The 9 Best Garden Fertilizers You Can Get, According to a Horticulturist
Keep your flowers blooming, your plants green and lush, and your fruit and vegetable harvest plentiful with these best garden fertilizers for your landscape.
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Most plants need a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to thrive, and over time, those nutrients in the soil become depleted. And as soil quality goes, so does your garden. Finding the best garden fertilizer for your flowers, vegetables, shrubs and lawns can be daunting—unless you’re a horticulturist. Luckily, we consulted one to make the process less scary.
Nationally renowned gardening expert and author, Melinda Myers, explains on her website, “Research has shown that perennials planted in a properly prepared garden need little if any fertilizer. The problem is most people don’t spend the time and money to prepare the soil. If you did, then just add 1 to 2 inches of compost every other year to enrich the soil with nutrients and organic matter.”
Unlike perennials, container gardens, annuals and vegetables need more nutrients and benefit from a slow-release, low-nitrogen fertilizer. However, not every fertilizer is right for every plant or climate.
What You Need to Know Before Buying Fertilizer: NPK Explained
Fertilizer labels show three primary micronutrients required for plants to flourish. The three numbers you’ll find on the label refer to the ratio of N-P-K or (N) nitrogen, (P) phosphorus and (K) potassium. In general, nitrogen fosters growth and leaves, phosphorus helps develop roots and enhances blooms and fruit production and potassium supports the plant’s overall vigor and health. A general-purpose fertilizer will have equal or similar NPK ratios.
The Best Garden Fertilizers
- Best Overall: AgroThrive Organic General Purpose Fertilizer
- Best Value: Burpee Organic All-Purpose Granular Plant Food
- Best for Roses: Down to Earth Rose & Flower Mix
- Best for Rainy Season: Proven Winners Continuous Release Fertilizer
- Best with Worm Castings: Wiggle Worm Soil Builder
- Best for Vegetables: Dr. Earth Home Grown Organic
- Best for Fruit Trees and Plants: EarthPods Natural Flower & Plant Food Capsules
- Best for Tomatoes: Jobe’s Organics Vegetable and Tomato Granular Plant Food
- Best for Lawn: Espoma Organic Lawn Food Fall Winterizer
Best Overall Garden Fertilizer
AgroThrive Organic General Purpose Fertilizer
If little kids or curious pets are likely to play in your garden, you’ll want to keep fertilizer pellets and spikes out of their hands and mouths. Many organic fertilizers include manure, bone meal or blood meal, which might smell and taste appealing, especially to your pets. Luckily, we’ve found a solution.
A liquid organic fertilizer, like AgroThrive Organic, provides child- and pet-safe nutrients to all your garden plants without leaving behind any tasty pellets (we know, yuck!) for your pets to eat. This 3-3-2 NPK fertilizer is gentle enough for seedlings and won’t burn plants when applied according to the directions.
- Certified organic
- Promotes foliage, root and flower growth
- Suitable for a variety of plants and seedlings
- Safe for pets and children
- Has a strong odor
- Must be reapplied every two weeks
Best Value Garden Fertilizer
Burpee Organic All-Purpose Granular Plant Food
Gardeners have trusted the Burpee brand since 1876. The brand’s all-purpose granular plant food is an organic fertilizer that feeds plants for up to three months, as well as conditions the soil with beneficial microbes. This all-purpose organic fertilizer is ideal for both indoor and outdoor plants. If you need an all-purpose plant food without worrying about fertilizing throughout the season, this gentle and effective blend prepares your plants for abundant growth and blossoms. Plus, with a balanced 4-4-4 NPK ratio, starting seeds has never been easier.
- Feeds plants for three months
- Enriched with calcium
- Odor can attract animals
Best Garden Fertilizer for Roses
Down to Earth Rose & Flower Mix
Roses reward a little TLC with glorious, often fragrant blooms and healthy green foliage. Rose experts say that of the NPK combination, phosphorus is the most important mineral to stimulate blooms. We like this organic rose and flower fertilizer for its 4-8-4 NPK ratio, but be wary—dogs may like the blood, bone meal and seagull poop that are part of the ingredients. To give you an idea of how much you’ll need, 5 pounds treat 100 square feet of garden soil, and is suitable for roses, annuals, bulbs and vegetable gardens.
- High in phosphorus
- Packaging made of recycled materials
- Odor can attract animals
Best Garden Fertilizer for Rainy Season
Proven Winners Continuous Release Fertilizer
If you live in a year-round rainy climate or an area with a heavy rainy season, watering your garden probably won’t be a challenge. But all that rain can wash nutrients from your soil, especially nitrogen, and can also wash away any fertilizers you apply.
Skip the liquid fertilizer, which will wind up in the storm drain, and instead use a continuous-release granular fertilizer that you mix into the soil. We like Proven Winners for its high nitrogen ratio and long-lasting efficacy of up to six months. This 15-7-15 NPK formula is best applied in the spring when vigorous growth is desired.
- Time released for up to six months
- Easy shaker application
- Promotes growth for flowers and shrubs
- Insoluble formula doesn’t degrade with water
- Non-organic formula
Best Garden Fertilizer with Worm Castings
Wiggle Worm Soil Builder
Wiggle Worm’s organic fertilizer is a natural soil builder that activates depleted soil with natural earthworm castings, aka poop. Fertilizing with worm castings provides long-term nutrition to plants by adding beneficial microbes to the soil. As soil improves, it helps root growth and overall plant health. If your soil already has a lot of earthworms, their castings are nourishing your plants, but if you rarely see a worm in your dirt, your garden will appreciate this naturally occurring by-product of earthworm activity.
This product is suitable for indoor and outdoor plants, trees and shrubs. Unlike other organic fertilizers, the Wiggle Worm soil builder is odorless, so critters aren’t attracted to it.
For heavy-feeding plants, supplement Wiggle Worm with other fertilizers. The NPK ratio is 1-0-0, providing some nitrogen, but more predominantly, it conditions and amends your soil the way nature intended to help your plants absorb nutrients. A little goes a long way, but unlike other fertilizers, you never need to worry about over-fertilizing with worm poop.
- All-natural formula
- Chemical-free and odorless
- Builds soil
- Can be applied any time of year
- Can’t be used with a broadcast spreader
Best Garden Fertilizer for Vegetables
Dr. Earth Home Grown Organic
Vegetable gardens do well with a general-purpose fertilizer, typically applied in the spring before the plants begin to produce a harvest. Many gardeners feel better using organic fertilizers on their food crops, because their families eat what comes out of the ground. Dr. Earth Home Grown 4-6-3 organic fertilizer is a gentle and effective soil booster that feeds your plants while improving the soil with beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae.
Created with kelp and ocean-derived ingredients, Dr. Earth makes a blend formulated for herbs and vegetables, and there’s a vegan option if you don’t want any animal byproducts on your plants. Use this best garden fertilizer when planting and every two months for an abundant harvest and healthier soil.
- Builds soil health
- Contains microbes and mycorrhizae
- Environmentally safe
- Odor can attract animals
Best Garden Fertilizer for Fruit Trees and Plants
EarthPods Natural Flower & Plant Food Capsules
Your fruit trees also need that magic combination of NPK, but if you want to increase fruit size, boost the K ratio. Potassium increases cell division, meaning it helps fruit, especially citrus, grow larger. These EarthPods capsules are an organic option with a 2-2-4 NPK ratio. The spikes are small capsules that you press into the ground every 14 to 21 days while the tree or bush is in its growing season. We love that you don’t need to worry about measuring, mixing or spraying with these convenient capsules.
- Easy-to-use capsules
- Environmentally friendly
- Works both indoors and outdoors
- Made in the USA
- Needs frequent application
Best Garden Fertilizer for Tomatoes
Jobe’s Organics Vegetable and Tomato Granular Plant Food
Your tomatoes will benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer shortly after planting. But when they start to produce flowers, you’ll want to switch to a fertilizer that’s higher in phosphorus and lower in nitrogen, which will help them yield a lot more of that precious fruit.
The Jobe’s Organics vegetable and tomato granular plant food, which has a 2-5-3 NPK, is a good choice, and your peppers, eggplant and other nightshades will love it, too. This fertilizer enhances plant health with bone meal for strong roots and microorganisms to build your soil. Be prepared for a bumper crop!
- Organic with no synthetic chemicals
- Builds soil health
- Enhances yield
- Not vegan-friendly
- Odor can attract animals
Best Garden Fertilizer for Lawn
Espoma Organic Lawn Food Fall Winterizer
Epsoma’s lawn food is an eco-friendly way to build soil health and help lawns withstand the perils of winter. This slow-release nitrogen 8-0-5 NKP fertilizer is enhanced with potassium to help the grass recover from the summer heat. This granular fertilizer broadcasts easily with a spreader in late summer and fall, and the 30-pound bag covers 5,000 square feet of turf. We love that this organic fertilizer is safe for pets, people and the planet, too.
Fertilizing in the fall is the best defense against weeds in the spring. When it comes to lawns, Myers recommends using a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, like this Espoma pick. She also swears by mowing leaves rather than raking to add organic matter. “As long as the pieces are smaller than a quarter and you can see the grass blades, the lawn will be fine,” she says.
- Helps lawns recover from drought
- Great value
- Formulated for winter protection
- Slow-release nitrogen
- A more season-specific product
What to Look for When Buying a Garden Fertilizer
When it comes to fertilizers, unfortunately, one size doesn’t fit all. Plants have specific nutritional needs that vary with the seasons and growth stages. Myers suggests testing the soil before purchasing fertilizer to discover your lawn or garden’s needs. Keep in mind that some potting mixes include a slow-release fertilizer, so check the labels to avoid over-fertilizing.
- Application type: Granule fertilizer can be mixed with soil, used in a broadcast spreader or utilized as a top dressing. Specially formulated time-release granular fertilizers break down slowly to feed plants with fewer applications than sprays. If you’re looking for immediate results, liquid fertilizers are fast-acting compared to slow-release fertilizers. Liquid fertilizers and teas can be sprayed or sprinkled into the soil or used as a foliar spritz.
- Organic vs. synthetic fertilizers: Organic fertilizers are made from natural matter and contain microorganisms that help plants absorb nutrients. Ingredients in organic fertilizers are derived from plant, animal and ocean materials and help to build soil health. Synthetic fertilizers are derived from processed minerals and feed roots effectively, but are void of beneficial organisms and deplete the soil of nutrients.
How We Found the Best Garden Fertilizers
With hundreds of garden fertilizers on the market, I researched products with proven results and high real-life customer satisfaction. I also relied on the knowledge of horticulturist, Melinda Myers, to get an expert’s take.
While going through top-rated garden fertilizers, I looked at NPK ratios, ingredients and soil-building qualities. Plus, as a veteran organic gardener, I hope that readers will consider switching from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and look to organic products and sustainable gardening practices that contribute to long-term soil health.
What is the best fertilizer for garden plants?
If you can compost or add shredded leaves to your plots every fall, it will enhance your soil health and subsequent plant health. Using compost and organic matter adds nutrients to the soil and feeds plants naturally, whereas synthetic fertilizers help your plants grow, but they may lack beneficial soil-building microbes and can create havoc on aquatic life and insects that are beneficial to the environment. For the best soil vitality, we recommend organic fertilizers and conditioners with microbes. Be warned: Organic fertilizers can have a strong odor.
Is 10-10-10 good for a vegetable garden?
A 10-10-10 fertilizer is considered an all-purpose fertilizer because it can be applied to most types of plants that need a boost of nutrients. However, when applying a 10-10-10 to flowering plants (including vegetables), be cautious about the timing, as it could boost foliage rather than flowers due to the high nitrogen content. A 10-10-10 balanced ratio all-purpose fertilizer is best applied in the spring to promote growth.
- Melinda Myers, a nationally renowned gardening expert and author
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