Deciding What Types of Fertilizer to Use in Your Garden

By Sher Warkentin in in Natural Products

Whether you’ve just started planning your first garden or you’ve been honing your green thumb for a while, you’ve no doubt spent some time in the fertilizer section of your local nursery or hardware store. If you found yourself overwhelmed, you’re not alone—the variety of options is staggering. Here’s what I learned after I decided to go completely organic with my fertilizer.

The Different Types of Fertilizer

Fertilizers can be broken down into a few different categories; the main two are organic and synthetic. Organic fertilizers, like manure and blood meal, are made from natural material. Synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, are man-made and composed of chemicals. Regardless of the type, the purpose of using fertilizer in your garden is to enrich the soil, provide nutrients, promote growth, and strengthen your plants.

The main difference between synthetic and natural fertilizers is how quickly they work. Synthetics are fast-acting as they react to water, and this can help rescue plants in dire need. The danger is that it’s easy to over-fertilize, which can actually hurt your garden. Organic fertilizers move more slowly when releasing nutrients and the organic matter they’re made of begins to decompose. There’s little risk of over-fertilizing since the process is sluggish.

Beyond these differences, there are studies into the whether synthetic fertilizer could also have a negative impact on the environment and on the crops you produce in your garden, which is why I ultimately decided to go entirely organic.

Sunflower blooming in a yard.

Becoming a Label Reader

With so many types of fertilizer to choose from, checking the ingredient list is the best way to decide the ideal option for your garden. The key nutrients to look for are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The ratio of these ingredients is usually one-to-one. This provides a general blanket of nutrients and works well in the majority of situations. If you have plants with specific needs, however, you may need to look for a ratio that contains higher or lower percentages of certain nutrients.

Watermelon growing on the vine.

The End Result

While I’ve previously grown a hodgepodge of different herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers in pots and nooks, this is the first year that I went all out and dedicated a big section of my yard to planting an edible garden. I had success and also some failures, but overall the result of using organic fertilizer was a positive one. For example, a neglected tomato plant began bouncing back to life after I added natural fertilizer, and it definitely helped my tomatoes grow plumper and more quickly than before I started using it. Most importantly, I felt safe knowing that there were no chemicals in the garden that my kids play in or in the tomatoes they happily gobble up.

A watermelon plant blooming.

The biggest lesson I learned is that the key to successful organic gardening is in planning. Since natural fertilizer is slow-acting, it’s best to begin using it from the get-go rather than as an afterthought. You won’t see overnight results, but I was often stunned by the impact it had on saving some plants that might otherwise have been goners thanks to my (not-so) green thumb.

Have you made the switch to organic fertilizer? Tweet a pic of your results to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Sher Warkentin

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Making the switch to natural fertilizer is not only better for your garden and the environment, but it can also be the difference in whether your garden will thrive. It's not a difficult or costly switch to make, which makes it an easy choice. You'll probably even see results in the quality of your garden produce.