Still using one fertilizer on everything in the yard?
No wonder you’re searching for answers.

While no one would every try using lawn fertilizer on hollies and roses, or the veggie garden, many people would assume that plant food is plant food, and use one product on everything in their gardens and landscaping. Guess what? Woody plants – your trees and shrubs – and perennials, annuals or fruit and vegetable plants can’t process the same fertilizer. So, if you’re using something like slow-release Osmocote or Miracle-Gro on all your plants, you’re defeating the entire purpose on one group or the other. Wasting fertilizer isn’t thrifty, and if your plant’s aren’t absorbing it, that fertilizer you keep putting down is an environmental issue.

It’s really healthier for your soil, and your plants in the long run, to stop using synthetic fertilizers, and begin organic practices. A lot of what your flower garden and food-bearing plants need comes from the soil, and not from man-made fertilizers. However, building natural slow-release plant nutrition up in soil that has been under synthetic fertilizer application for years takes time. Not only is it likely you want faster results than that, it’s also a totally different subject best left for another day.

For the easiest fix, make sure you’re using a shrub and tree formula fertilizer on your woody landscaping plants, and a garden fertilizer on annuals, perennials and food plants. Some flower garden plants, like roses and bulbs have special needs, and using those that are indicated for them will definitely give you more desirable results than the one-product-fits-all approach. You will find organic fertilizers pre-packaged in any garden center or nursery that fit each of these plant groups’ needs too. Worm tea and compost tea is also an excellent addition to your garden feeding artillery, be it edible or aesthetic in value, but unless your trees and landscape shrubs are all very immature, you’ll need vast quantities of garden tea for them.

Some may be surprised to learn there is such a distinct difference in what these two groups of plants can ‘eat’. Large woody plants, like shrubs and trees, get their nutrition from a less refined form of major nutrients in nature than the rest of the plant kingdom. For them a soil microbe must step in and further process the same nutrients before herbaceous plants – your perennials, annuals, vegetables and soft stemmed fruit plants can take up. They are all plants, but not as similar as humans often assume. Which is why the fertilizer shelf in the garden department has so many different types of fertilizers.

So, the best garden fertilizer is selected by plant type. It’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Trees and petunias are as alike as birds and fish. Having leaves, roots and flowers has nothing to do with meeting every plant’s nutritional needs. The composition of the soil it’s growing in can also affect how effective your fertilizer is – even when matched to the plant type. For instance, sandy soil drains faster than a soil with heavier concentrations of other soil particle types in it. This also means that it will shed fertility faster through leaching, which means that you will have healthier plants when applying smaller doses of soil-incorporated fertilizer more often when dealing with a soil that has more sand than silt and clay in it’s composition.

It’s not always the fertilizer that’s the culprit of a gardener’s woes. Sometimes it’s the soil, which can be corrected – whether you add moisture retention or give it better drainage. Sometimes it’s the plants selected to dwell in that soil composition. And sometimes the gardener who doesn’t understand that plant food labeled for different kinds of plants is not a marketing gimmick, but a real nutritional need that is the cause of the problem. Only you will know which of the above definitely does not fit your situation so you can get to the bottom of your garden’s trouble by process of elimination.

Match the plant to the soil, the fertilizer to the plant, and the application to your soil’s composition. If that’s not what you want to grow in your garden, then change the soil to suit your taste in plants by amending it appropriately. It works.