Plants define fertilizer choices

Published 7:55 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Many gardeners have gotten bit by the gardening bug — taking out their shovels, gardening gloves and fertilizers ready to plant. But before you start to plant your mini vegetable garden, experts say the right fertilizer is key.

James Miles, regional extension agent for Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said gardeners shouldn’t get caught up in brand names when shopping for fertilizers but that numbers are important.

“The three numbers are always going to be a percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, no matter what,” Miles said. “I suggest that before you plant you use the application 10-10-10 or 13-13-13, which gives plants across the board a boost.”

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And if you want to plant specific plants like tomatoes, corn or watermelon, Miles said there is an exact planting formula.

“I would side dress my first application of tomatoes with nitrogen and then two-to-three weeks later I would side dress again with a 5-10-10 fertilizer,” Miles said. “Vegetables like corn and watermelon have to have a lot of vegetative growth in a short amount of time so you’d have to use something high in nitrogen, like a 34-0-0, after germination.

“Peas, beans and legumes make their own nitrogen naturally and putting nitrogen on those plants hinder growth, causing leaves not to bloom and making them lazy in growing nitrogen,” Miles said.

Miles also said fish fertilizers are great for growers wanting to plant organically.

“Any composted manure (such as cow or sheep) work as good side dressers as long as they are not fresh,” Miles said. “Fresh manure would could be a health issue if produce isn’t washed off properly. For beginning growers, a soil test will tell you what your soil is proficient in and what it lacks.”

“Also pH levels are key and they have to be right,” Miles said. “For most crops, a good pH level should run from 6.5 to about 7.”