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Fetilizing Your Garden

Fetilizing Your Garden

Ted Krieter | The Saturday Evning Post

What you feed your plants can make a mighty difference when you come to harvest your vegetables and flowers. And spring is the time to make sure they get enough of the 13 essential mineral elements required for normal growth. Fortunately, most soils contain the micronutrients that vegetable and flowering plants require in small amounts such as boron, manganese, copper, zinc, iron, molybdenum, and chlorine. You only need to add these elements in particular instances, when some abnormal plant response indicates a deficiency.

The secondary elements—calcium, magnesium, and sulfur—are more important and occasionally they need to be replenished in some soils. They can be replaced by adding minerals containing them, such as ground limestone (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulfate), or powdered sulfur to the soil. A single application is enough to keep plants healthy for several years.

The most important plant nutrients that must be replenished annually are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). They are represented on chemical fertilizer packages by numbers. A 10-5-5 fertilizer, for example, indicates a mixture that is 10 percent nitrogen, 5 percent phosphorus, and 5 percent potassium. Each nutrient has a different but vital role to play in making your garden successful.


Nitrogen is the primary nutrient that makes plants grow, and it must be added periodically to the soil because plants use it up rapidly. Gardeners can get their plants growing in spring by adding either chemical or organic sources of nitrogen to the soil. Chemical sources include ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and sodium nitrate. Organic sources include manure, blood meal, cottonseed meal, hoof and horn meal, fish emulsion, and soybean meal. You can also increase nitrogen by adding grass clippings or leaf mold. But don’t get carried away. Too much nitrogen can cause excessive stem and leaf growth at the expense of flowering and fruiting.