If your vegetable garden isn’t thriving, you may need to feed your plants

CORVALLIS – your vegetable garden will grow lush and fertile – or not. If the latter is true, you may need to feed your plants.

Chip Bubl, associate professor and horticulturalist at Oregon State University Extension Service, has been advising vegetable gardening for many years and giving tips on how to feed plants in midsummer.

Bubl’s tips:

Most vegetable gardeners start their harvest with a balanced fertilizer that is worked into the soil before planting. In the case of easily nourishing plants, this is enough to carry them to maturity.

Nitrogen is the plant nutrient that is most often returned to the crop after it has bloomed and grown. There are mutliple reasons for this. First, in winter nitrogen is washed out of our soils and we have almost nothing left to start each vegetable year. Second, nitrogen is crucial for vigorous plant growth. A lack of nitrogen results in pale green to greenish-yellowish plants that are often stunted. Third, unlike other plant nutrients, nitrogen is easily soluble and can move quickly from the soil surface to the root zone if watered after application.

Gardeners often fertilize their plants in midsummer with a cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), a cup and a third calcium nitrate (15-0-0) or about half a cup of urea (46th). -0-0) per 10 foot row. Sprinkle the fertilizer near the growing plant and pour it in. The plants react very quickly. It’s not uncommon to see a sharp change in plant color within two weeks. Corn, onions, cabbage, and pumpkins are particularly responsive.

Some organic fertilizers, like blood meal and alfalfa pellets, also work well. They need to be worked lightly into the soil and the reaction will take longer to become visible. Therefore, if you feel that nitrogen is a little scarce in your garden, consider using these organic products sooner. Fish emulsion needs to be used more often to get the same effect. Read the label for dilution and application rate with fish emulsion.

A timely addition usually leads to higher yields and better vegetable quality. The time for these harvests is:

Corn: when 8 inches tall and when 24 inches tall

Cabbage: 30 days after transplanting

Cukes: When the vines are expanding fast

Winter squash: like cucumbers

Summer squash: when the fruit set begins:

Paprika: like pumpkin

Potatoes: when the vines are 20 cm tall

Beetroot: if 4 inches tall

Salad: like beetroot

Peas and beans are easy forage crops, but only if the seeds were inoculated when planted with the bacteria that help them trap nitrogen from the air in root nodules. If not, they may need some nitrogen support during the growing season. Tomatoes are pretty heavy eaters, but too much nitrogen can lead to excessive shoot growth, which leads to increased blossom end rot on the tomatoes. Take each side with a gentle hand.

Another tip:

If we add a lot of organic matter to the soils or if we buy a soil mixture based on strongly organic matter, not only is often almost no nitrogen available from the organic matter, but the compost animals that start to break it down need more nitrogen. In these conditions, nitrogen fertilization is very important for your plants as they grow.

– Kym Pokorny, kym.pokorny@oregonstate.edu

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