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Which fertilizer for vegetable gardens is best?

If you look across the fence and envy your neighbor’s lush, productive vegetable garden, take heart: it’s all in the fertilizer. Fertilizer makes the difference between ho-hum gardens that eke out a tomato or two and lush, overflowing bushels of produce. The best fertilizer for vegetable gardens can fill your baskets to bursting.

If you don’t want to worry about fertilizing your garden all the time, Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food Flower and Vegetable is a good choice. Its time-release formula means you fertilize once every four months

What to know before you buy fertilizer for your vegetable garden

Forms of fertilizer

Garden fertilizer comes in a variety of forms, and which you select has to do with how often you’d like to fertilize and how big your garden is.

  • Granular: Granular fertilizer can be applied by scattering at the base of the plant. It releases as it rains to fertilize plants over time, making it good for gardeners who don’t want to fuss with frequent fertilization. It is difficult to know how much you’ve applied, so some plants may get too much (and others not enough).
  • Liquid: Liquid fertilizer comes in a concentrated form that can be diluted in large quantities. It can be a very economical and organic way to fertilize, but it needs to be applied more frequently.
  • Spikes: Spike fertilizers are inserted into the soil at the base of each plant to release fertilizer over time. They are great for gardeners who need to leave their gardens untended for several weeks, but they can get expensive for large plots. These are best for container gardens.

Needs of the soil

Regardless of the form, the fertilizer you select should be formulated to the needs of your soil. Fertilizer comes in a variety of ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The ratio should be geared toward what your plants need. For example, for leafy growth, you’ll want a formula higher in nitrogen. Fruiting plants need more phosphorus, and potassium helps many vegetables fight off disease and cope with drought.

This ratio is written on the bag, starting with the letters NPK (for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). 

Common ratios and their uses include:

  • Flowering and setting fruit: 1-2-2
  • All-purpose for plants and veggies: 1-1-1
  • Stronger root systems: 1-2-1
  • Lush leaves: 3-1-1

What to look for in a quality fertilizer for vegetable gardens

Varied release time

For gardeners in a hurry who still want a quick burst of nutrition and a slow release of additional support for their plants, a varied release time fertilizer for vegetable gardens is the answer. This is formulated so that 30% or more of the fertilizer releases immediately, with the remainder slowly applied over time. 

Easy application 

Applying fertilizer should not be rocket science. Nor should you need to purchase special sprayers or applicators. Look for a fertilizer that can be scattered by hand or mixed in a gallon jug and applied that way.

Some of the easiest applications involved screwing the container onto a common garden hose and turning the hose on to dilute and apply fertilizer all at once. 


Concentrated garden fertilizers allow you to customize the potency of the fertilizer. These are also a more economical choice for gardeners on a budget. 

How much you can expect to spend on fertilizer for vegetable gardens

The cost of fertilizer varies depending on the form and the size of the container. Expect to spend $10-$50. 

Fertilizer for vegetable gardens FAQ

How do you know what fertilizer your garden needs?

A. There is only one clear way to know what fertilizer your garden needs. You cannot simply look at the growth patterns of your fruits and vegetables to determine what’s going on in the soil. The only way to know for sure is to have your soil tested. Agricultural agencies can do this for you. If you aren’t sure where to get your soil tested, ask at your local garden center. 

What’s the difference between fertilizer and compost?

A. Every garden needs compost, but not every garden needs fertilizer.

Compost helps to amend your garden soil to keep it light and fluffy. It consists of decomposed plant and vegetable matter, plus a few worms and naturally occurring nutrients to keep things interesting. It’s the base for a healthy garden.

Fertilizer has specific compounds that may be lacking but that are crucial for good vegetable production. Each garden is different, and some may not need as much fertilizer as another. 

Do you have to add fertilizer to grow vegetables?

A. Depending on the quality of your soil, you may not need fertilizer. However, most vegetable gardens can benefit from a judicious application of a well-formulated fertilizer. You may still be able to grow vegetables without fertilizer, but your results may be spectacular with it. 

What’s the best fertilizer for vegetable gardens to buy?

Top fertilizer for vegetable gardens

Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food Flower and Vegetable

Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food Flower and Vegetable

What you need to know: This is highly recommended by users and does not require excessive applications to grow beautiful vegetables.

What you’ll love: The smart release feature means you only need to fertilize three times a year. It’s designed to strengthen root systems and not burn aboveground plant parts. It’s also available in a formulation for indoor plants.

What you should consider: With almost 16,000 4- and 5-star reviews, there’s not much to complain about.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Top fertilizer for vegetable gardens for the money

Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food

Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food

What you need to know: This is a familiar name and an effective fertilizer.

What you’ll love: Use this to safely fertilize plants every week or so. It’s safe for use on all vegetables and flowers and can be used indoors, too. It’s also available in packages as small as half a pound and as large as 10 pounds.

What you should consider: Small, tender plants may burn if the directions for application are not followed.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Worth checking out

AgroThrive All-Purpose Organic Liquid Fertilizer

AgroThrive All-Purpose Organic Liquid Fertilizer

What you need to know: This is organic and can get results in as little as one week of application.

What you’ll love: It’s concentrated so a little goes a long way. It has two release speeds: 70% of the fertilizer is fast release and the remaining 30% slow release. It activates microflora in the soil to increase its effectiveness.

What you should consider: It needs to be diluted to use. Add 2-4 ounces per gallon of water and shake well before applying.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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