One of the most important steps when starting a garden is to test the soil to determine what is missing. Ideally, you want to plant in healthy soil that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for optimal results. Additional things to test the soil for are the moisture and pH levels. The moisture level in soil matters because it promotes root growth which is desirable, and pH soil levels matter because their relative acidity or alkalinity affects how nutrient-rich the soil is which plants depend upon for growth. We understand soil like no other. If you need advice from a professional simply contact us. If you are in atlanta go to or visit our homepage.

Depending on what types of plants you intend to grow and where your garden is located, pH levels will vary. Some plants require more acidic soil and others may need less. The amount of light exposure the garden receives also impacts moisture levels. If a garden gets direct sun all day it tends to be dryer versus a shaded garden. Using a home soil test is beneficial because it measures factors such as moisture and pH levels present in the dirt. Based on the soil test results you will need to add fertilizer to supplement nutrients that may be lacking.

Even though plants make their own food from the naturally occurring process of photosynthesis they will thrive and produce better results and a higher quality of nutrient-rich blooms and crops when the soil is fertilized.

Regular dirt or packaged planting soil doesn't necessarily contain the correct balance of nutrients required for healthy plants. When plants grow in existing soil beds they absorb nutrients from the soil and deplete what nourishes them. Fertilizing the soil at the first planting is advisable because it essentially provides food for the plants to be able to produce nutrient-rich vegetables and blooms. Plants also do better when equipped with essential elements that aide them in disease resistance and attacks from pests.

There are two types of fertilizers organic and chemical and each provides nutrients in different ways. Organic fertilizer as the name implies consists of mineral deposits such as composted manure, plant, and bone meal. Chemical fertilizers will feature three numbers on the packaging label that is commonly known as the analysis or the N-P-K ratio which refers to the percentage the product contains by volume and weight of each of the following: nitrogen (chemical symbol N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). So for example a 25-4-2 formulation contains 25% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 2% potassium. For example, using a 100-pound bag, the same formula would consist of 25 pounds of nitrate, 4 pounds of phosphate, and 2 pounds of potash which contains potassium, throughout the total weight. In a liquid fertilizer, the balance of materials will be water and other elements that make up the solution. Most fertilizers focus on providing these three compounds because they are used in the greatest amounts.

All fertilizers have at least one of these compounds however if any are missing the ratio will show a zero for that nutrient. For example, a 15-0-0 fertilizer has nitrogen but no phosphorus or potassium. All types of products whether they are bottled, bagged, or boxed display the N-P-K ratio on the packaging labels. When buying organic fertilizer in bulk the ratio should be notated on the bin and it's advisable to make a record of the ratio information to keep track of what is being added to the soil for best results.

The six most important nutrients plants need are carbon (air), hydrogen (water), and oxygen (water and air). The N-P-K ratio is always displayed in that order on fertilizer and is considered the essential macronutrients for plant growth. Without these nutrients, your plants will not thrive. Nitrogen makes your plants green and is responsible for shoot/stem growth. Phosphorus is essential for blooming and the reproductive phases of the plant. If you want a lot of flowers, fruit, and seed, potassium-rich fertilizer is desirable. Potassium helps plants with the photosynthesis process, helps make carbohydrates, and provides disease resistance. It also helps regulate metabolic activities such as water uptake within the plant.

There are general and special purpose fertilizers and the use of each depends on what stage the garden is in its life cycle. A special-purpose N-P-K ratio such as 16-6-4, higher in nitrogen, is one to use in the spring when you'd want to encourage a lush green lawn.

Using a general-purpose fertilizer with a balanced N-P-K ratio of 12-12-12 (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) or one less equal such as 12-8-6 (a slightly higher percentage of nitrogen than of phosphorus and potassium ) are good ratios to use as a maintenance strategy. Fertilizers containing low amounts of nitrogen with more phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K ratio 3-20-20) are a good mix to encourage root growth, flower, and fruit production. A dry granular fertilizer of this type is best because you can direct the phosphorus and potassium where the roots will absorb them and help develop more root density.

A good way to familiarize yourself with the differences between organic or chemical fertilizer is to refer to their names and what they indicate. Organic fertilizer is made up of materials that are minimally processed such as animal waste, plants, and minerals. These are typically what some gardeners prepare themselves from composting or they can be purchased as in manure. The advantages of using organic fertilizer are nutrient-rich gardens and lawns as organic materials tend to release slowly over time. There is less to no toxic buildup going into the soil and plants which is a huge consideration, particularly if planting vegetables. The disadvantage to organic fertilizer is because it breaks down slower, nutrients aren't immediately providing what a new plant needs.

Chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, are processed and contain refined materials aimed to get to work right away in providing nutrients to the soil and plants. Cost-wise, chemical fertilizers are a more convenient way to see results quickly, however, this type of fertilizer doesn't sustain the soil and plants. If used over time chemical fertilizers can build up in the soil and you wouldn't want to have arsenic, uranium, and cadmium leak into edibles such as a fruit or vegetable garden.

Whether your intention is to plant an outdoor garden or to keep a houseplant healthy you have to take into account the growing environment. For outdoor planting, it's highly recommended to utilize the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone Map which outlines the right temperature (zone) for 11 separate planting zones throughout North America. You wouldn't want to plant something that can only thrive in warm weather in a northern state. Indoor plants, in comparison, can be easily controlled by the environment.

Whether to use granular or liquid fertilizer is another choice gardeners make. Liquid tends to be an easier application and more uniform, just mix and spray, whereas, granular can be more cost-efficient though possibly harder to digest as each granule has individual nutrient components.

The best time to fertilize plants varies depending on indoor pot bound plants or outdoor gardens. For outdoor plants, it is better to fertilize early in the morning or late evening to avoid the heat of the day when plants are busy absorbing sunlight. For a new garden, let the seedlings first adjust to the soil and get established first before fertilizing them.

Lastly, test the soil test periodically to measure the health of the soil and fertilize as needed to nurture your garden throughout the growing season. Once vegetables reach their potential, fertilization is no longer needed.

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