Nutrients in the Garden 11: Why Fertilize?

Snow and rain have me talking about gardening rather than actually gardening. I’m not complaining. We need the moisture and it gives me the opportunity to help a few friends by planting seeds of inspiration for their first garden.


This week we will continue to talk about soil, more specifically, nutrients in the soil. I am going to use nutrients and fertilizer interchangeably because fertilizer is how we replenish nutrients in the soil.  I often get asked, “Why do I need to fertilize?” My response is this, if you want a healthy, productive garden, you need it.

In this case, seeing is believing. Click on over to the proven winners web site and scroll down to the bottom. You can see what a difference fertilizer makes. I don’t have any photos of my own fertilizer failures to show you, but I can assure you I have had pots that look like pot one; wimpy, scraggly, pathetic. Without adequate nutrients in the soil, your garden will look the same way. And then you will have to call me and say, “I can’t grow anything! Can you come look at my garden?” Which, of course, I will be happy to do.

Robby Flannery, Ph.D., stated it this way, “The plant that lacks sufficient nutrients may survive for a long period of time, but it would never be very healthy. This would be like a person who consistently eats unhealthy food that has little nutritional value. Sure, the unhealthy food would keep the person alive, but that person would have poor health.”

I fertilize so that I can harvest and feed my family hearty vegetables full of vitamins, minerals, and even some lycopene. There are many different methods and procedures to adding nutrients to the soil. As the garden season progresses you will need to choose which option is best for you and your garden.

Check out the Nutrients for Life spring 2014 magazine page 16, titled “Fertilizer 101,” for a great table on types of fertilizer. Don’t get our bi-annual magazine?  Subscribe on this page.

Below is a video I made a few years ago outlining five different types of fertilizer. It’s a great quick resource to become familiar with your options. After the video, I go into a little more depth on the types of fertilizer I use most often.

Planting the Seeds of Success

Liquid Fertilizer

I like to use the liquid fertilizer because it goes directly to the plant roots and it is absorbed quickly. The most popular synthetic liquid fertilizer is a blue powder that you measure and mix with water. Organic forms include fish emulsion and seaweed extract. There are a lot of different brands of liquid fertilizers you can use, just be sure to follow label directions when mixing.

Slow Release Granular Fertilizer

For busy gardeners (and over-committed moms), using a slow release granular fertilizer is a time saver. These fertilizers are coated and slowly release nutrients over an extended period of time. It’s important to note the date when you added the fertilizer so you know when you need to reapply. Each brand is different, so follow label directions.


Nutrient Stewardship

Fertilizer is important and it should be used responsibly. Over applying fertilizer can cause as much heartache as under fertilizing. To be sure you are applying the right amount, follow label directions and the 4R’s of nutrient stewardship.

 Right Source – Match fertilizer types to your garden plant needs.

Right Rate – Match the amount of applied nutrients with what the plant is actually missing and do not over-apply.

Right Time – Apply nutrients when plants can best use them.

Right Place – Match amount of fertilizer to plant needs. Follow label directions.

Learn more about the 4R’s here.

Please leave any questions in the comments below, or tweet @Nutrients4Life with #AskDee.  Next, we will talk about how to read a fertilizer label and hopefully I will have planted more than seeds of inspiration by then.

I’m happy to be gardening with you!

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