When to Fertilize Plants? Find the right timing!

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When it comes to gardening, we tend to err on the side of caution. Doing too much can disrupt our plants, especially if we are new to the hobby, so instead, we hope that nature will simply do what it needs to do. However, gardening has a lot of elements to it, including the regular application of fertilizer. We’ll break down when to fertilize and how to know to do this task, so you can have a stress-free garden.  

When to fertilize plants: One of the important tasks you have, if you are a plant owner, is regularly fertilizing them. At the very least, you should fertilize your plants in spring, when you first start planting, and then again in summer when your plants are starting to blossom. You can also add organic fertilizer, such as manure, into your garden in the spring and fall to keep the soil well-balanced. Indoor plants will need continual fertilizer because they only have access to the soil in their characters.

Before you purchase plant fertilizer, research what nutrients your specific plants need. It will be a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but the ratio will defer based on species.

Always add plenty of water with your fertilizer so that it can be absorbed into the soil. This way the entire root structure has access to the fertilizer so the whole plant will be nice and strong.     

Benefits of Fertilizing Plants  

  • Stronger root system
  • Less disease
  • Larger fruit crops
  • Larger flowers
  • Brighter colors
  • Stronger stems and branches  

How do you Fertilize Plants?  

Organic fertilizer  

One option to fertilize your plants is with organic matter. This takes the form of manure, compost, or bone meal.

While you won’t be able to tell the exact breakdown of nutrients within organic fertilizer, it should still be enough for the average garden. Add organic matter to your soil twice a year.

This should be in the spring, just before you are getting your crops ready, and in the fall, when you are cleaning up your garden. Toss the organic matter into the soil so that it is nice and mixed in.  

Inorganic fertilizer  

Another popular option is inorganic fertilizer. This is specially formulated to contain the three essential nutrients every garden needs, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Inorganic fertilizer has different ratios of these three minerals, which are displayed as three numbers on any container. To decide how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium you need, you should first research the type of plant you have.

Some plants need more nitrogen while others need more potassium, so this is a good starting point. Then, you can also test your soil.

This way you know what is in the soil to start with so you can then adjust as needed. There are many simple soil testing kits you can find, either online or at your local gardening store.    

How often should you fertilize Plants?  

Every plant is different, so understanding when to fertilize them can take a bit of research. However, at the very least you should fertilize your plants twice a year.

Start in the spring, right when the growing season is starting. If you are transplanting seedlings, make sure they have plenty of nutrients to start with.

As for mature plants, they will enter a robust growth spurt in the spring and will need plenty of fresh nutrients in their soil for optimal growth.

Another beneficial time to fertilize your plants is in the middle of the summer, or right when your crops are starting to bear fruit. This is another major growth time so giving your plants essential nutrients means that any fruit will greatly benefit from them.    

Signs of over-fertilizing plants  

Even though your intentions may be sound, you may find that you’ve inadvertently given your plants too much fertilizer. Look for these signs to know if you need to adjust your methods    

Sign 1 – crust on soil  

One of the most common forms of fertilizer is a powder which you can sprinkle on the top of the soil around your plants. This powder needs to penetrate into the soil and if it is too much, it will form a stale crust atop the soil.

When you add powder fertilizer, it is important to also add plenty of water so that it can get deep into the soil where it will be the most beneficial.    

Sign 2 – Yellow leaves and soft branches  

While nitrogen is essential to a garden, it can actually burn your plants if it comes into close contact. If this happens, your plants can become brown or yellow.

Furthermore, if you are adding concentrated fertilizer to your soil, you should also provide a layer of soil between it and a plant’s roots. Otherwise, the roots can burn and die.  

Sign 3 – Very large leaves  

Even though you want your plant to be big and bushy, you don’t want this to come at the expense of any fruit. Too much fertilizer can result in large leaves but small fruit, which is a major disappointment.    

When is it too late to fertilize plants?  

If you have outdoor plants, then the latest time to fertilize them is before the ground starts to freeze. You should be aware of the first frost date in your area and plant to fertilize the soil before this happens.

There is still an advantage of fertilizing the soil late in the season, especially if you decide to use organic matter such as compost or manure. Essentially, you are getting your soil ready so that come spring you won’t have as much work to do to get it ready for growing.

As for indoor plants, you will want to keep fertilizing them year-round. Some indoor plants do go into a dormant phase but because they only have the soil in their containers, they will need regular fertilizer to keep their nutrients up.  


If you have plants, you need to fertilize them. Outdoor, indoor, vegetables, and fruit, all need the necessary nutrients so they can be strong and healthy.    

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