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How To Fertilize Plants

February 8, 2022 Jill Raver
Filed in: Planting Blog

The importance of using a good quality fertilizer is something that all good gardeners come to understand. Not only does fertilizing maximize your plants’ growth, but in some cases, fertilizing can literally mean the difference between having a thriving yard and garden, or not. Plants need food just like we do, and because some soils are so depleted, they often need extra nutrients to realize their full potential. If you want to know how to fertilize plants, it’s important to note that all fertilizers are not created equal. Not only are there different fertilizer types to consider, but there are also several forms that they come in. We will dive into that and more below.

Types of Fertilizers

Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizer is made from naturally sourced materials such as manure or compost. Organic fertilizers are a great source of nutrients. They are slow acting and help to build up your soil over time. You can purchase a high-quality organic fertilizer from a reputable nursery such as PlantingTree, or you can even make your own if you have access to the necessary materials.

Inorganic Fertilizers

Inorganic fertilizers are made of up chemical components that contain essential plant nutrients. They are generally faster-acting than organic fertilizers and are best used when you want to give your garden or newly planted tree or shrub a quick boost.

Nitrogen Fertilizers

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient that is responsible for plant growth. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers are particularly beneficial to your plants in the early stages of growth. You’ll find nitrogen in both organic and inorganic fertilizers, it’s just a matter of how much and how fast or slow it releases into the soil.

Phosphate Fertilizers

Phosphorous is a nutrient that plants need continuously throughout their life cycle or they will experience stunted growth. It’s long-lasting and slow acting. Phosphorous helps to strengthen a plant's root system. Furthermore, flowering, seeding, and fruiting can all dramatically improve when adding phosphorous to the soil.

Potassium Fertilizers

Potassium is another nutrient that will help your plants grow deeper and stronger roots. Potassium is vital for photosynthesis. Having adequate potassium in your soil can slow down any diseases that may also infect your garden. You can identify a potassium deficiency in your plant if you see yellowing or browning along the edges of the leaves. Most fertilizers, both organic and inorganic, have a mix of all of these nutrients. However, some will have more nitrogen than others, more phosphorous than others, etc. Likewise, some fertilizers are slow-release and others are not. Therefore, it’s important that you match the kind of fertilizer specific to your plant’s needs.

Fertilizer Forms

Fertilizers come in a few different forms. There are liquid fertilizers, powdered fertilizers, and granular fertilizers. Liquid fertilizers are usually diluted with water and are spread with a hose. It’s easy to use, like watering your plants. Powdered fertilizers also need water to be activated. This type of fertilizer is usually spread by hand and then watered thoroughly for maximum absorption. Lastly, granular fertilizers are placed on top of the soil and soak in over time. Thus, they are the easiest fertilizer to apply.

How To Fertilize Plants

If you are direct sewing your plants, you can start by sprinkling a granular fertilizer around the base of the plant. Just be mindful not to put it on the trunk or on the foliage. You want it concentrated around the edge of the root ball, about six inches from the center. Above all else, follow the directions of the fertilizer for your specific growing needs. Do not over-fertilize.

What is the best fertilizer for newly planted trees, shrubs, or flowers?

There is not a one size fits all answer for this. What kind of fertilizer you use and in what form will depend on a few different factors. These include what you are planting, your environment, and the condition of your soil.

Fertilizing Container Plants

When fertilizing container plants, start with an all-purpose fertilizer. These fertilizers have nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus in significant quantities. If you have container plants that flower or produce fruit, such as tomatoes or berries, select fertilizers with higher amounts of phosphorus or potassium relative to nitrogen. We recommend starting a regular fertilizing schedule two to six weeks after planting.

Should you use a soluble or a slow-release fertilizer for container plants? Here are some recommendations:

  • Soluble fertilizers are easy to use and are a good choice for container plants, where rooting space is minimal and nutrients are easily lost through frequent watering.
  • A soluble fertilizer is the best choice when nutrients are needed quickly. For example, you may want to use a quick-acting soluble fertilizer when the leaves of your tomato plants are turning yellow, a classic sign that they don’t have enough nitrogen.
  • Slow-release fertilizers are effective for many container plants. As a general rule, the larger and faster-growing the plant, the more necessary and urgent the nutrients are. Therefore, if you do use a slow-release variety for a container plant, be sure to keep an eye on them and supplement them where needed.

Maintaining Plant Health

Aside from starting a regular fertilizing routine for your new plants, there are a couple of other things you may want to take into consideration to maintain plant health. For example, you’ll want to pay attention to soil moisture and mulching.

Soil Moisture

Maintaining the right moisture content in your soil is challenging at times, especially for container plants. As a general rule, you’ll likely need to water your plants daily for the first several weeks while they get established. This is true for ground-sown plants as well as container-sown plants. This is especially true if you live in a hot, dry climate. New plants can become quite distressed and stunted from prolonged periods without water. So, maintaining soil moisture must be a priority.


Mulch isn’t just for ground-sown plants. It’s good for container plants too. Not only does mulch keep weeds at bay, but it minimizes water loss that happens as a result of evaporation. It also moderates soil temperatures. Mulching will help you retain soil moisture, which is key to maintaining plant health.

For our full selection of plant fertilizers, trees, shrubs, and patio plants, be sure to browse our online plant nursery.

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