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Fertilizing Basics for Your Vegetable Garden

By Bonnie Plants
6/11/2014 11:36:53 AM

National Garden Bureau member Bonnie Plants has generously provided us with an interesting and informative article on the basics of fertilization for your home vegetable garden.

Credit: I Can Garden

Plants grow using energy from the sun combined with nutrients taken from the soil. Because 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. Unimproved, newly cultivated soil is usually low in organic matter, so it is also low in nutrients.

All edible plants remove some nutrients from the soil, and some have such huge appetites that they quickly exhaust the soil (then produce a poor crop) without the help of fertilizer. Fertilizer is especially helpful early, when plants are making fast new growth. You can mix fertilizer into individual planting holes, work it into furrows or use a turning fork to mix it into beds. You can also apply a liquid fertilizer every week or two for a fast-acting extra boost of nutrition.

Always follow the rates given on the fertilizer label when deciding how much to use. Too much fertilizer can be worse than too little! Overfed plants often grow huge, yet bear a light crop late in the season.

With experience, you will learn how to match fertilizer amounts with plants' needs for your climate and soil. Onions, tomatoes, sweet corn and vegetables grown in containers respond to special fertilizing techniques, but most crops grow well if you simply mix a balanced fertilizer into the soil as you set out the plants. Use the lists below to help estimate the fertilizer needs of your favorite crops.

Light feeders often benefit from a small amount of starter fertilizer but require no additional feeding when grown in soil that has been enriched with compost:

- Bush beans

- Mustard greens

- Peas

- Southern peas

- Turnips

Moderate feeders often need good drainage and moisture-holding mulch more than they need fertilizer. Avoid using organic fertilizers made primarily from processed manure when preparing the soil for beets, carrots and other root crops. Manure can contribute to scabby patches on potato skins and forked roots in carrots and parsnips.

- Beets

- Carrots

- Okra

- Pole beans

- Potatoes

- Sweet potatoes

Heavy feeders are often highly productive plants, so a few minutes spent mixing in fertilizer before you set out plants is time well spent. Just don't go overboard by applying too much! Plants often grow slowly in cool spring weather, so wait until the weather warms to decide that the application rate given on a fertilizer's label was not enough. Some heavy feeders also respond to second helpings later in the season.

- Broccoli

- Brussels sprouts

- Cabbage

- Cantaloupe

- Cauliflower

- Corn

- Cucumbers

- Eggplant

- Kale

- Kohlrabi

- Onions

- Peppers

- Rhubarb

- Squash

- Tomatoes

- Watermelon

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