Gardening has got several benefits that make it one of the best and indeed a popular hobby. It’s not only a great stress reliever and good for your heart, but it also gives you a sense of achievement.
If you love gardening, you’d agree that one of the biggest sources of confusion relates to fertilizers.
- What’s, is the best time to fertilize?
- How to apply fertilizers?
Most people make a mistake in either of these aspects, only to repent later. In this article, we discuss these key facets.
What are Fertilizers and Why Do We Need Them?
Fertilizers are nothing but nutritional supplements for plants. Just like any other living being, plants also need certain nutrients to grow and survive. Generally, they obtain these from the soil; but if the soil doesn’t have an adequate quantity of these constituents, you need to substitute with the help of fertilizers.
Fertilizers can be of natural or synthetic origin and can have different percentages of chemicals; available in granular or liquid forms. The primary nutrients that constitute a fertilizer are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K); that’s why the term NPK is a common terminology in fertilizers.
Which Fertilizers to Use?
To decide upon the type of fertilizer to use for your garden, you’ve to find out what nutrient is lacking in your soil. Which fertilizers to use can be accurately determined by observing the symptoms of deficiency in your plants. While a lack of nitrogen results in yellow leaves, phosphorus deficiency causes fewer flowers, and a shortage of potassium affects the stem strength.
Now that you know the basics of fertilizers let’s find out more about the right timing for applying and the application process of fertilizers.
The Right Time to Fertilize.
As you can now appreciate, it’s difficult to generalize the best time for fertilizer application. When best to fertilize depends on the kind of plants, levels of nutrients in the soil, and the type of fertilizers used.
Remember is that the fertilizer manufacturer knows best about the optimal application rates; therefore, you must follow the instructions given on the pack. Even if two fertilizers have a similar nutrient content, the application will depend upon their types. Fertilizer may be organic or synthetic, water-soluble liquid, granular, or time-released. More so, different plants will need varying quantities of fertilizers at different stages. Here are a few guidelines:
1. Shrubs and Trees.
Applying fertilizer at the root level while planting shrubs and trees allows the plants to get a continuous supply of nutrition from the soil at their desired rates. Applying fertilizer at the root level while planting gives a constant and steady reserve of nutrients for the plants, from where they can draw their dose as required.
On the other hand, for trees and shrubs, you need to apply fertilizers on an annual basis. You can fix it anytime for application, but the early spring season is the best for fertilizing. Note that, if there are no signs of malnutrition shown by the plants, they may be getting their share of nutrients directly from the soil. In such cases, you need not use fertilizers.
2. Perennial Plants.
While planting new perennial plants, incorporate an all-purpose organic fertilizer at the bottom of the pit. Incorporating an all-purpose organic fertilizer will help your growing plants to get their nutrition from the soil; an all-purpose fertilizer will provide adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc. to them.
For established perennial plants, just like shrubs and trees, applying fertilizer once every year is generally sufficient. Applying fertilizer in the early spring for perennials like rhubarb, berries, asparagus, etc. is effective.
3. Flowing Plants.
While the spring bloomers like hyacinths and tulips, generally don’t need any fertilizers, specific soils may need fertilizer application depending on deficiency symptoms. You may fertilize perennial bulbs like alliums and daffodils post-flowering.
The flowers that bloom during summer, such as lilies, dahlias, and gladiolas, need fertilization while planting. A mid-summer fertilization may be necessary for dahlias and other flowering plants that need higher quantities of nutrients.
4. Annual Plants.
Annual vegetables and flowers need more nutrition to grow; therefore, annual vegetables and will require repeated application of fertilizer. Apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer while planting such saplings; this provides them a regular supply of nutrients during growth stages. After that, use liquid fertilizer to supplement their supply every month during mid-summer; the frequency of application should be no more than twice a month.
Contrary to common belief, the growth and health of plants aren’t always directly proportional to the quantity of fertilizer used. If malnourishment is bad, an overdose of fertilizers can be equally harmful to the plants. Just like other living creatures, overfeeding plants with a particular nutrient leads to problems.
Although you need to ensure that your plants get their share of nutrition, you don’t want to provide too much. An excess amount of nitrogen reduces the production of fruits and flowers while increasing foliage. Overdose of phosphorus hinders the plants from absorbing adequate zinc and iron from the soil, thereby affecting their overall health. If there’s too much potassium, the plants won’t be able to absorb their share of calcium.
Apart from adversely affecting plant health, the excess fertilizers may also cause water pollution by percolating into the groundwater. This polluted water then feeds the waterways, which leads to damage to the entire ecosystem. It’s therefore, essential to apply fertilizer judiciously.
Best Methods to Apply Fertilizer.
Now that we know the correct timings of the application of different types of fertilizers for different varieties of plants, you’re ready for the next step. Let’s have a look at the best ways of fertilizing your plants. There are several methods of applying fertilizers to your plants; broadcasting, placement, pellet application, and drilling are some commonly utilized methods.
Discussing them all is beyond the purview of this article, and it’ll be done in subsequent articles. Two of the most favorite and effective fertilizer application methods are:-
Topdressing is a type of broadcasting method and is frequently used for fertilizers rich in nitrogen. As the name suggests, the fertilizer is applied from the top to crops that are densely planted. This method allows the plants to easily absorb the nutrients as the fertilizer is in the top layer of soil. However, it has a few disadvantages, like promoting weed growth and underutilization of fertilizer.
Side-dressing is a placement method of fertilizer application. The fertilizer is applied out placed in between the plant rows or around each plant. The following side-dressing methods can accomplish it:
Nitrogenous fertilizer is placed between rows of crops such as cotton, sugarcane, maize, etc.
– Individual Placement.
For apple, papaya, mango, and similar trees and grapes, the fertilizer is placed around the roots.
Comparison Between Top Dressing and Side Dressing.
While the topdressing method is faster and less costly than side-dressing, it needs rain to make it effective. In the absence of rains, the top-dressed fertilizer won’t be able to reach the place roots and hence gets lost or decomposed.
On the other hand, although the side-dressing method is slower and costs more, the fertilizer is less likely to be lost. It’s much easier for the plants to absorb the nutrients when fertilizer is placed near the roots.
Soil Amendments are nothing but natural organic items that are added to the soil to amend its characteristics. Soil amendments may be necessary to improve soil fertility or other physical properties. In this section, we shall discuss soil amendments for enhancing its ability to support the growth of plants.
As already seen, fertilizers add essential nutrients to the soil; so, what’s the difference between fertilizer and a soil amendment element? Whereas the former can be natural or synthetic, the latter is always organic. Chemical agents can provide the necessary nutrients to the plants, but the amendments hi a step further as they improve the soil’s drainage and texture. The following are the two most effective and useful soil amendments:
Compost is an organic matter that’s formed through the decomposition of organic waste materials such as leaves, fruit, vegetable remains, etc. This process is called composting, and it breaks down organic waste to produce this excellent element. Compost is not only a great fertilizer, a natural pesticide, but also a perfect conditioner for the soil.
An ideal compost will consist of the following three components in the right proportions:
Greens consist of vegetable and fruit waste as well as grass pieces. It provides nitrogen to your compost.
Dead branches, leaves, and twigs compose the brown portion. These add carbon to the compost.
It not only allows perfect mixing of the browns and greens but also supports composting.
2. Alfalfa Pellets.
Normally used to feed animals, the alfalfa pellets have been found to have a high percentage (5%) of absorbable nitrogen. It also has some traces of triacontanol, which is known to be a natural growth promoter for plants. Its pelleted form makes it easy to apply. It acts as a slow-releasing fertilizer and hence provides nutrition for a long duration.
Fertilization is an important activity to get good crops and a beautiful garden. For best results, use the right type of fertilizer at the correct time and apply it in the most efficient method. You must not only observe your plants closely to understand their requirements but also read the instructions given on the fertilizer pack. In case you’ve got any further queries, we’ll be happy to answer them. Happy Gardening!