Stocking your garden pantry: fertilizers

It is essential to fertilize your lawn in order for it to thrive and produce healthy crops. These basic guidelines will help you learn which fertilizers to have on hand.

Stocking your garden pantry: fertilizers

1. Plants that require fertilizer

Only two types of plants, lawn grasses and acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, require special types of fertilizer. Most garden centres sell boxes of clearly labelled azalea or acidifying fertilizer, which help maintain the acid soil pH these plants need, while also supplying the plants with the nutrients that they require.

For most other plants, look for products that claim to be all-purpose plant foods or all-purpose fertilizers. With this type of fertilizer, the three numbers in the analysis are usually identical (or nearly so), so they are also called "balanced" fertilizers.

For example, a couple of top-selling manufactured granular, dry fertilizers have an analysis of 13-13-13 and 14-14-14, while a leading balanced organic fertilizer has an analysis of 5-5-5. Any of these will do for routine plant feeding.

2. Dry fertilizer

To apply a granular, dry fertilizer, either mix it into the planting hole along with a little soil prior to planting, or scatter it over the surface of the soil above the root zone of an established plant. Then use a hand cultivator to lightly scratch the fertilizer into the soil so it will not wash or blow away before rain can dissolve it and carry the nutrients into the soil in a form that plant roots can absorb.Dry fertilizers are convenient to use, and they usually supply nutrients to plants for several weeks or even months, depending on the formulation.

3. Liquid or powdered soluble plant foods

But sometimes you may need very fast results, which is what you get with liquid or powdered soluble plant foods that are mixed with water and then poured onto the soil surrounding the plants. When treated with a soluble fertilizer, struggling plants with yellowing leaves often show improved leaf colour within a day. And, there is no better way to fertilize container plants than to treat them to half-strength helpings of soluble fertilizer on a weekly basis.

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