Can your garden grow without regular fertilization? Perhaps. But ask yourself: How well would you fare without essential vitamins and minerals to nourish your body? You might live, but you’d likely be lethargic, prone to illness and not very productive. So it goes with vegetables. If you don’t give them what they need, they can survive, but they’re not going to be at their best, leaving you with very little to show for all your hard work.
Gardens are a cycle of give and take: Nourish them, and they’ll give nutrients back in the form of produce.
If you followed our spring cleaning checklist for your garden, you tested the soil and fertilized your garden before your plants went in – that’s the only chance you had to get nutrients deep into the ground, where they await your vegetables’ burgeoning roots. A generous dose of compost or manure gives your plants the solid foundation they need to fill your garden to maximum capacity.
Make sure to get your space shipshape before planting your crops.
In the Midwest, we’re blessed to have mostly clay-based soil, which holds nutrients in better than sand-based soils. Every type of vegetable and herb has a different fertilization need: Tomatoes, for instance, need a much larger amount of fertilization than most herbs, so learn about what you’re growing and make yourself a fertilization schedule. Local garden centers will have experts who can help you with this, and they’re going to provide more tailored information about your soil than a random internet search.
Once you determine what each of your plants needs, set a schedule and stick to it for a consistent, healthy harvest. No matter what the amounts, a good rule of (green) thumb is that frequent, small amounts of fertilization are better for your plants than infrequent, larger ones; regular feeding will give them steady strength to build on versus starving them and then stuffing them with nutrients.
When growing season comes to a close and it’s time to turn your beds over, it’s also time for one final round of fertilizer. To winterize your garden and get it ready for next spring, run a layer of manure, compost or stray leaves – anything that qualifies as nutritious organic material – through it. Work the organic material down to root level, and it’ll work its magic while your garden lies dormant, pushing nutrients back into the soil that’s been working overtime all season long.