My parents always had a vegetable garden; my mother grew tomatoes well into her 90s. I guess that’s why every year, when spring rolls around, my thoughts turn to growing vegetables. But whatever kind of gardening you do, one of the most important steps is preparing the soil and fertilizing it when needed. Plants are like all other living things. They require nourishment, and some type of food and water, to live.
Miracle Grow All Purpose Fertilizer is the one product I have found that makes all plants grow faster, in more cases than not. I’ve had good luck with many of the Miracle Grow products.
But, even though I wish there were a single fertilizer, a one size fits all type of product, that would make anything you grow, grow faster. The truth is, different plants require different nutrients to thrive, and the soil is not the same everywhere. So, when looking for the perfect fertilizer, you have to find the ideal fertilizer for your particular situation, which involves knowing the condition of the soil in your garden and the needs of the plants you are growing.
Let’s take a look at the information you need when deciding which fertilizer is best for you.
The Condition of Your Soil
Your garden soil’s ideal condition will be a balance of the three primary nutrients Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus, plus a good supply of the trace minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Boron, Copper, Iron, Molybdenum, Zinc, Chlorine, and Manganese. Each nutrient serves a particular purpose, and the combination gives you the best environment for your plants to grow.
So, to determine what nutrients your soil is rich in and which need to be supplemented, you can either buy a test kit like this one from Amazon (click to see listing) and test the soil yourself.
Alternatively, you can take a sample of your soil to the local County Agent for analysis and get a full report on which nutrients the soil is rich in and which are lacking. If you live in the United States, your local County Agent can be located by visiting the Old Farmer’s Almanac website for a complete list of Cooperative Extension Services throughout the U.S.
The Plants You Are Growing
How fast your plants grow depends to a certain extent on the type of plants you are growing. No matter what kind of plants you grow, there are fast-growing varieties and those that take longer to mature. If you are looking to grow plants faster, choose the more quickly growing types, and make sure the soil has the right nutrients they need for maximum growth.
What Is Fertilizer?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, fertilizer is “a substance (such as manure or a chemical substance) used to make the soil more fertile.”
We know that all living things need food to grow and that plants are no different. Their food consists of nutrients that they usually get from the soil. But, suppose the soil they are planted in doesn’t contain those nutrients? Vegetables, flowers, shrubbery, and trees that grow in soil that is rich in all the necessary nutrients are healthy, productive plants.
But, all plants do not need the same nutrients. The soil in one area may grow trees and shrubbery but do not grow tomatoes or daylilies. Depending on the type of nutrients they cannot pull from the ground, your plants may die, grow to be spindly and not the strong, healthy plants they should be, or look healthy but not produce the vegetables or fruits that they are meant to produce.
So, how do you remedy this situation?
That is where fertilizer comes in. When a plant’s poor growth signals a deficiency, fertilizer is the answer to enhancing your plant’s performance. As gardeners and farmers, it is our job to know which nutrients are lacking in our yard and garden soil so that we can supplement the ground with fertilizer to provide our plants’ needs.
As mentioned above, we can determine which nutrients our soil contains by either buying a kit and testing the soil ourselves or taking a soil sample to the local County Agent for testing. These tests will give you the information you need so that you can provide the type of fertilizer your soil needs to provide the right mix of nutrients for your plants.
Types of Fertilizer
There are three main types of fertilizer.
- Organic, which consists of plant, animal, or mineral remains.
- Synthetic, manufactured through a chemical process
- A hybrid with properties of both organic and synthetic.
Here are the basics of each:
Organic fertilizers are made from plant, animal, or mineral remains such as manure and cottonseed meal and is packaged and sold either in their natural state or in pellets. Microbes in the soil cause these organic fertilizers to break down for use by the plants and provide many benefits, including the encouragement of beneficial organisms that grow in the ground, such as earthworms that aerate and enrich the soil.
Synthetic fertilizers are human-made from compounds like ammonium nitrate and potassium sulfate that give plants a burst of energy. Still, they add salt to the soil, do not help build up the soil composition, and may destroy the beneficial microorganisms growing in the soil. There is also a danger of synthetic fertilizers getting into the water supply and local streams and ponds.
Some hybrid fertilizers are made by starting with organic remains and adding synthetic compounds to give the plants an immediate burst of energy that isn’t provided by organic fertilizers. However, they are not as harmful to the composition of the soil as synthetic fertilizers are.
What Nutrients Does Your Soil Need?
All plants, whether trees, shrubs, flowering plants, or vegetables, need certain chemicals to grow healthy and prosperous. The three primary nutrients that plants must get from the soil are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Each of these plays a vital role in maintaining plant health and vitality.
- Nitrogen is the growth element for the part of the plant that is above ground, the foliage. It helps a plant produce lush leaves by stimulating the chlorophyll production that plants need for photosynthesis, which allows plants to make food from sunshine.
- Phosphorus serves two purposes: (1) provides the plant with a robust root system to produce a tall, healthy plant with a firm foundation, and (2) increases a plant’s ability to produce healthy fruits and flowers.
- Potassium fights diseases and aids in withstanding temperature extremes, whether those extremes are cold or heat.
Most fertilizers contain all three of these required elements, but not in equal amounts. Your job as a gardener is to choose the fertilizer with more of the element(s) that your garden needs and less of the element(s) that your soil is rich in.
The N-P-K label or the numbering sequence that looks like 10-10-10 on each bag of fertilizer will tell you the ratio of each element that a particular type of fertilizer contains. The information is always listed in the same sequence, (1) N for Nitrogen, (2) P for Phosphorus, and (3) K for Potassium. So, fertilizer labeled 10-10-10 will mean it has 10% Nitrogen, 10% Phosphorus, and 10% Potassium. The rest of the mix is always made up of a filler used to spread the fertilizer evenly.
For example, if your soil is relatively high in phosphorus but low in Nitrogen and Potassium, you would probably buy a fertilizer that has a numbering sequence on the label that looks like 10-0-10.
What are Trace Minerals?
Plants need additional elements for good health and growth, but not in large amounts like the three primary nutrients. These elements are known as trace minerals. The primary trace elements are Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Boron, Copper, Iron, Molybdenum, Zinc, Chlorine, and Manganese. Here is the breakdown of what these trace minerals do for your plants.
The most important trace elements are Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulphur:
- Calcium, or Ca, makes the plant more hearty and vigorous and aids in the growth of a healthy root system.
- Magnesium, or Mg, controls the uptake of nutrients and is necessary for photosynthesis to occur.
- Sulfur, or S, encourages growth.
Other less essential trace minerals include:
- Boron is vital for plant growth in several ways, including formation, stability, and maintenance of cell walls, the transfer of energy to the growing parts of the plant, and pollination and seed sets.
- Copper is required for essential enzyme activities, photosynthesis, plant respiration, and metabolism, and intensifies flavors and colors in vegetables and flowers.
- Iron is necessary for the production of energy within the plant.
- Molybdenum aids in converting nitrate into nitrite and then into ammonia to synthesize amino acids within the plant.
- Zinc converts starches to sugars, which helps the plant withstand cold temperatures, activates enzymes that promote the synthesis of specific proteins, aids in the formation of chlorophyll and certain carbohydrates, and promotes growth and stem elongation.
- Chlorine is a crucial element in plant photosynthesis. It enables plants to take in and release carbon dioxide, oxygen, and other gases as needed by opening and closing the pores in the leaves, called stomata.
- Manganese aids in photosynthesis, respiration, nitrogen assimilation, pollen germination, tube growth, and elongation of root cells, building resistance to root pathogens.
Although trace elements are not required in as large amounts as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, they are still necessary. It is all the elements working together and each doing its part that creates a successful crop.
How to Apply Fertilizers
Fertilizers come in different forms, solid, liquid, and powder, that is mixed with water. Here is how the various forms are applied:
Solid fertilizers are granular and are either worked into the soil before planting or sprinkled around the base of the plant. These granules dissolve over time as it comes in contact with moisture when the plants are watered or when it rains.
Some solid fertilizers are slow-release and take longer to dissolve completely, thus releasing the nutrients slowly over several weeks.
Liquid fertilizers are poured into the soil near the base of the plants and are applied to give the plants a quick spurt of growth but do not build up the soil for future growth.
The powdered fertilizers mixed with water serve the same purpose as liquid fertilizers, giving the plants a quick burst of growth and doing nothing to build the soil for future plantings.
Most farmers and gardeners use a combination of all types of fertilizer. They till the soil in the spring, spread fertilizer, then till the soil again to turn the fertilizer under. Then, after planting, when the plants are growing, they spread the liquid or powdered fertilizers around the base of the plants to give them a spurt of growth.
How Often to Apply Fertilizers?
How often to apply fertilizers depends on the plants themselves.
- For vegetables, fertilizer is usually applied before planting, then again while the plants are actively growing.
- For lawns, fertilizer is applied in the spring and then again in mid-summer.
- For flower gardens, like vegetable gardens, fertilizer is usually applied before planting, then again while the plants are actively growing.
- For trees, fertilizer is usually applied when they are beginning to produce leaves in the early spring, February or March.
- Fruit trees should be fertilized while they are beginning to bloom. Some fruit trees, like avocado, should be fertilized three times per year, spring, summer, and fall.
Do not fertilize at the end of their growing season when plants are becoming dormant. Also, if using synthetic fertilizer, be careful not to give your plants too much fertilizer or get the fertilizer directly on the plants as it will burn and possibly kill the plants.
Other Ways to Make Plants Grow Faster
Start Seedlings Inside
If you are growing outdoor plants from seeds, start them inside in pots 4 to 6 weeks before planting time to get a head start on your growing season. Be sure to acclimate them to the outside temperature and weather conditions by setting the seedlings outside in their pots for a few hours each day for at least ten days to 2 weeks before planting them in the spring.
Give Your Plants Plenty of Light
Choose areas in your yard or garden which will give your plants the maximum recommended time daily in full or partial sun. Getting the proper amount of daily sunlight will make a massive difference in how and how fast they grow. Before you plant, find out the conditions suited for those particular plants and locate the best spot possible to plant them.
Choose Healthy Plants
When buying your plants, choose the healthiest plants you can find and avoid any that appear to be spindly and not the right color.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), composting at home to add to your garden soil has the following benefits:
- Enriches the soil.
- Retains moisture.
- Reduces plant diseases and pests.
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create a rich nutrient-filled material called humus.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills.
- Lowers your carbon footprint.
In addition to all the above-mentioned benefits of adding compost to your soil, you can make a liquid fertilizer to use on all your plants by making a Compost Tea. For everything you need to know about compost tea, check out this article by Bob Vila.
In case you are interested, The Rodale Book of Composting (Amazon Link) is a fantastic resource for composting.
Recycle Household Items
There are some items that most people throw away daily that are good for your plants, indoor and out. Here are just a few examples:
- Coffee Grounds are high in nitrogen and are great for tomatoes, evergreen trees, azaleas, and roses.
- Banana Peels are high in potash and phosphorus and are beneficial for tomatoes, roses, and green peppers. Also, stuff a banana peel into the roots of a staghorn fern about once a month for a healthy and vigorous plant.
- Club Soda (Carbonated Water) contains many macronutrients, including carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, and sodium. Just be sure you let the water go flat before watering your plants with it.
- Aquarium Water is bad for the fish if not changed regularly, but the water you would typically pour out of your aquarium is highly beneficial to your plants. Just be sure it is a freshwater tank and not a saltwater fish tank.
- Eggshells are high in calcium and should be rinsed, crushed, and sprinkled around your tomato plants.
- Used Tea Leaves are high in calcium, nitrogen, and potash and should be sprinkled around your plants.
- A mixture of Epsom Salts, Baking Powder, and Household Ammonia also makes an excellent fertilizer. Just add 1-½ Tablespoons of Epsom Salts, 1-½ teaspoons of Baking Soda, and ½ teaspoon of Household Ammonia to a gallon of water, mix well, and water plants. For indoor plants, feed once every 2-3 weeks during the summer and once every 5-6 weeks during the winter. For outdoor plants, use 2-3 cups around the base of plants once every 3-4 weeks during the growing season.
Practice Crop Rotation
According to the Rodale Institute, crop rotation is “the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.
For example, say a farmer has planted a field of corn. When the corn harvest is finished, he might plant beans, since corn consumes a lot of nitrogen and beans return nitrogen to the soil.
A simple rotation might involve two or three crops, and complex rotations might incorporate a dozen or more.” https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-farming-practices/crop-rotations/
The failure to practice crop rotation will lead to increased problems with garden pests and diseases and will lead to an imbalance of soil nutrients.
Provide Plenty of Water
We all know that our plants require water, but it is equally important not to overwater. I recommend a regular schedule for watering indoor plants. The plan for watering outdoor plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables is always subject to the amount of rainfall you are getting during the growing season.
Check the PH of Your Soil
Even if your soil contains all the necessary nutrients, some of those nutrients cannot be absorbed and used by the plants if the soil’s pH is either too high or too low. For most plants, the pH of your soil should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Here again, you can either buy a kit and test the pH of your soil yourself, or you can take a soil sample to your local county agent for testing.
If your soil pH is either high or low, the pH should be adjusted over time, and the best way to correct those levels is by adding compost to the soil. Lime or wood ash can raise pH; sulfur or aluminum sulfate can lower pH. Avoid taking extreme measures to adjust the soil’s pH level, as those results could be worse than when you started.
The best answer I can give you as to which fertilizer will make your plants grow faster is organic, which takes more time and energy than just using synthetic fertilizer. A significant amount of planning is necessary when using organic fertilizer. One of the best-producing gardens I’ve ever had was only about 10’ x 10’ in size and was an area I had used the prior 6 – 8 months to bury remains after cleaning the fish my husband had caught.
So, though I have used commercial fertilizer successfully many times, my favorite fertilizer and my recommendation to you is definitely organic, fish remains, cow manure, compost, and chicken manure, even though it takes a lot longer for the organic material to break down and provide the needed nutrients.
If you want to try the organic method, start this fall when your gardening has finished for the year. Plow the remaining plants into the soil, broadcast cow manure and hay from your chicken coop into the soil and turn those under, and by all means, start composting those household items you usually throw away to create a fertile, dark soil that will be beneficial to all your crops. This natural fertilizer will provide you with soil that will grow that outstanding flower or vegetable garden for you next spring! Enjoy!
For more, don’t miss How Long Does It Take for a Plant to Grow? | Complete Guide.
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