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Vermont Garden Journal: The Dirt On Organic Fertilizer

Learn all about when to use organic fertilizer, and which type to use, in this week's 'Vermont Garden Journal.'

Spring is time to get your soil ready for planting. Organic matter is key to soil health and building it with annual additions of compost is a good idea. But sometimes, especially in a vegetable or annual flower garden, there is a need to add more than compost. Annual flower and vegetable plants pull many nutrients from the soil. Based on a soil test you may find deficiencies and may need an organic fertilizer to help restore some balance.

Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly and feed the microbes in the soil, which help feed the plants. The simplest approach is to make annual addition of a dry, granular, balanced, organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5 or similar, that is a blend of many materials before planting.  

There are also granular organic fertilizers that will solve specific nutrient deficiencies. Organic cottonseed meal and alfalfa meal are high in nitrogen and will help young seedlings green up better. Bone meal is high in phosphorous which is good for root and bulb formation. Greensand in a mineral that contains needed amounts of potassium for general plant vigor and hardiness. Wood ashes are also high in potassium but raise the pH of your soil, too. Never apply more than 20 pounds of wood ashes per 1000 square feet of garden. You can even apply small amounts of rock dusts, such as azomite, to supply a dose of important micronutrients. Granular fertilizers are slow reacting, so if you're looking for a quicker fix, try liquid versions. Organic liquid fertilizers such as fish emulsion and manure tea, offer a quicker way for nutrients to reach plants through watering and directly spraying the solution on the leaves. Always follow label directions for how much and how often to apply.

And now for this week's tip, protect young tulip plants as they emerge and bud up from deer and rabbit damage with an animal repellent spray. Spray often to cover the new growth and if rain washes off the material.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about native shrubs. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.


Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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