Miraculous garden liquid fertilizer, Power fruit plant supplement, Naturally-occurring amino acid biostimulant—sounds fancy, right? As we select the best vegetable fertilizer in the grocery garden shelf section, these strategic marketing puns are intended to catch our attention, which are often misleading. We can't blame the manufacturers as they also want to profit. If we strip off the brands and the catchy phrases, what makes plant food great? If you are curious about which of these is the best fertilizer for a vegetable garden, continue reading as we discuss the best veggie supplement, the basic types, and the fundamentals of fertilizer application.
Should We Fertilize a Vegetable Garden?
Before diving into what is the best fertilizer for a vegetable garden, we should first learn why it is needed in the first place. Usually absorbed in air, water, and soil where the plants are growing, food crops require a handful of nutrients to grow. Some nutrients that are limited, or unavailable in the soil; but should be supplemented by adding fertilizer. Plants can still grow without them but may not produce the maximum yield potential. They are essential for the following reasons:
- Hybrid varieties need significant nutrient inputs to yield the highest they can produce.
- Promote a healthy stance of stem and root anchorage.
- Increase the plant's immunity against pests and diseases.
- Prevent the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies, especially for secondary essential elements
- Inorganic fertilizers improve the soil properties: neutralize pH, increase microorganism counts, glue sandy soil, and granulate clay soil.
What Fertilizer Do Vegetables Need?
Crops don't care which fertilizer brand it is taking–sort of like buying a product in the supermarket, but it still boils down to the nutrition facts. Expensive or inexpensive; organic or inorganic, vegetable crops need only 17 chemical elements, and three primary macronutrients are required to perform their maximum growth: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are devoured in large quantities compared to other minor elements.
Plant supplements containing the three principal nutrients are coined as complete fertilizer and incomplete if any of the three is lacking. As a general rule, leafy vegetables appreciate high nitrogen, fruit-bearing ones are happy with potassium, and bulbous veggies grow big with phosphorus.
Types of Fertilizers for Vegetables
Various types of vegetable fertilizers exist, which can be reclassified according to the source, nutrient content, physical form, or application method. In the following, we listed the basic fertilizer classification that can be used at home:
- Organic: This fertilizer type refers to plant food derived from organic sources such as animal manure, worm castings, compost, or decayed plant residues from vegetable peels. Known to many, they are considered eco-friendly and sustainable because they are less likely to contaminate bodies of water. The nutrients are also released gently, minimizing the risk of overfeeding plants; and improving the chemical, and physical soil properties. Because of this, organic plant food resists heavy rainfalls that could wash away the precious nutrients.
While this natural type can improve soil’s health and desired characteristics, it is generally more expensive and contains less nutrient content than commercial inorganic ones.
- Inorganic: Fertilizers grown or synthesized in the laboratory are labeled as inorganic. Conventional agriculture heavily relies on this type of soil additive, which is cheaper and has a higher nutrient ratio than organic ones. Most elements are already synthesized and ready to be used if a nutrient deficiency is a problem. Since they are water-soluble, the effects are usually immediate and fast.
However, since they dissolve quickly, long periods of rain easily wash them away, contaminating the nearby lakes and rivers. Overapplication tends to have long-term adverse effects on the soil (acidification, decrease of microbial fauna).
The types of plant foods can be further regrouped (or rather confusing) in other soil science books. But for this blog, the basic ones are tackled for home purposes.
Fertilizers vs. Soil Amendments
Fertilizers are soil additives containing the major nutrients that are applied before or during the cropping season. Aside from carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen–primarily taken up through air and water–nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the macronutrients that should be supplied to achieve your vegetables maximum potential harvest. Plant food products are usually labeled according to the ratio of these 3 macronutrients. A 10-5-15 fertilizer ratio means it contains 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 15% potassium in its overall weight. Other 11 secondary, essential elements are also needed but in trace amounts and in very rare cases.
On the other hand, soil amendments are sometimes labeled as fertilizers as it also provides nutrients. But, they are rather treated more than nutrient supplements, primarily because the main purpose is to enrich the soil texture, buffer soil pH, improve drainage, and increase soil microorganisms before planting. In this manner, fertilizer application may no longer be needed. The materials used to amend the soil are usually sourced from organic plant or animal residues.
Fertilizers can be treated as a soil amendment if applied before planting for the purpose of enriching the soil’s nutrients. In contrast, a soil amendment cannot be entirely treated as fertilizers because of its added purpose–to improve the soil’s physical properties.
List of Best Fertilizers for Fruits and Vegetables
To make your garden crops yield abundantly, we have listed the best organic and inorganic fertilizer for fruits and vegetables below:
- Osmocote Smart-Release Vegetable Fertilizer 14-14-14: This inorganic, complete fertilizer is engineered to behave like organic one; releasing nutrients little by little, lasting throughout the season. Because of its innovative coated granules, the high fertilizer grade does not overwhelm young plants when applied–the best fertilizer for garden.
- Miracle-Gro Shake’ N Feed Vegetable Plant Food 10-5-15: This semi-organic fertilizer is infused with microorganisms that boost leafy and fruit crops’ health. Also, it contains the proper calcium ratio to reinforce cell walls needed for solid stems; and to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes. Because of its relatively high nutrient grade, this only needs to be applied once in three months.
- Vigoro Tomato and Vegetable 12-10-5: The inorganic fertilizer promises a high nutrient fraction formulated for heavy feeders: tomatoes and many cucurbit vegetables (squash, melon, cucumber, pumpkin). It can be applied early to mid-season for maximum yield potential. The product’s trace amounts of dissolvable calcium prevent blossom end rot or tomatoes.
- Miracle-Gro Organics Edibles Fertilizer 9-4-12: Made explicitly for fruit crops, this organic fertilizer is well suited for tomatoes, berries, pumpkins, or squash, because of its high potassium rates. Vegetables and herbs are also great winners with the regular application of this organic fertilizer. To add, this is compatible with virtually any fruit and vegetable crops as long as used correctly according to the product’s recommendation.
- Dr. Earth Bulb Food 3-15-2: This brand has made a multitude of fertilizer formulations for a selection of crops. Follow the product’s dosage to take advantage of its high phosphorus content, perfect food for vegetable plants producing bulbs like onions, garlic, leeks, fennel, and many root crops.
- Dr Earth Organic 5 Vegetable Fertilizer 4-6-3: Derived from organic GMO-free sources, this veggie food is fortified with probiotics, healthy microbes, and endo- and ectomycorrhizae proved to kick-start plant growth. Besides beneficial germs, it contains traces of essential micronutrients, preventing common nutritional problems like mottling, yellowing, and leaf puckering. Grow your tomatoes, herbs, corn, beans, carrots, onions, potatoes, and beets with this all-purpose fertilizer.
- Down To Earth Acid Mix 4-3-6: The extra sulfur content in its formula acidifies slightly alkaline soils, suitable for acid-loving fruit crops. Not only does it contain the right balance of nutrient ratio, but it also carries secondary nutrients like magnesium and calcium. Sour soil plants like cucumbers, radishes, garlic, and carrots would be highly appreciative of this unique fertilizer.
- Ecoscraps Leafy Greens Plant Food 5-4-5: The fertilizer may sound scrappy, but it promotes sustainability in urban agriculture. Making fertilizers from repurposed food leftovers is the manufacturer’s innovative feat to recycle nutrients, reduce landfill use, and maintain the nutrient quality that matches the standards. This sustainable vegetable plant food is great for herbs and leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and kale.
- Burpee Bone Meal 6-8-0: Because it is high in N and P, this plant is a well-suited fertilizer for leafy and bulbous crops–onions, garlic, shallot, leek, chives–to promote strong root development, enhance early season growth, and produce superior blossoms and fruit at harvest time. Fruit crops like tomato, blueberry, and grapes will also benefit from this fertilizer as it induces abundant flower induction.
- Jobe’s Organics Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer 2-5-3: The fertilizer features a mix of processed manure, bone meal, potash, and Biozome, a unique blend of healthy bacteria Mycorrhizal fungi and Archaea that induces plant growth and resistance against pest and diseases. The product can be applied during soil preparation or in established plants 4-6 times weekly for maximum yield.
- Espoma Garden-Tone 3-4-4: Includes some essential secondary nutrients like sulfur, magnesium, and calcium in trace amounts, preventing micronutrient deficiency related to these elements. The fertilizer’s slow-release nature is due to organically derived materials like feather meal, bone meal, poultry manure, and alfalfa meal. It is a superb fertilizer for many warm-season vegetables like lettuce, kale, tomatoes, peppers, and squash; or herbs like basil, chives, sage, rosemary, parsley, and oregano.
- Foxfarm Grow Big 0-0.5-0.7, Big Bloom 3-2-6, and Tiger Bloom 2-8-4: This fertilizer combination is the best fertilizer for vegetables to apply on three different occasions throughout the season, ideal for mature, late-season flowers and fruit. Start with Grow Big for abundant green growth, then switch to Tiger Bloom at the first sign of bud set or flowering and lastly, use Big Bloom throughout all growing cycles. The combo is compatible with any vegetable and fruit crops.
- Growganica Kelp It Real Seaweed Extract 0-0-14: Derived from cold-pressed seaweed, this fruit and vegetable fertilizer is the best choice for correcting potassium deficiencies. Because of its high potassium content, the product is also a great supplement for fruits and fruit-bearing vegetables after flower onset. It also contains trace amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, making it suitable even in the early growth stage of plants like tomato, squash, and peas.
- Alaska Fish Emulsion 5-1-1: Collard greens, chard, lettuce, spinach, endive, and other leafy greens greatly benefit from this organic soil additive because of its high nitrogen ratio. Crafted from fish concentrates, this liquid plant food should be diluted and applied to the soil or leaves in outdoor conditions because of its strong smell.
- Arbico Organics Earthworm Castings ?-?-?: The fertilizer grade is a company secret of this brand but claims to have more than 60 unspecified micronutrients (plants only need 17!). Produced from red wigglers, this organic fertilizer has many benefits, such as buffering soil pH, improving soil texture, and enriching healthy microbes–great for pots or container gardens and soil amendments.
Many fertilizers listed above would still work with most garden crops, so have fun and do not be afraid to experiment!
When and How Often Should We Fertilize a Vegetable Garden?
The best time to apply veggie fertilizer is when preparing the soil. Organic fertilizer should be incorporated with the soil medium, especially for potted plants, to take advantage of its slow-release properties. A few sprinkles of inorganic ones will also do the same trick. However, the rules can still be broken if plants are already growing on the ground. Apply it according to the brand’s specific dosage as each product has its concentrated formulation, avoiding overfertilization danger. Although there are exceptions, as a rule of thumb, those with a lower NPK ratio can be applied more frequently than with a higher one. Some liquid fertilizers can be used on the leaves as a foliar spray, while most are applied as side dressed or incorporated into the soil.
What is the Best Fertilizer for a Garden to Use in Spring?
The best fertilizer for a vegetable garden in spring could be any kind, but we recommend using a slow-release, complete fertilizer that can support the plant’s initial activity after being dormant or sprouting. All organic fertilizers have a steady release nature and don’t overwhelm the plants with a surge of dissolved nutrients. Apply it during soil preparation or over the soil surface if the plant is already established. Granulated inorganic fertilizers (e.g., osmocote) also work well because they dissolve bit by bit through time.
Can We Fertilize Our Vegetable Garden in the Summer or Fall?
Yes, you can fertilize your garden in summer or fall, although it is recommended to use it pre- or during the planting stage. Plants consume lots of nutrients when they are actively growing, from sprouting in spring to the first blossom in mid-summer. Long-season crops, for example, corn and squash, need a second application of potassium-rich fertilizer in the middle of the cropping period to support their growing fruits.
Meanwhile, applying organic fertilizer in autumn is compatible with perennial plants like asparagus to have good sprouting in the spring. Some gardeners prefer spring application, especially for highly soluble fertilizers (mostly inorganic and liquid), which can easily be leached out and lost with heavy downpours.
How to Fertilize Vegetables?
Fertilizing vegetables is an uncomplicated task in your garden patch. However, it is worth noting the main steps in applying nutrient supplements:
- Pre-plant broadcasting. This technique includes spreading granulated fertilizers on the soil before planting, recommended for applying micronutrients. This is a less laborious practice but may cost a lot of unutilized nutrients in the ground.
- Side dressing. In contrast to the broadcasting, fertilizer is applied into dug holes at both sides of the stem about 2-4 inches (5-10cm) away to prevent direct contact. The method is helpful for long-season crops that require more than one fertilizer application.
- Top dressing. Almost similar to side dress, this application is rather applied directly over the plant surface and soil. It is recommended for young and short plants for maximum efficiency.
- Foliar application. The fertilizer is applied through the leaves and the plant's above-ground parts, which are ingested by the natural openings called stomata. It is an excellent method for correcting micronutrient deficiencies or the application of diluted liquid fertilizers.
The first three methods are the most common to save time and avoid wastage. On the other hand, the foliar application is less practiced because of its impracticality and is only made in exceptional cases.
Tips for Fertilizing Vegetable Plants
Before applying your selected plant fertilizer, follow these valuable tips to save time, and avoid losses:
- Test the soil: This pre-application step is recommended to determine the exact list of nutrients to apply before planting. In this manner, overapplication or micronutrient deficiency in plants will be avoided. Ask your local extension office, which often offers low-cost testing, to examine your garden’s soil properties. Some user-friendly soil test kits are available online but are only for simple soil pH tests and may not provide a detailed nutrient status.
- Follow the product’s instructions: It is empirical to read the fertilizer’s direction for applying. Each branch is specifically formulated to not cause an overdose in plants or even death in extreme cases.
- Side dress the fertilizer: When it comes to side dressing, the rule of thumb is to dig holes 2-4 inches (5-10cm) away from the stem to prevent injuries and direct root contact, which have some adverse consequences.
- Avoid overfeeding: Fertilizers are indeed a great invention to boost your plant’s yield but overusing it can lead to plant toxicity problems, resulting in death in your poor vegetables.
- Don’t feed before raining: Apply fertilizers when it is not in the forecast to shower. When a heavy downpour happens, nutrients easily leach from the soil and may even contaminate water reservoirs like lakes and rivers.
- Avoid application on hot days: As a general rule, do not apply fertilizer when the temperature hits more than 90˚F (32˚C). The heat stress coupled with the surge of nutrients will strain your crops immensely.
- Water the plants after fertilizing: Because nutrients in the fertilizers are absorbed with water, it is essential to pour in some water to dissolve the nutrients. This is another reason why it is important to regularly water the plants for maximum nutrient absorption.
- Store the fertilizer properly: Always store your fertilizers in a coil, dry, and place away from direct sunlight and children’s reach. Improper storage can lead to fast deterioration, especially with organic fertilizers.
Not only do you save time, money, and resources after following the tips, but the principles of sustainable agriculture are followed.
How to Care for Your Veggies After Fertilizing
After fertilization, you are almost close to reaping your harvest. Follow the post-treatment care After fertilization; you are almost close to reaping your harvest. Follow the post-treatment care below in your vegetable garden:
- Check your plant constantly: If you observe a significant increase in your plant's growth, that means that your crops positively responded to the nutrients. Otherwise, if some burning symptoms are observed, especially in the young ones, consider reducing the dose or discontinuing the product's use.
- Water regularly: Nutrients are absorbed by the roots in ionic forms dissolved in water. By making the soil moderately moist, the plant can soak up the maximum amount of nutrients.
- Continue the application: As soon as you notice some promising signs in your plant, continue applying the fertilizer according to the product's specifications.
To conclude, crops only needed to be checked during the post-application period to see some adverse reactions and what step should be taken next.
What is the Best Homemade Vegetable Fertilizer?
The best homemade fertilizer is fruit and vegetable scrap compost. Make your own organic fertilizer by burying kitchen scraps in soil or layering them alternately to shorten the decaying period. Voila, in 1-2 months, you have a cheap homemade fertilizer.
What Vegetable Plant Needs a Lot of Nitrogen?
Generally, leafy vegetables like salad greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli) require large quantities of nitrogen during the early growing stage. The element is an essential building block of most amino acids and chlorophylls in the foliage.
Why are Organic Fertilizers Great for Growing Vegetables?
Organic fertilizers are great for cultivating vegetables because there is virtually no risk of fertilizer burn since the nutrients are bit by bit released. Soil’s texture, drainage, and microbial diversity are improved, preventing the likelihood of root rot.