Gardening with the Right Fertilizer | Alpacas of Montana


Gardening with the Right Fertilizer

  • 4 min read

According to the Gallup Gardening Survey, less than half of the country’s home gardeners use any kind of fertilizer on their lawns or gardens. What’s unfortunate about this statistic is that it means gardeners aren’t getting as many flowers or as much produce as they should. And they’re probably struggling with disease and insect problems that could be avoided.

potted plants in brown flower pots

Well-fed plants are healthier, more productive and more beautiful.

All plants need certain nutrients.  There are 16 essential elements for plant growth. The primary elements are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. When you look at a fertilizer bag and see three numbers, those three numbers relate to those three macronutrients, in that order. All of the other 13 elements are called micronutrients. These 13 are very important also, just needed in smaller amounts.

Vegetables differ in their fertilizer requirements. Leafy greens like mustard, turnips, collards, cabbage, and spinach are heavy users of nitrogen. Broccoli and sweet corn also require more nitrogen than some other vegetables. While nitrogen is important to the plant growth of fruit and root vegetables, phosphorus and potash are important to the proper development of roots and seeds. Peanuts, southern peas, and beans get nitrogen from the air and do not require heavy nitrogen fertilization. Over-fertilizing these vegetables with nitrogen causes excessive growth of leaves at the expense of the fruit. 

As your plants grow, they absorb nutrients and leave the soil less fertile. Slow release organic fertilizers give plants an ongoing application of food. This is good for the plant. These slow release fertilizers are released at different lengths of time depending on what type you get. Release rates depend on the fertilizer having a coating and how thick the coating is. Slow release fertilizers are good for house plants. Care needs to be taken for certain plants such as trees, because the slow release fertilizer will keep them growing too long out of season. One advantage to slow release fertilizers is that they don’t have to be applied very often.

hands full of brown compost dirt over green grass

Organic fertilizers such as Alpaca Compost conditions the soil and is a slow release fertilizer.

The simplest way to distinguish between compost and fertilizer is to remember this: Compost feeds the soil and fertilizer feeds the plants.

Compost energizes the soil food web, which is made up of microscopic bacteria and fungi, along with earthworms, crickets, and many other life forms. Many fungi form symbiotic, or mutually rewarding, partnerships with plant roots, making it possible for vegetables to feed themselves more efficiently. Research shows that compost enhances the ability of tomatoes and other vegetables to stand up to common diseases and may improve their flavor and nutrition, too. Compost also helps the soil retain moisture.

Fertilizer adds to the soil’s nutrient supply, but instead of feeding the soil food web, the ingredients in fertilizers are intended to meet the needs of fast-growing plants. While recommended amounts of compost can be quite general, fertilizer application rates are based on the needs of plants. Organic fertilizers have been shown to be friendlier to the soil food web compared to synthetic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizer can also feed composting, but continual use may throw soil chemistry out of balance and discourage microbes.

Compost and organic fertilizers can work together. The organic matter in compost sponges up the fertilizer nutrients until they are needed by plants. Compost also provides many nutrients that plants need in small amounts, such as boron. You can use fertilizer without compost, but why miss an opportunity to increase your soil’s fertility and its ability to hold moisture? Soil that is regularly amended with compost becomes wonderfully dark and crumbly and often requires much less fertilizer compared to soil that has not yet benefited from regular helpings of compost.

white flower surrounded by green leaves in a garden using compost as fertilizer

When properly used, fertilizers are extremely valuable in obtaining good gardening results. However, fertilizers cannot correct or improve poor soil structure that requires additions of organic matter. Nor can it compensate for an incorrect pH or unfavorable weather conditions. Choosing inappropriate vegetable cultivars, and not practicing weed or pest control cannot be corrected by applying fertilizers. The use of fertilizers is just one of a number of integrated gardening practices that lead to gardening success.

pink blooming tulips in a pot

To build the long-term health and fertility of your soil, we recommend using organic fertilizers. Supplementing with a water-soluble alpaca tea fertilizer ensures that your plants have the nutrients they need when they’re in active growth. The term organic matter indicates the amount of combustible compounds present but not the degree of breakdown. The effect of raw compost upon soil is quite different from that of a humified compost.  It is the skillful and experienced compost manufacturer’s aim to produce a compost with a high organic matter content in a well broken-down state (humified), but not in an extreme state of mineralization. 


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