Best Garden Fertilizer For Vegetables

Potatoes in the soil.

When plants don’t provide much produce, you need to determine what is the root cause of the problem. There are various factors you need to consider, and one of them is the fertilizer you are using.

Using fertilizer in your vegetable garden is essential if you wish to yield high-quality produce.

The soil you have in your garden determines what type of fertilizer you need, and the most common fertilizers that expert growers recommend are nitrogen and phosphorus. However, these aren’t the only nutrients your plants need.

To know what your plants need, you can have your soil tested in a reputable soil testing lab. You can also try a kit that is sold commercially, but sometimes, the results from this isn’t very reliable.


The Nutrients Your Plants Need Most

A bulb of cabbage.

Aside from sunlight and water, plants need nutrients to grow healthy. If your plants do not grow in their best way, it could be because they lacked any of these.

Soil texture also plays a vital role in how your plants grow. Compacted soil affects your plants’ growth.

To alleviate this type of problem, all you need to do is add an ample amount of organic compost.

The organic compost stimulates microbes in the soil. Microorganisms provide sufficient soil aeration and allow nutrients to permeate into the roots.

To clearly understand the effect of every soil condition to your plants, you can checkout our article, Organic vs. Non-organic Soil.


Primary Fertilizers Your Plants Need

Newly planted seedling.

When vegetable plants get nutrients from the soil as they grow, they gradually make the soil infertile. But adding fertilizer can bring them back to health and enrichment.

Organic fertilizer includes compost and domestic animal manure, while inorganic fertilizer is a chemically processed fertilizer. These are the two types of fertilizers vegetable growers use.

However, conventional growers sometimes use both organic and synthetic, while organic growers use non-chemical fertilizer only.


Inorganic Fertilizers

Inorganic fertilizer applied to a garden bed.
Image by: gardeners.com

Chemical fertilizer, which is also known as inorganic materials, undergoes a process of chemical treatment. It has precise formulations depending on its designed purpose. It is also less expensive compared to organic fertilizer.

These three substances below are the main components of low-cost compound inorganic fertilizers sold commercially.

  1. Nitrogen (good for the leaves, stems, roots, and fruits)
    However, the excessive use of nitrogen reduces plant production. It also increases insect and disease problems.
  2. Phosphorous (assist the plant cell growth). Giving phosphorous to your plants when it isn’t necessary can increase chlorosis.
  3. Potassium (aid starch formation, aside from helping plants fight against disease)

When buying inorganic fertilizers, the number at the back of the packaging represents the percentage of the NPK nutrients.

Vegetable plants require nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a higher amount, while needing other nutrients like copper, iron, zinc, and manganese in a smaller amount. Aside from nitrogen and phosphorus, most of these nutrients are available in the soil.

Adding fertilizer unnecessarily can cause nutrient deficiencies, so you must know your soil type by conducting a soil test to counter all possible problems your plants may have.

Yes, chemical fertilizers allow vegetable growers to produce high-quality crops in the short term, but long term use may lead to fewer and poor quality crops.

Doing so is not only a waste of money but can also contribute to chemical runoff into any available waterway.

What do the numbers on the back of commercially sold fertilizer packaging mean?

The series of the three numbers on the back of the packaging of commercially sold fertilizer is the ratio of the nutrients available in the bag. For example, 10-10-10 or 5-10-5.

  • The first number indicates the percentage of nitrogen (N).
  • The second number indicates the percentage of phosphorus (P).
  • The third number indicates the percentage of potassium (K). 
How Chemical Fertilizer Works

Inorganic fertilizer, which is also known as chemical fertilizer comes in many forms. It comes either in liquid, powder, pellets or granular. Yet, the most common is in granular form.

You can apply fertilizers like granular, pellets, and powder in various ways. You can either spread them over the entire row or ring the plants individually.

However, never apply fertilizer when the plant leaves are wet, and always water plants after adding some to remove particles from the foliage. You can also toss a small amount over the roots for best results.

Moreover, you can use water-soluble fertilizers when you water your plants. You can apply this regularly, such as once a week. Nutrients can be distributed evenly, even with the use of a watering can. This type of fertilizer is especially handy for growing vegetables in a container.

Foliar feeding is a method vegetable growers practice to provide a particular boost into their plants, or to supply micronutrients like iron, zinc, and manganese. Liquid fertilizers are diluted with water and sprinkled into the plants.

Inorganic fertilizers like these are concentrated and fast-acting. However, it can cause more harm to the soil of your garden when used for the long term.

Aside from not containing organic nutrients to improve soil structure, this type of fertilizer is harmful to people and environments when used irresponsibly.


Organic Fertilizers

A big long earthworm.

Organic fertilizers like compost improve soil structure, stimulate soil microbes, contribute micronutrients, and helps fight against fungal and bacterial disease.

They also help improve water retention, making your plants absorb nutrients effortlessly. This makes water easily accessible to roots and especially helps to loosen soil compaction.

Compost is low in nutrient value, but it can be an excellent source of micronutrients. It is also good at building the biological activity of the soil.  To understand more about compost and its benefits, you should read our article, Mulch vs. Compost – Which Is Best For You To Use.

Organic fertilizers like compost, take longer to see results, but they supply nutrients to plants continuously.


So What Is The Best Fertilizer For Your Vegetable Plants?

Hand holding a seedling.

Both conventional and organic farmers are looking for a highly effective and affordable source of nutrition for their crops.

A vegetable garden needs regular feeding of compost, once each in the summer, spring, and in the fall. You can also amend the compost with garden mulch such as grass clippings, dried leaves, or any other organic mulches available in your location. It is best to lay them up to 2 inches from the soil.

Also, when considering adding commercially sold liquid fertilizers, it is best to do it in the spring. You can start adding them monthly when growth begins until plants stop growing.

Adding liquid fertilizers in the fall is a waste of money as the rain will wash them away, making plants unable to intake the nutrients they need.

Compost, on the other hand, should be applied regularly. The soil microorganisms need to turn compost into nutrients that your vegetable plants need.

Avoid using fertilizers to your plants that are meant for grass. Grass fertilizers have a high amount of nitrogen that can burn your vegetable plants.

Overall, it is best to protect the health of your soil with organic amendments. Expert growers always recommend organic practices like adding compost regularly. It will overall aid microbial activity while adding texture to your soil.


Avoid Over-Fertilization At All Costs

Understanding how to use fertilizer correctly and knowing the appropriate amount your plant needs is essential, as excessive use of fertilizer can be detrimental to your plants.

Applying too much fertilizer can burn vegetable plants, resulting in damage or plant death. Plant burns can vary following the fertilizer’s salt index.

Plants need only a small amount of nitrogen. Excessive use of fertilizer containing nitrogen is damaging as excess nitrogen can turn into nitrate that drains quickly.

Nitrates produce toxins causing problems to environments that are harmful to human health too, if leached through soil and into groundwater.


The pH of Your Soil Is Important

A hoe in the soil.

The acid or alkaline level of your soil affects the plant’s ability to get and use nutrients. Soil pH depends on your location. Vegetables grow best in soil with pH about 6.0-7.0. However, acid-loving plants such as strawberries thrive well in soil with a 4.5 pH reading.

Only soil tests can determine the pH of your soil.  A soil test will be the basis for the recommendations on which amendments to use to balance the pH of your soil.

A pH that is too high will fasten the nutrients in the soil, making them unavailable to your plants. Also, the pH can become very toxic when the level is too much for your plants.


  • Try To Prevent Pollution From Chemical Runoff

Water irrigation system using large steel pipes.

Every plant has different needs when it comes to nutrients, so it is essential to give only the appropriate amount needed.

  • Sweep fertilizers off immediately when spilled on hard surfaces.

Spilling fertilizers on a hard surface, such as a driveway, can flow away into storm drains and run into nearby waterways, so it is best to sweep them off immediately.

  • Do not apply fertilizer before a heavy rain.

Do not apply fertilizer if heavy rain is forecast within 24 hours. Rain can wash fertilizer off into groundwater, contributing to pollution among the environment.

  • It is essential to know your water source.

Recycled water from irrigation contains nutrients like nitrogen. If you are considering using them on your plants, keep in mind to adjust the amount of fertilizer and use accordingly.


Final Thoughts on Garden Fertilizer For Your Vegetables

Aside from making the soil fertile, the purpose of adding fertilizer for your vegetable plants is to increase the number of nutrients they can absorb.

Adding fertilizers to your plants can make them robust and productive, but an excessive amount can also burn and cause them death. When the leaves of your plants start turning yellow or grow lankly, these are signs that your plants are looking for help.

The appropriate use of fertilizer can help plants thrive and provide high returns. However, using them irresponsibly can harm you, your plants, and the environment.

Are there any thoughts you would like us to add? Please feel free to write them down in the comment section below. We’re always glad to hear your suggestions and concerns.

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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