When it comes to building a thriving garden, regular fertilization ranks as one of the most important, and basic, things you can do to ensure healthy plants, reports Oregon State University Extension. Appropriate feeding with the right fertilizer and the proper tools boosts plant appearance, root vigor and overall disease resistance. While specific fertilization strategies vary widely depending on your landscaping needs — for example, annual flowers are treated differently than evergreen shrubs — several general guidelines and tools apply in most situations.
When it comes to picking a fertilizer product, you can choose between organic fertilizers — made with substances such as kelp and poultry manure — or chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are the most commonly used choice for backyard gardeners because they dissolve quickly, have precise nutrient ratios and have nutrients that are more readily available to your plants’ roots, notes Cornell Cooperative Extension. Every spring, apply a maintenance application of fertilizer to establish a basic nutritional foundation for your plants. In most gardening situations, a couple pounds of 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 fertilizer is sufficient for every 100 square feet of gardening space.
Maintaining your garden soil’s concentration of organic matter is just as important as chemical fertilization when it comes to feeding plants, warns the University of Missouri Extension. Organic matter adds nutrients, such as nitrogen, while also enhancing the general soil structure. For most garden plants, Cornell University Extensionrecommends 2 inches of compost mixed into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
Mulch is also essential for adding nutrients to the soil while blocking out weeds that would otherwise compete with your plants for soil nutrients. For the best results, spread 1 to 3 inches of mulch on the soil surface. Example mulch material includes shredded bark and wood chips.
Fertilizer Broadcaster Spreader
In small gardens, it’s often easy enough to simply use your hands to scatter the fertilizer granules across your soil. However, in larger landscapes, a fertilizer broadcaster spreader is a more efficient way to quickly apply fertilizer in a pre-measured amount. Broadcast spreaders come in two forms: handheld broadcasters, which are operated with a crank that distributes fertilizer as you walk; and walk-behind broadcasters, which are cart-like tools that distribute fertilizer as you push them across your backyard, according to the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.
Spade and Rake
A classic spade and garden rake are the only other specific tools you need for feeding your garden plants. You use both to take the fertilizer you’ve scattered and mix it into the soil. Simply divide into halves the total amount of fertilizer you need to use. Scatter the first half across your garden, either by hand or by using a broadcast spreader. Then use a spade to mix it into the soil to a depth of 6 or more inches, recommends the University of Missouri Extension. Then, apply the second half of fertilizer and use a rake to lightly stir it into the top layer of soil. This helps ensure the fertilizer has been mixed thoroughly and relatively evenly throughout the top half foot of dirt.
1. Oregon State University Extension: Fertilizing Your Garden
2. Cornell Cooperative Extension: Fertilizing Garden Soils
3. University of Missouri Extension: Steps in Fertilizing Garden Soil – Vegetables and Annual Flowers
4. Cornell University Extension: Using Organic Matter in the Garden
5. University of California Integrated Pest Management Program: Broadcast Spreaders
6. University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences: Organic Mulch