Some important fertilizing facts

By: Nancy Olsen - Bladen County Extension Office

Why do we need fertilizer?

Plants require 16 nutrients for optimum growth. Often, the soil doesn’t hold enough of these nutrients in the quantities needed for desirable growth and production, the nutrients that are in the soil, are often used up and need to be replaced.

Nutrients, such as nitrogen, are easily leached by water. This nutrient is usually not available, in sufficient quantities, from the soil. Therefore, we need to add extra nitrogen and other plant nutrients to the soil to obtain optimum plant performance. We add these nutrients by applying fertilizer.

What is fertilizer?

Fertilizer is any material that supplies one or more of the essential nutrients to plants. Fertilizers can be classified into one of two categories: organic or inorganic. Organic fertilizers are derived from living or once living material. These materials include animal wastes, crop residues, compost, or numerous other byproducts of living organisms. Inorganic fertilizers are derived from non-living sources and include most of our man-made, commercial fertilizers.

What kind of fertilizer should I use?

Several considerations should be made before deciding on a fertilizer choice. First of all, you need to consider the nutritional needs of the crop for optimum performance. Secondly, you need to have your soil analyzed to see what is available in the soil. After you know what the nutritional value of the soil is from your soil report, follow the recommendations from your report to apply the recommended fertilizer to your soil. These reports are a bit difficult to decipher, so feel free to call or come to the Extension Office (910-862-4591) for us to help decipher it for you.

As for organic versus inorganic types, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Inorganic types are easier to use and we have more control over the content of nutrients in these sources. This allows us to apply our nutrients more accurately.

Organic sources are variable in their nutrient content and we have little control over this. However, organic sources can sometimes be obtained for little or no cost; it adds valuable organic matter to the soil and has some slow release action.

When should I apply my fertilizer?

Timing means everythingfor the efficient use of fertilizer. As a rule of thumb for all plants, fertilizer needs to be applied when the plant is actively growing. This timing will depend of the specific crop that you are growing. Before applying, know when your crop needs fertilizer and apply it so that the nutrients will be available when the plants need them. Incorporating fertilizer into the soil prior to planting is sometimes the best and easier way to apply the first round of fertilizer for the season.

The Cooperative Extension Office has instructions, soil boxes and the form for getting your soil tested. Until the end of March soil samples are $4 each and starting April –October soil samples are free of charge. If you have never tested your soil, four dollars is going to be well worth it.

How do I apply my fertilizer?

The method of fertilizer application will depend on the type of fertilizer that you use. Granular types can be applied by hand or with hand or pull-behind spreading equipment and some can be dissolved in water, sprayed on the foliage or applied through the irrigation system. Most organic sources will need to be spread by hand or with some kind of specialized equipment. It is also a good idea to incorporate both organic and inorganic sources into the soil to prevent the loss of nutrients through volatilization and erosion.

The Cooperative Extension Office has numerous free publications and leaflets on vegetables, gardening, landscape plants, and many others for the browsing and taking. Come check us out at the Bladen County Center 450 Smith Circle Dr., Elizabethtown.

Nancy Olden is an agent with the Bladen County Extension Office. She can be reached at

Nancy Olsen

Bladen County Extension Office