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Start your garden with the right fertilizer

Photo: Flickr/Southern Foodways Alliance

Start your garden with the right fertilizer

Tom Musbach

By Tom Musbach on May 16, 2012

A successful garden that saves money and enhances your diet starts with good dirt.

Soil is the first priority in planning, and you may want to add fertilizer so that your plants have the best chance to grow strong and healthy. Four experts on JustAnswer offer tips below to help with this crucial first step in planting a garden.

Assess your soil quality

In general you want a rich soil with lots of organic matter, good drainage, and not too sandy, several experts said.

You should also consider the types of plants you want, as some plants do best with a higher nitrogen level or higher acidity in the soil than others. Read up on the soil basics for each type of plant you plan to grow and then plan accordingly.

If you are uncertain about the quality of your soil, Anna L. suggests taking a sample to the closest county extension office for testing. "They can tell you what needs to be done with your soil to make it able to support vegetable growth. Testing a soil sample is the best way to know what is wrong."

Organic fertilizer is best

Experts agree that compost is a terrific form of fertilizer for most gardens. If you don't have an available compost pile, you can buy organic fertilizers, which is preferable to chemical products. Sometimes chemical fertilizers can deliver too much nitrogen, for example, which can cause a tomato plant's leaves to turn brown and fall off.

"Miracle-Gro is good, but nothing beats a good compost pile as it releases nutrients slowly into the soil," said Martin Caron, another Expert on JustAnswer.

Caron added another tip: "A good trick to get just enough nitrogen is to plant clovers, beans, or peas with (other plants) as they fix nitrogen in the soil. Or simply alternate the position in the garden between beans and tomatoes at each year."

Manure is not always good fertilizer

Dung from cows, horses, pigs, rabbits, and chickens can be useful for gardens, provided that the material has been aged or dried. "Those animals eat non-meat products such as hay and grasses so they are safe to use," said Andy Lambert. "Meat eating animal dung should not be used for fertilizer due to bacteria that could be in their feces."

Many people have asked if manure from dogs and cats can be used for convenience, but experts advise against it because the manure can contain organisms that cause human health problems.

The best animal product for a garden?

"Fish is one of the best fertilizers that you can use," said landscape specialist Brian Shull.

"Many people use fish emulsion and purchase it in stores, but there are fewer nutrients in this because they use trash fish and fish bones," said Shull. "It also has less protein and fewer fish oils than if you were to use fresh fish parts. Also, it is cheaper to make your own fish emulsion."