How to Apply Organic Fertilizers and How Often?
It’s important to know how to apply fertilizer and how often so your prize winning garden doesn’t turn into a Nuclear Battlefield.
Things can go south pretty fast if you use the wrong fertilizer or apply too much.
How to Apply Compost or Composted Manure
Mix in Entire Soil Bed
A great way to apply compost or composted manure is to mix it with the existing soil. You till the soil and then dump the compost on top and mix thoroughly.
So how deep do you till the soil?
I recommend digging up or tilling about 12″+ of the existing soil. If it’s hard and compacted, you can use a claw hammer to break it up or soak it with water to soften it. Watering the soil makes it really easy to till. Just water the area with a hose, let it sit and then water more until you can dig up 12″ of soil. If it’s gets muddy, just let it sit until some of the water gets absorbed or evaporates.
I like to mix compost and soil in a 1/1 ratio. One part soil and one part compost. It really changes the soil drastically. This will provide fertilization for 8 months to 1 year plus provide a huge increase in water retention. You won’t have to water nearly as much.
Now for maintenance you can just apply more compost to the top of the soil until the growing season is over or cold weather kills the garden. When this happens, you can till the entire garden and re- compost it. This will prepare the garden for the next growing season.
Mix in Soil Around Plant Base
Applying compost around the plants is another popular method of fertilizing a garden. It is a more efficient way of fertilizing because the fertilizer is only applied in small amounts directly to the plants root line. Just dig up some of the soil around the plants and mix in the compost.
This method only puts fertilizer where it is needed and not over the entire garden bed. Fertilizing the entire bed could stimulate grass or weed growth. We don’t want that.
Mix in Soil in Rows Separating Plants
If you grow vegetables or flowers in rows then you might consider fertilizing in the area or rows in between the plants. Like farmers do when irrigating fields with water. The trench next to the row of plants gets watered.
Dig a trench a few inches away from the row of plants, several inches deep. Add some compost and mix well. This will provide fertilizer to the soil right next to the plants’ root line. Water will redistribute the nutrients to the plant roots. It’s a very simple method and works well. It’s much faster than fertilizing each plant individually.
This method also reduces the probability of weeds and grass being stimulated or encouraged to grow.
Layer on Top Of Soil Bed
This is the easiest way to apply fertilizer to a garden. Just spread a 2-3″ layer of an organic type fertilizer like compost over the top of the garden soil. It will fertilize for many months and decrease water evaporation tremendously. Your garden will stay moist and your plants will grow like crazy.
This method will provide fertilization for almost the entire growing season. I like low maintenance and this method is one I use regularly. This is also used in the No-Till gardening method where you just pile compost over the current soil and plant seeds. No digging, tilling or shoveling or backaches.
This is another version of a Raised Box Garden but without the Box. It’s a raised garden bed. I do this type of gardening.
Layer on Top of Soil Around Individual Plants
This is a more conservative approach to the above method. You minimize unneeded fertilization by only applying compost around the individual plants. Usually I spread compost in a 4-5″ perimeter ring around each plant depending on how large the plant is. A large tomato plant would need a 6-8″ ring of compost around its base or root line. This aligns the nutrients directly above the roots and is very effective. It can be a little time consuming if you have 50 plants. You might need to re-apply every 3-4 months.
Layer on Top Of Soil in Rows
This method is a cross between spot fertilizing and blanket fertilizing. It’s faster than spot fertilizing but does not use unnecessary amounts of fertilizer nor encourages excess weed or grass growth.
If you grow in rows, layer compost in between the rows of plants using a 2-3 inch layer. This will provide nutrients that will seep into the soil when watered. It will spread to the neighboring rows and fertilize the pants. It’s very effective.
Compost, worm castings and composted chicken manure works extremely well.
I would recommend adding compost every 3-4 months in order to maintain adequate food for growing and fruiting plants. It doesn’t take much time to do. I like this method.
How to Apply Mulch
Mulching is an awesome method of fertilization. Mulching is spreading a layer of organic material on top of the soil. The organic material can be grass, leaves, shredded tree trimmings, wood chips, compost or composted steer or cow manure.
Mulch does many beneficial things to soil and gardens. First off, it decomposed and releases nutrients into the soil like compost. It also decreases water evaporation, insulates the soil against heat and cold, modifies the soil texture and attracts earth worms, microbes, bacteria and nematodes. it is amazing stuff.
Apply a thick layer of mulch over the soil. I prefer 2-3 inches but you can go thicker than that. It won’t hurt anything. Mulch is the best seed starter. Plant seeds in the soil and cover with 1″ of grass mulch. The seeds will germinate every time, usually in 7-10 days.
Mulch will decompose over time and you will need to replenish it. Grass mulch will decompose quicker than compost or leaves. When you see the grass mulch getting thin, add another 2 inches. Grass mulch will last about 2 months depending on how thick you apply it. Compost mulch will last longer, around 4 months or so for a layer of 2″. It’s very easy to maintain mulch fertilizer and it works very well.
How to Apply Worm Castings
Worm Castings….I love this stuff!!! Worm castings are absolutely the best fertilizer, organic or non-organic. Nothing else can come close for slow release complete fertilization. OK, I got that out of the way. Now lets talk about how to apply it to a garden bed.
Worm castings are much more nutrient rich than any other organic fertilizer. Apply it very sparingly. A little goes a long way but more will not hurt. But since it’s rather expensive, $25/ small 12 lb bag, I use it only where the plants are growing.
I recommend sprinkling it on the soil and mixing. It will provide nutrition for months. You can also just sprinkle it on top of the soil and it will work as well. Use it in close proximity to the plants for the most efficient fertilization. One bag can go a long way. I only use worm castings around the root line of plants. I do not use it like mulch.
I use a tablespoon to measure or apply worm castings. When I apply it to my small Oak Tree, I apply 2 tablespoons every foot around the root line. I dig a small hole and dump it in and cover.
In the garden, I sprinkle worm castings around the vegetable plants and then water. It’s amazing how well plants do with it. I had watermelon plants growing so fast that they covered half of my backyard in a few months.