What Fertilizer Do I Use?

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on February 19, 2011

It is time to fertilize lawns and gardens in North East Texas.  Hopefully, you had a soil test done in December or January.  This results will contain detailed recommendations for what fertilizer to use and how to apply it.  If you don’t have a recent soil test, it isn’t too late to have one done.

If, however, you insist on fertilizing blind, here are some rough guidelines.  All plants need nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  They need a host of trace elements as well, but these three are the most commonly added to a garden.  In fact, the three numbers on every bag of fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, in that order.

Nitrogen is used up the most by plants as they grow.  The exception to this is the nitrogen fixing plants such as soybean and other legumes.  They actually add nitrogen to the soil.  However, fertilizing with nitrogen is almost always safe.  Use a type that is 50 percent slow release so that it lasts longer.  The rate of application should be listed on the bag of fertilizer.  Do not exceed the recommended rate.  It will burn your plants and they will die or be stunted.

Next is phosphorous.  It is a funny thing.  Plants need it and phosphorous encourages the growth of foliage.  Too much and all you get is foliage, with no vegetables, as the plant grows like crazy.  A bit more, and the plant sickens and dies.  In addition, phosphorous runoff from lawns and gardens is a major source of algae blooms in lakes and rivers. In my area, we already have a lot of phosphorous in the soil so rarely need to add any.

Potassium is similar to phosphorous in that too much quickly kills plants.  The toxic dose is pretty close to the helpful dose, too, so care should be taken to add only what is absolutely necessary.  In my area, most soils have adequate potassium.

The trace minerals that are on the soil test, if you get the expanded one, are rarely an issue.  If cotton or corn, both heavy feeders, has been growing on that spot for several years, they may have depleted the trace minerals.  Otherwise, concentrate on the big three and don’t sweat the small stuff.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Basam from silpada February 19, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Nitrogen plays role of soul for plant and its is very good to cultivate all those crops that creates small bags of nitrogen at some growing stage.

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