Some edible plants have what we might think of as bigger appetites than others. So even in places where the nutrients might support one plants, they might not support another. And the ones with the bigger appetites will take everything that there is and exhaust the soil completely.

image3What all of this means is that you need to intervene in order to keep your soil and your plants healthy. And the way that you intervene is through fertilizing the ground. Fertilizing is especially important and helpful early on, at the time when plants are making fast new growth. If you want healthy plants, then you need to give them healthy soil. Fertilizers are like vitamins for your plants, they stuck to soil with all the necessary nutrients for healthy garden.

image4What’s in fertilizer?

Three main chemical elements are found in all mixed fertilizers:

nitrogen (which serves to promote healthy leaf growth by stimulating the production of chlorophyll, the chemical involved in the conversion of sunlight to food), phosphorus (which supports the healthy development of roots, fruits, blossoms and stems), and potassium (which plays a key role in helping plants digest and manufacture food).

The first thing to consider is whether you’re harming the soil you’re your plants by fertilizing. More fertilizer isn’t necessarily better for your garden. Overfeeding plants is just as bad as underfeeding them. It can damage the plants themselves and can do a great deal of harm to the environment as well.

Follow the directions

So before you begin, remember that following the directions closely. One teaspoon means one teaspoon. Have your soil tested; a garden center can tell you which fertilizer is optimal for your plants. If you take good care of them, you’ll get bigger and healthier flowers, fruits, and vegetables.


If your garden is made up primarily of vegetables, you may want to consider using organic fertilizers. Why? Because organic fertilizers contain a broader spectrum of nutrients. These nutrients will help your plants fight diseases better and will be more productive.

Don’t feel that you must fertilize in a void. Why not add it into your regular gardening repertoire? When you mulch, do it with compost. Just like mulch, compost will keep weeds from flourishing and developing, it will keep the moisture in the soil, and as the compost breaks down it feeds the plant with all the best possible nutrients, so that way you’re essentially getting two for the price of one.