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The Best Fertilizers for Vegetable Gardens

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Are you a beginner gardener or experienced gardener looking for the best fertilizer feed your vegetables and herbs well? If so, you’re in the right place! In this article, we will explore the best fertilizers to maximize the productivity of your raised garden beds.

From the organic ingredients that make up these fertilizers to tips on proper application and storage, we’ve got you covered. Get ready to boost your soil quality and promote healthy plant growth with the top products on the market.

Are fertilizers necessary in a vegetable garden?

Before we dive into what fertilizers are, the question that many gardeners ask is “are fertilizers actually necessary?” And there are large differences of opinion amongst gardeners about whether our vegetable plants even need fertilizer during the growing season. I enjoy following Charles Dowding, who believes if your garden soil is healthy and amended with organic matter, that there’s no need for fertilizers. 

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While Kevin Espiritu over at Epic Gardening recommends using different fertilizers based on your plants’ needs. So, if you’re not sure how you feel about fertilizers yet, that’s okay! I personally use fertilizers lightly and when I do, I avoid synthetic fertilizers and instead go for organic or natural fertilizer for the heavy feeders we are growing. 

So whether you’re fully convinced you need to use some type of fertilizer or are just here for information while you’re still making up your mind, I’m glad you’re here!

What are organic garden fertilizers made from?

When choosing a fertilizer, I prefer an organic product, but what exactly are in fertilizers? Organic garden fertilizers are made from a variety of natural ingredients that provide essential nutrients to enrich your soil and nourish your plants. These ingredients can include compost, manure, bone meal, fish emulsion, seaweed, and other plant-based materials. 

By opting for organic fertilizers, you can hopefully avoid harsh chemicals and synthetic additives, ensuring that your garden is a healthy and sustainable environment for your plants to thrive. My hope is that also by avoiding chemical fertilizers, I am protecting the millions of organisms in my soil that make their home there. Now, let’s delve into the importance of understanding N-P-K values in fertilizers and why having a soil sample could be helpful in choosing the right fertilizer.

What is N-P-K?

Have you ever noticed those three numbers on the front of a bag of fertilizer? You may have seen a 10-10-10 or some other combination of number. What are these and what do they mean?

Now, let’s delve into the importance of understanding N-P-K values in fertilizers. N-P-K stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are the three essential nutrients that plants need to thrive. The N-P-K ratio on a fertilizer label indicates the percentage of each nutrient present in the product. 

Nitrogen promotes leafy green growth, phosphorus encourages root development and flower production, and potassium helps with overall plant health and disease resistance. By understanding the N-P-K values of different fertilizers, you can choose the right blend to meet the specific needs of your plants. 

Having your soil tested, which is usually free from your local extension office, is a great way to determine what fertilizer may be best. I find the important part of this test is the potassium and phosphate (nitrogen levels can change quickly). We happen to have areas of our yard that are naturally high in phosphate, and there’s no real way to amend that, so I opt for fertilizers that won’t add more phosphate, since I already have so much. I typically just use compost and blood meal in that part of my garden. 

To find out how to test your soil and amend it based on the results, check out my post How to Improve Garden Soil; it also includes my video on how to read a soil test report. It will also link you to your local extension office and soil testing lab.

The Best Granular Fertilizers for Vegetable Gardens

Fertilizers come in two different forms, granular and liquid. Typically, granular dry fertilizers release more slowly, as they break down, so if you’re looking for slow-release fertilizers, then this is the list you’re looking for. 

When it comes to choosing the best granular fertilizers for your raised garden beds, there are a few stand-out options that can provide the right balance of nutrients for your plants. 

  • Espoma Garden Tone: This is an all-around great general use fertilizer for the vegetable garden. Garden-tone is a rich blend of the finest natural & organic ingredients enhanced with their exclusive Bio-tone formula; 3-4-4 Fertilizer analysis with 5% calcium. Garden-tone is environmentally Safe – No sludges or toxic ingredients.
  • Jobe’s All Purpose Organic Plant FoodOrganic granular fertilizer; fast acting fertilizer for flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees & plants. 
  • MiGardener VegaGrowI used this fertilizer last year in my raised bed gardens and really enjoyed it. All components in VegaGrow are certified organic, vegan, and GMO-free to ensure your peace of mind that you are growing the highest quality vegetables and fruit possible. This vegan-friendly blend includes essential macronutrients, 65 micronutrients, plus beneficial bacteria and fungi.
  • MiGardener TrifectaTrifecta is a natural base, premium blend fertilizer. It lasts all year long (if properly applied) and will increase flowering production as well as root growth, plant health, and produce larger, healthier, more nutrient-rich vegetables. Trifecta contains fast-acting and slow-release nutrients, as well as over 70 trace mineral micronutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi! For a well rounded all purpose fertilizer! 

Next, let’s explore the best liquid fertilizers, which offer quick and efficient nutrient absorption for your plants.

The Best Liquid Fertilizers for Vegetable Gardens

In addition to granular fertilizers, liquid fertilizers are also a great option for gardeners. They provide essential nutrients to your plants in raised garden beds, row gardens, or container gardens. Liquid fertilizers offer quick and efficient absorption, delivering a boost of nutrients directly to the roots for immediate uptake.

Some excellent choices for liquid fertilizers include fish emulsion, seaweed extracts, and compost teas. They are rich in a wide range of essential nutrients that can help promote healthy plant growth. These liquid options can be easily applied through a watering can or a sprayer, making them convenient for regular feeding of your raised bed plants.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Fox Farm Grow BigFox Farm has been my go-to for liquid fertilizer for years and they have so many options based on your plants’ needs. Grow big contains earthworm castings, Norwegian kelp and essential micronutrients. Foxfarm’s special brew is designed to enhance plant Size and structure, allowing for more abundant fruit, flower and bud development.
  • Fish FertilizerFor use on all indoor and outdoor plants. This natural organic based fish fertilizer is deodorized with natural wintergreen and won’t burn.
  • Dr. Earth Homegrown Liquid FertilizerReady to use bottle 100% Sustainable Fertilizer, created with recycled grocery produce, fish & meat.

Next, let’s dive into some tips for proper fertilizer application to ensure that your plants receive the optimal amount of nutrients for robust growth and bountiful harvests.

Homemade Fertilizer Options

There are several homemade fertilizer options you can use in your vegetable garden. These can provide nutrients to your plants, though it would be difficult to know the amounts of the necessary nutrients. Here are a few examples:

  1. Compost: Compost is one of the best homemade fertilizers. It’s made from organic kitchen scraps, yard waste, and other biodegradable materials. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, improves soil structure, and promotes beneficial microbial activity. See my full post on How to Start Composting to learn how you can make your own compost. 
  2. Manure Tea or Compost Tea: Manure tea is made by steeping aged manure in water. This is great if you have chickens. It provides a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as other trace minerals. Dilute the manure tea with water before applying it to your plants to avoid burning them with excessive nutrients.
  3. Banana Peel Fertilizer: Banana peels are rich in potassium, which is essential for plant growth and fruit production. Chop up banana peels and bury them around the base of your plants, or soak them in water to make a banana peel tea. I would think it would be difficult to get sufficient quantities of nutrients from a few banana peels, but some people love this method. 

These homemade fertilizers can help provide your vegetable garden with the nutrients it needs to thrive. They can also reducing waste and promote sustainability. 

Tips for Proper Fertilizer Application

When applying fertilizers to your home garden, it’s important to follow some key tips. This will ensure that your plants receive the right amount of nutrients. These tips can be universally applied no matter what kind of balanced fertilizer you’re using.

  • Always read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging to avoid using too little or too much fertilizer on your plants. You really can have too much of a good thing. 
  • It’s recommended to apply fertilizer to moist soil to prevent root burn and enhance nutrient uptake by the plants. So the best time would be after a rain or a deep watering.
  • Avoid getting any fertilizer, granular or liquid, on the stem or leaves of the plants. This could cause burning on individual plants and damage them. 
  • For granular fertilizers, use what’s called a side dressing. Place the fertilizer around the drip line on the soil surface for best results.
  • Additionally, consider the specific needs of your plants when choosing a fertilizer. Different plants may require varying nutrient levels for optimal growth. You can also consider whether you’re feeding a plant you want to grow up or whether it’s fruiting. These would require different fertilizers. 

Furthermore, make sure to spread the fertilizer evenly throughout the garden bed to provide all plants with access to essential nutrients. Avoid applying fertilizer directly to plant foliage to prevent burning or damage, and always water the plants after fertilizing to help nutrients reach the roots effectively. By following these tips, you can ensure that your raised bed plants receive the proper nutrients they need for healthy growth and high yields.

Next, let’s explore how to properly store fertilizers to maintain their effectiveness for future use.

How to Properly Store Fertilizers

Just like any other gardening supplies, proper storage of fertilizers is key to ensuring they remain potent and ready for when your plants need a boost. Proper storage of vegetable garden fertilizers is essential to maintain their effectiveness and safety. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Container: Store fertilizers in their original containers or in tightly sealed, labeled containers to prevent contamination and spills.
  • Cool, Dry Place: Store fertilizers in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Exposure to moisture and heat can degrade the quality of the fertilizer.
  • Out of Reach: One of the best options to keep fertilizers out of reach of children and pets is by storing them in a locked cabinet or high shelf. Some granular fertilizers have chicken manure in them and our dogs love the smell, so it’s a good idea to keep it out of reach.
  • Ventilation: Ensure good ventilation in the storage area to prevent buildup of gases and odors from the fertilizers.
  • Check Expiration Dates: Regularly check the expiration dates on fertilizers and dispose of any expired products properly.

By storing your fertilizers properly, you can extend their shelf life. This ensures that they are ready to provide your vegetable garden with the nutrients it needs for successful growth. So, remember to keep your fertilizers in a cool, dry place and seal them tightly after each use. This will maximize their effectiveness and keep your plants thriving.

In the world of raised garden beds, the right fertilizers can make all the difference in the health and productivity of your plants. Understanding organic options, N-P-K ratios, and proper application techniques will set you on the path to a flourishing garden. Whether you prefer granular or liquid fertilizers, there are products out there to suit your needs. 

Remember to store your fertilizers properly to maintain their effectiveness. As you embark on this gardening journey, keep in mind that the right fertilizers can lead to a bountiful harvest and a thriving garden. Happy gardening!