If you’re a keen gardener, you will be using fertilizers in one way or another to help your garden be its best. The problem is there are about as many fertilizers out there as there are gardens, so where do you start, and how do you know what is best for your garden?
Today, we’re going to take a look at home fertilizer usage, and what you can do to get the most out of your natural nutrients.
Organic Vs Chemical Fertilizers?
Chemical fertilizers, sometimes called ‘synthetic’, or ‘inorganic’, are derived from manufactured compounds like ammonium sulphate, ammonium phosphate, ammonium nitrate, urea, and ammonium chloride and the like. They have short term benefits to plant growth, have long-term negative effects on soil health and ‘run-off’ into waterways contributing to blue-green algae growth and other polluting effects which harm the environment in a multitude of ways.
Chemical fertilizers have been commonly used on commercial crops for around 100 years. The first chemical fertilizer was manufactured in 1861 in Germany by treating bones with sulfuric acid, this produced the first superphosphate, however mainstream production and usage of chemicals as soil additions didn’t really take off until the early 1900s. When you think about it though, it is a fairly short interval of time in the history of food production, before then people used what was an available and sustainable resource through necessity. For example, Neolithic man couldn’t ship in tonnes of urea from China, but today it is commonplace!
Organic fertilizers are classified as substances that are derived from the remains or by-products of organisms. There is a huge array to be used, from animal manure, compost, leaf litter, and worm castings, to products that process organic substances, like ‘blood and bone’, seaweed tonics, fish emulsions, worm juice, compost teas, and increasingly, biologically active fertilizers.
Know WHY you are fertilizing!
The best way to get the most out of your fertilizer is to be sure why you are using it. For example, are you trying to increase the green lushness of your shrubbery? If so, apply a fertilizer that is naturally high in nitrogen like animal manures, coffee grounds, fish emulsions, and even human urine!
Or, are you trying to stimulate flower growth? In this case, we need phosphorus and potassium which can be found in good amounts in well-composted manure, blood and bone meal, seaweed, wood ashes, sawdust and granite to name a few.
Or, are you just after a general plant and soil boost to keep your garden performing at its best? If this is the case a good natural fertilizer that covers the macronutrients of nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, with plenty of other trace elements is advised.
If your garden is looking poorly and has suffered from a lack of love in the nutrition department, you will probably need to pull out the big guns of fertilizer- biological fertilizers, AKA ‘bio-fertilizers’. These guys are packed full of the usual macro and micro fertilizing ingredients, but on top of that are ALIVE with beneficial microbes that help your plants and soil thrive. These guys can literally bring your soil back to life!
Biological fertilizers are becoming more and more popular, and with good reason, they really are the gold standard of fertilizers. The good bacterias and fungi they contain enable plants to directly take up the goodness in them so they get an immediate boost from an application as well as being long-lasting in the soil, and as we all know, healthy soils = healthy plants! If your soil is full of good bacteria, fungi, macro-organisms like worms and grubs, plenty of organic matter and a diverse range of minerals, there is an extremely high chance your garden will also be flourishing.
When should you apply fertilizer?
To get the best out of your fertilizer, work out why you are applying it and choose your fertilizer wisely, and of course, if it comes with instructions, read them! Next…. Apply at the right time!
For instance, do not apply just before you are about to get a downpouring of rain, it will simply wash away before it has had the chance to do any good!
Don’t apply a foliar spray on a hot summer’s afternoon, at best the plant won’t be able to absorb it, at worst, it will burn the plant.
Another great example is fruit trees. Everyone sees a little apple starting to form and thinks ‘Wow, fantastic, I better get some fertilizer to the plant to get some good fruit!’. However, the truth is, whether or not that tree is going to develop good fruit started last autumn before the leaves began to yellow as it took nutrients from the leaves, atmosphere and roots into itself ready to deal with the dormancy that winter brings and equally ready to jump into life when spring brings its thawing warmth. So, to get the best out of your fruit trees, fertilize them well in early autumn and again during the growing months.
Some fertilizers take a while to work so need to be applied in advance before the plants will be needing the nutrients. Blood and bone fertilizers are a good example of this; it’s best applied during the soil preparation stage. Foliar sprays will be absorbed directly by the leaves stomata (like little pores) so can be applied exactly as the plants need them and will also be taken in by the roots and soil to give lasting benefits.
Do your homework, read up on your fertilizer, tailor your feeding regime to your plant’s needs, and make sure you fertilize at the best time to give your plants the best opportunity to absorb as much of the goodness as possible! If you are unsure of your plant’s needs, try an all-around fertilizer that also contains biologically live ingredients, it is your safest bet.
See below for some helpful tips!
Foliar sprays do’s and don’ts
Don’t apply foliar sprays in high heat or wind.
Don’t apply foliar sprays if a large amount of rain is coming straight after application.
Do apply foliar sprays on mild days, or at the end of the day as the temperature cools.
Top dressings do’s and don’ts
Don’t apply where dogs and other pets can reach it unless it is pet friendly.
Do cover top dressings with a small layer of mulch if practical as it will be taken into the earth more quickly and efficiently.
Dig in fertilizers do’s and don’ts
Don’t dig in large amounts of fertilizers that are strong such as poultry manure and plant directly into them- they will kill your plants
Do dig the fertilizers into the soil well before the plant is ready to need them
Do dig in fertilizers at least a week before any planting is done in the same soil for best results
Fertilize and enjoy the bounty!