Whether you're using store-bought or natural fertilizer, such as compost or manure, most plants like to be fertilized at planting time, just to get off to a good start. Thereafter, you may fertilize again on a monthly basis. Reduce or stop when fall's cooler weather arrives. Fertilizer inspires fresh new growth, and you don't want that then — fall is a time for plants to slow down and approach dormancy, and cold weather can damage new growth. (You should, however, feed the lawn in autumn to stimulate root growth; feeding grass in
(g the spring pushes excess leaf growth that the roots can't support — see Chapter 10 for details on lawns). Again, for advice on specific plants, read more in the Parts II through V of this book.
If you're using store-bought or chemical fertilizer, read the label to figure out how to deliver the fertilizer and how much to use. Some fertilizers work best if you dig them right into the soil; others are better delivered in dilute form when you water. The label can also tell you how much to use per square foot of garden area and how often to apply. For bagged organic fertilizer, read the label; otherwise, do some research on your own.
More is not better! (Though if you're fertilizing with compost, using too much is almost impossible — see the next section.) Plant fertilizer is like aspirin. The right amount is beneficial; too much is harmful. So don't get carried away. Remember that some fertilizers are types of salt, and high concentrations of any salt can kill plants. Always read the label and follow the directions carefully. To get the amounts right, you may have to pull out the tape measure and figure out how many square feet of lawn or garden you need to cover.
Some gardeners like to fertilize their plants half as much, twice as often. That's perfectly okay. Just make sure you dilute properly and get your measurements right. (Gardeners often use this technique with roses and many houseplants.)
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