Every time you buy a tree, a shrub or a packet of seeds, the packaging always has information on how and when to fertilize. Regardless of the type of soil, you need to apply fertilizer to optimize productivity. It doesn’t even matter if you are planting on the richest sandy loam soil in the planet. You can always enrich soil further by applying fertilizer.
Considering most soils are depleted today, applying fertilizer is more important now more than ever so, how do you choose the right fertilizer? If you want to know the answer to this question, look no further. Below are the most important factors every gardener must consider before choosing a fertilizer.
1. Consider Your End Result
To be able to choose the right fertilizer for your garden, you need to consider your preferred end result i.e. why do you want to apply fertilizer in the first place? It’s important to note that all fertilizers are made up of three main ingredients essential for plant growth namely; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (potash). These ingredients are blended depending on the reasons for applying fertilizer.
For instance, nitrogen helps in improving vegetative growth. In plants, nitrogen is equivalent to protein. Plants which don’t get adequate nitrogen experience weak or stunted growth. Other plants need more nitrogen than others. For instance, green vegetables, lawn grass, and corn need more nitrogen than most plants.
Phosphorus helps plants use sugar and starch, reproduce and perform photosynthesis. Plants, therefore, need adequate phosphorus for proper and rapid growth to maturity. Phosphorus supports flowering which results in vegetable or fruit production.
Plants use potassium or potash to build a strong root system. When a plant has healthy roots, it utilizes water more efficiently which results in sustained growth. Plant roots also tend to be less susceptible to insect or disease damage when they have access to adequate amounts of potassium.
For your garden plants to enjoy all the above fertilizer benefits, you need a compound fertilizer which contains all the three main elements in equal proportions i.e. 12-12-12 which means the fertilizer has 12 parts of each element with any remaining element being inert or simply filler material.
Specialty fertilizers have the three main elements blended together in different proportions depending on the desired outcome. If improving vegetative growth is the most important i.e. because you are planting green vegetables, the fertilizer you choose should have more nitrogen than any other element.
Depending on what you want i.e. to boost vegetative growth, fruit production, promote the growth of healthy roots etc., you shouldn’t have a problem choosing a suitable fertilizer if you consider your end game first.
2. Decide If You Want an Organic or Inorganic Fertilizer
Fertilizers can be divided into two main types based on what they are made off i.e. living or non-living sources. Organic fertilizers are synthesized from living sources while inorganic fertilizers are synthesized from non-living sources i.e. rocks or petroleum distillates. Such fertilizers are packed with micro-nutrients however, they don’t do much for the soil.
Organic fertilizers are made from living sources the most common being compost which is simply a blend of decayed high carbon material and nitrogen. Other common sources of organic fertilizers include manures and byproducts of foods such as blood and bone meal, fish meal and kelp seaweed. Organic fertilizers provide plants with macro-nutrients as well as condition the soil. The fertilizers feed plants as well as microorganisms in the soil which maintain a symbiotic relationship with plants i.e. help plants extract nutrients from the soil.
Organic fertilizers bare the label; O.M.R.I (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved which simply means they have been tested and designated as organic. They tend to be the most popular types of fertilizers although they tend to have fewer macro-nutrients than their counterparts.
3. Liquid or Granular Fertilizer?
You also need to decide if you want liquid or granular fertilizers. As the name suggests, liquid fertilizer comes in liquid form, granular fertilizer is in the form of granules. Most plants thrive when fertilizer is mixed with regular foliage or when it is administered via drip irrigation. When plants are sprayed with liquid fertilizer, the fertilizer gets absorbed via the leaves and stems offering plants with instant food.
Applying fertilizer via drip irrigation is ideal when you want to deliver the fertilizer via the roots. This type of delivery might take longer than spraying but it is equally effective and better for plants which don’t absorb food well via the leaves and stems. Its, however, worth noting it might be impractical to deliver fertilizer this way during the wet season.
Granular fertilizers are applied less often than liquid fertilizers. The fertilizers are released slower usually within 3 to 4 months. Granular fertilizers are incorporated into the soil as opposed to being delivered on the surface of the soil. This ensures they are retained better. The fertilizers are activated by moisture so plants need to be watered regularly for the fertilizers to release the nutrients into the water. Granular fertilizers are perfect for fertilizers containing plenty of nitrogen since nitrogen is unstable and easily lost when temperatures rise.
4. Consider What’s Lacking in The Soil
This should be the last important factor to consider when you want to choose the right fertilizer for your garden. Different soils lack certain elements depending on many factors the most notable being type. As a result, it’s important to have your garden’s soil tested to establish the type and what’s lacking in it. You can send samples of your garden’s soil to your county extension office or use a soil analyzer which can be bought in most garden centers.
When you test soil, you will know what’s missing as well as other important information such as soil acidity/alkalinity, soil texture etc. Such information is important since extremely acidity or alkalinity hinders the availability of essential nutrients to plants resulting in weak growth even in cases where fertilizer has been used. Soil texture also dictates the availability of nutrients in soil. If your soil is extremely acidic or alkaline, you can consider a variety of soil amendments aimed at bringing the pH closer to ideal levels unless you are planning on planting plants which thrive in extreme acidic or alkaline conditions. Soil texture can be improved by adding organic material.
The above factors are bound to help you choose the best fertilizer for your garden. Once you consider what you want the fertilizer to do, the most ideal type of fertilizer for your end goal as well as what’s lacking in the soil, you shouldn’t have a problem choosing the right fertilizer. Fertilizer may not be the most enjoyable gardening topic however, it’s crucial to the success of your gardening efforts.