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How to Apply Fertilizer to a Vegetable Garden

The method you use to apply fertilizer to your vegetable garden depends on the fertilizer you've chosen, whether it's liquid or granular. If your vegetable garden has fertile soil enhanced by compost and other organic materials, fertilizing may not be necessary. Still, vegetables are a hungry group, and feeding them can certainly speed growth and improve your harvest.

Here are different ways to apply fertilizer:

  • Side-dressing: This term means sprinkling some fertilizer beside the plant, rather than on the plant itself. Dry fertilizer can be scratched into the soil with your fingers or an implement such as a trowel or fork.

  • Foliar feeding: You add foliar fertilizer to water (diluted according to label directions, of course) and then spray it right onto the leaves — plant foliage.

  • Top-dressing: Top-dressing is when you apply fertilizer over the surface of the garden.

    Side-dressing with liquid and granular fertilizers.
    Side-dressing with liquid and granular fertilizers.

Always follow label directions regarding how much to apply. Too much is not good; you can overdose or burn your plants. Good timing is also important. Usually, you're advised to feed the plants at planting time to get them off to an early and vigorous start. A second, midseason application is worthwhile if you're growing a succession of crops in the same row or intercropping.

Liquid fertilizers are concentrated, so you have to dilute them in water according to label directions; you're allowed to do two half-strength doses rather than one full-strength, if you like. Liquid fertilizers are mostly used for foliar feeding. Dry ones, on the other hand, come as powder or granules and need to be watered in.

Dry fertilizers that remains dry never do your plants any good. Dampen the garden before and after watering so the fertilizer can get into the soil and down to the roots, where it's needed.

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