Understanding Fertilizer Application Techniques

Fertilizing always seems to stump even the most experienced gardener. This column will explain, in general, some techniques for applying fertilizers in your yard or garden.

Broadcast Fertilizing

Broadcast fertilizing means to spread your fertilizer evenly over your garden or lawn. A granular fertilizer is best spread out in this manner. If you are spreading fertilizer over you lawn you are best to broadcast the granular fertilizer with the help of a wheeled fertilizer spreader/lawn seeder. You can also use this in the garden before you till the soil in the fall or the spring. You can broadcast organic material such as leaves, compost, or manure by spreading evenly over the soil as well. The fertilizer can either be left on the top of the soil, or tilled or raked in.

Top Dressing

Top dressing is the method of sprinkling the fertilizer evenly over the area and leaving on top of the soil, taking care not to touch the fertilizer directly on the plants themselves

Side Dressing

Side dressing is the method of applying fertilizer to garden plants that are already established. This is a great way to apply organic fertilizer such as compost or manure or a granular or powdered fertilizer to a row or group of plants. Apply the fertilizer on top of the soil, next to a row of plants or in a ring around a group of plants. It is very important not to touch the stems or leaves with the fertilizer as it could cause burning or even kill the plants.

Digging In

Digging in is a combination of broadcast spreading and digging into the surface of the soil. This method can be used with granular, powder and organic fertilizers.


This method is used with a water-soluble powder formula of fertilizer that you mix in your watering can. This type of fertilizer is usually applied frequently throughout the growing season, as the nutrient formula is weaker than other types of fertilizer, in order to prevent over fertilizing or fertilizer damage to the plants. It is imperative to follow the directions carefully so as not to cause unwanted damage.

Spikes or Tablets

Fertilizer is available in a solid spike or tablet form. These spikes are inserted into the ground near the roots of the plant and tablets can be dropped into a planting hole before inserting the plant. As moisture passes over them in the soil they release their nutrients into the soil.


Foliar fertilizers are special fertilizers formulated to apply directly to the foliage of plants using a spray bottle or mister. You should only do this with a foliar formulation, not a fertilizer you have mixed from an all-purpose brand.

Whichever method(s) you chose to use specific to your yard and garden, remember it is most important that you follow the complete directions of each product you use, very carefully. When it comes to fertilizer using too much or in an unsafe manner, could create disastrous results that will be hard to fix.