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Nutrition & Fertilizer

There are two types of fertilizers: timed-release and water soluble. Both are needed for container vegetable growing success. Slow or timed-release is added at planting time, and should be thoroughly incorporated into the soil mix. Look for a complete, balanced type such as a 10-10-10, 13-13-13 or 14-14-14 formulation. Osmocote® in a 14-14-14 formulation is just one example of a slow-release fertilizer that can be used. The ratio of this fertilizer to soil mix is 1/2 tablespoon of fertilizer to one gallon of soil mix. Thus, a 3 gallon container would need 1 1/2 tablespoons of fertilizer, a 5 gallon would need 2 1/2 tablespoons, and so on.

Water soluble fertilizers are added about mid-season when the plants begin to produce. This additional fertilizer is needed because most potting mixes don't retain nutrients very well, the plant's roots are restricted and thus somewhat stressed, and watering leaches nitrogen out of the soil. Peters® 20-20-20 or Miracle Gro® 15-30-15 are just a couple of the water soluble types that work well for container gardening. Some experienced container vegetable gardeners have success with a "super bloom" type of fertilizer, one with a high phosphorus content to stimulate blooms and subsequent fruits. If you want to experiment with this type of fertilizer, look for a 10-50-10 or 19-59-9 analysis. These water soluble fertilizers should be mixed at a slightly weaker rate than the label recommends and added once every week or two.

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be washed out of the container as you water. Lighter mixes will require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes. It's a good idea to use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering. Liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed are great plant boosters, but remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients. Check the labels on the products in you garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements.

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