Sponsored by Osmocote

Some people avoid fertilizers because they just aren’t sure how to apply them correctly. Unfortunately, dangerous side-effects like nutrient burn and fertilizer runoff make improper plant food application almost as bad as no application at all. The good news is brands like Osmocote granular fertilizer turn properly feeding your plants into an easy task. In fact, there are a few different ways to safely and effectively apply granular plant food to your garden.

Deep Soil

hand in soil

This method is ideal for those who are preparing their gardens for planting but haven’t yet sown anything. After planting, deep soil application will only damage your roots. First, you'll want to determine the size of the space you're going to be putting the fertilizer on. Use this information and the directions on the fertilizer's label to figure out how much plant food you'll be using. Once you’ve applied it evenly across the whole planting area, thoroughly mix the fertilizer into your soil by hand or with the help of a tiller. If you don’t own a tiller but don’t want to turn your whole garden over by hand, consider renting a rototiller instead.

Some people choose to hold off on applying plant food until after the ground has been tilled and furrowed. If this is the route you're going to take, you’ll want to mix the soil up pretty well before laying any fertilizer down.

Individual Deep Soil Applications

If you don't need or don't feel like tending to such a large area, you can limit your plant food application to the exact spots you'll be planting in. This method is sometimes called dibbling.

To start, you’ll want to dig a planting hole for your nursery seedling or seeds, but dig it a little deeper than you normally would. In the bottom of the hole, add the right amount of plant food. Since you’re targeting a specific plant’s root system, you should be using 20 percent less fertilizer than you would in more general application methods. After filling the bottom of the hole with fertilizer and a small layer of soil, plant your seedling or seeds as you normally would. Many people prefer this feeding technique, as it requires less food overall. Water as you normally would after planting to help establish your plants' root systems.


Consider topdressing when there are already growing plants in the area you’re looking to fertilize. Distribute the fertilizer evenly across the surface using your hand, a hand-held spreader, or a drop spreader. Watch the weather prior to applying your fertilizer and take care not to water too much following application. Most slow-release foods are activated by moisture, so too much rain or water can cause you to run out prematurely. Osmocote actually releases through osmosis, putting nutrients into the soil continuously for four to six months as your plants consume them, so if you live in particularly wet conditions, consider this variety instead.


plant rows garden

Banding is an application method that works best for plants that have already been planted in rows. Place the fertilizer in furrows about two inches to the side of your plants. These furrows should also be two inches deeper than the original seed furrow. Do this on both sides. If you have already dug neighboring furrows for irrigation, you’ll want the new plant food furrows to be between them and the plants. Those that use a drip hose should add the plant food underneath the emitter. This may take a little more garden space planning, but is an efficient way to handle long rows of flowers and vegetables.


You can apply your plant food for your indoor and outdoor potted plants using some of the same methods previously discussed, or you can refresh the soil using a repotting method. For this, you’ll carefully take out your plant from the soil, working hard not to disturb the root ball too much. Work the right amount of food into the soil, also being careful not to hurt the prills as this can impact how long they stay effective for in the soil. Repot the plant using the same care that you did to remove it. Water as you would normally.

Each of these methods of fertilizing can be personalized to fit your particular growing situation when you decide to start fertilizing. There can be few thing less frustrating than planning to make individual deep soil applications only to find that you’ve forgotten to add the fertilizer. So, in this case, you’ll want to go through topdressing or even banding. Just find what works for you. The best thing is that your plants will thank you for the plant food by being healthy, producing larger blooms, and bigger harvests.