By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
In general, there are eight ways to apply the variety of fertilizers you may use.
1. 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 your lawn, you are best to broadcast the granular fertilizer with the help of a wheeled fertilizer spreader/lawn seeder. You also can use this in the garden before you till the soil in the fall or spring.
Read the instructions on the bag for coverage instructions, and set the flow on your spreader/seeder accordingly.
After application is complete, take the time to thoroughly wash your spreader and seeder and then allow it to dry completely before storing. Fertilizer is corrosive so make sure you follow these steps.
If you have a small garden or patch of lawn to fertilize, you can make a hand-held spreader by punching holes in the bottom of a coffee can and then shaking over the area desired.
Keep the plastic lid in place on the bottom while filling with fertilizer and carrying to the area needed to be fertilized. Then replace the lid on the bottom of the can when you are finished and return the unused portion to the package.
You can broadcast organic material such as leaves, compost, or manure by spreading evenly over the soil, as well.
The fertilizer either can be left on the top of the soil or raked in.
2. Side dressing
Side dressing is the method of applying fertilizer to garden plants that already are 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.
Once applied, the nutrients from the fertilizer will leach into the soil with each rain or watering and become available to the plant.
This is a very quick (with no digging) method of fertilizing a large garden or flowerbed.
3. In holes
This method is similar to side dressing in that you dig holes near the base of the plants, fill part-way with fertilizer, and then top with soil.
Obviously, this method is a little more labour-intensive than side dressing. I like this method for deep-rooting trees and shrubs, but not for tender plants that do not like their roots disturbed.
Even with careful digging, you can disturb roots and cause damage to the plants.
Landscape companies often will fertilize trees with this method by using a special tool to drill holes along the drip line of the tree and then insert fertilizer in them.
4. 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 can be labour-intensive if you have a large area to cover, but it makes the nutrients more available to the root systems of the plants than broadcast seeding.
This can be performed before planting, or in the rows between the vegetables or spaces between your flowers in established gardens.
This method is used with a water-soluble powder formula of fertilizer that you mix in your watering can.
This type of fertilizer usually is 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. You also should apply the water solution at the base of the plant to prevent unwanted damage to the leaves.
Water fertilizing is best for planters, containers, and small gardens, but also is helpful when wanting to customize fertilizing formulas and schedules for individual plants like roses or vegetables, for instance.
6. 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.
Top dressing and broadcast fertilizing as very similar methods.
The fertilizer is available in a solid spike or tablet form. These spikes are inserted into the ground near the roots of the plant. Then as moisture passes over them, they release their nutrients into the soil.
Tablets can be applied to holes made in the soil near the plants or often are applied directly into the water of water gardens.
Spikes also are available to supply specific nutrients to specific plants, and also are available for houseplants.
Foliar fertilizers are special fertilizers formulated to apply directly to the foliage of plants. You only should do this with a foliar formulation; not a fertilizer you have mixed from an all-purpose brand.
You mix the foliar fertilizer with water and apply directly to the leaves of the plant using a spray bottle or mister.
You only may need one method or many of the methods to meet the needs of your yard and garden. Most importantly, you should follow the directions of each product you use very carefully.
When it comes to fertilizer, too much could create disastrous results that will be hard to fix.
Also remember to store unused portions of fertilizer in an airtight, water-proof container. If stored this way, fertilizer can keep for years as long as it stays dry.
It is okay for most fertilizers to freeze in the shed or garage over winter, when stored this way (but just to make sure, always check the instructions on the bag first).
Never, ever store your fertilizers near petroleum products such as the gasoline, oils, or paint thinners. This could cause a very dangerous fire or explosion, so make sure to store them appropriately.
If you have excess fertilizer you no longer have use for, do not throw it directly in the garbage or wash it down the drain. Make sure you take the unused portion to a hazardous waste-handling facility.
When spreading or mixing fertilizers, it also is very important to protect your skin with long sleeves and gloves, and extra important not to breathe in the dust from the fertilizer.
You should wear a dust mask while handling the product.
As well, keep your pets and children away from unused fertilizer and prevent them from entering areas that have been freshly-treated.