Keeping your garden healthy and producing lots of flowers and delicious fruits, vegies and herbs sounds like a lot of work but it is really simple. All it takes is regular applications of plant food and (of course) plenty of water.
Lawns will also look better and be able to withstand challenging weather as well as foot traffic when fed at least once every season.
Follow our steps for how to feed your garden and it will be thriving in no time.
There are many different types of fertiliser. What you use will depend on largely personal choice (organic, natural or inorganic) and the results you want.
Liquids and water-soluble crystals or powders are readily absorbed directly through leaves as well as roots via the soil. Their nutrients are immediately available and will give plants an instant boost when applied.
Granular or pelletised fertilisers are usually slow or controlled release formulations that gently and slowly release nutrients over an extended period, from a few weeks to up to 12 months.
A combination of both instant and long-term fertilisers is often the best solution for a great garden.
Always ensure you use “garden” fertilisers on garden beds and “lawn” fertilisers on lawns. Don’t be tempted to use a one-size-fits-all approach – there are differences in formulation and nutrient values (NPK) and the way each type works. Lawn fertilisers are high in nitrogen to encourage lush leafy growth – perfect for grasses but not for flowering or fruiting plants!
“All Purpose” or “Balanced” fertilisers may be used throughout the garden but occasionally a specialised plant food may be preferred for specific types of plants, For example, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and other exotic flowering shrubs may do better when a fertiliser formulated specially for these plants is used. It may be labelled as being ideal for acid-lovers, which all these shrubs are.
Fruit trees, especially citrus, may have better crops and greener leaves when a fertiliser with boosted iron and magnesium is used, while some vegies will have improved disease resistance when fed with fertilisers containing a high level of calcium.
Check the weather before applying any food. Don’t fertilise the garden or the lawn when the daytime temperature is expected to exceed 30 degrees. Even on cool days, avoid feeding in the middle of the day when the sun is at its most intense. Either do it early in the day or wait for late afternoon.
Having selected the type and formulation of fertiliser you wish to use in your garden or on your lawn, read the instructions on both front and back labels thoroughly before using. The risk of burning your plants or lawn is minimal when fertilisers are used according to the directions.
Damage generally occurs as a result of not reading labels. If you don’t understand the information or how to use the fertiliser, contact the manufacturer for assistance.
If using liquid concentrates or water-soluble fertilisers that require dilution with water, measure out the exact amount required as per the label. Some bottle caps are marked as being 20ml or 50ml measures but if they are not, use a dedicated plastic medicine glass to measure liquids. Instructions usually advise adding a specified amount to a standard (9L) watering can. Fill with water, mix thoroughly and apply over the plants and soil as instructed.
If using ready-to-use liquids (hose-end bottles) click the bottle firmly on to the hose, turn the mains pressure tap on fully and then activate the sprayer as instructed on the label. The bottle should empty as the product is applied – if it doesn’t, there is a delivery problem. Check your hose fittings, the water pressure and whether you have switched the bottle on correctly.
Liquid and water-soluble fertilisers may be used every few weeks, if required.
If using granular or pelletised slow/controlled release fertilisers, they are typically applied at rates specified in tablespoons per centimetres of height of plants. For example: 2tbl per 30cm of height. This means that 2 tablespoons of the fertiliser for every 30cm of a plant’s height should be spread over the roots on the dripline, which is an imaginary circle on the soil directly under the outer limit of the leaves or branches. This is where the feeding roots are located.
This is fine for individual shrubs but where plants are in rows, for instance in the vegie patch, the fertiliser should be applied in a band down either side of the row.
Gently fork the fertiliser into the soil so it is lightly covered – don’t disturb the soil deeply because you risk damaging the roots. Water only if the soil is dry – moisture isn’t necessary to activate the release of nutrients.
When feeding large garden beds with an abundance of shrubs or other plants, and application around each on isn’t possible, the fertiliser may be broadcast over the entire bed. Wash granules off plants and on to the soil with the hose.
If feeding the lawn, the same principles apply. Again, please remember to read the instructions before starting.
Hose-on fertilisers are simple and quick to apply while more care is needed with slow release lawn foods.
Application rates are critical when using granular fertilisers. If you are too heavy-handed, there is a high risk of burning the grass due to too much nitrogen. If the label recommends using a fertiliser spreader, do so! Make sure it is set correctly and only add as much fertiliser to the hopper as you need to cover your exact lawn area in square metres – borrow the kitchen scales to weigh it out.
The time and effort taken to feed the garden and lawn regularly is well rewarded with healthy, productive plants.
Liquid or granular fertilisers of choice for garden and/or lawn