Choosing the right garden fertilizers will give your plants the six basic nutrients they need to thrive. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are readily available in water and air, but the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that plants need to thrive come from their soil. Understanding the immediate needs of your garden is the best way to get started.
Conventional or synthetic fertilizers are chemical products available at your local garden supply or home improvement stores and made by treating natural products with chemicals. They are useful for gardens that need help right away because they are water-soluble, meaning that your plants will absorb their nutrients immediately. These products are great for a quick garden jump-start but don't have a long-term effect on your soil's quality.
Synthetic fertilizers are a good choice for early spring fertilizing because of their water solubility. This means that the nutrients they offer are readily available to plants right away even if the ground is still frosty and your plants are slow in waking up from the winter freeze.
One problem of using a conventional fertilizer is that applying too much can "burn" your leaves and damage your plants. When using one of these products, it is extremely important to follow the manufacturer's directions to avoid overfeeding.
If you want to avoid the chemicals in synthetic garden fertilizers, another way to go is with one of the many organic products available. Organic fertilizers feed your garden differently from their synthetic counterparts. Organic fertilizers use natural minerals and other materials like bone, plant meal or manure to replenish your garden's soil without adding chemicals.
Because the material in organic fertilizer is not usually water-soluble, it feeds your plants over a longer period. Organic fertilizer may still be feeding your soil and plants for months or years. Organic products also promote other forms of life, such as soil microbes, which help your plants absorb the nutrients they need.
There are almost as many different types of commercial organic fertilizers as there are types of gardens to use them in. Organic options range from fish emulsions and seaweed extracts to corn and bone meal. Once you've chosen your ingredients, you can then choose your method of delivery: liquid that gets sprayed on, powder spread in teabag-type pouches, or the less expensive and slow-release granules or pellets distributed by hand, directly to the soil.
Not all organic fertilizer has to come from a store. With just a little DIY effort, a simple box or barrel filled with leaves, eggshells, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, grass clippings and all types of organic material that would otherwise wind up in your trash bin are transformed into compost that you can use to fertilize your garden and save money at the same time.