Why Won’t Your Garden Plants Produce?

You planted a garden, but it did not produce.  The plants may have grown nice and large, but they did not produce anything.  What could be wrong?

The simple answer is – Plants need certain certain types of fertilizer depending on what they produce.  Using the wrong fertilizer may cause the plant to grow large, but may not produce.  Think of fertilizer as plant vitamins.

Bushel of potatoes

What brought this topic up?  I posted a video talking about how to pick out seed potatoes. Ethical Preparedness asked a question about growing potatoes.

I always get the plants the plants themselves to grow good: it seems that I find very few potatoes under the dirt at the end of the season. And the ones that I do find are always kind of small.

If the reader does not subscribe to Ethical Preparedness YouTube channel, get over there and subscribe. He makes some excellent videos.

People prepping for a long term collapse, or just a backyard gardener should understand how certain nutrients affect the garden.

Everything written here is from memory.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash

The basis of modern commercial fertilizer is Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash. Each one promotes different parts of the plant to grow.

Let’s take 13-13-13 fertilizer for example. That is:

  • Nitrogen 13%
  • Phosphorus 13%
  • Potash 13%

This is a well rounded fertilizer that will work for most garden applications. Someone may be asking, “Kevin, what if we do not have access to commercial fertilizer?” We will get to that in a minute.


Even though nitrogen is in the air we breath, plants can not use it that way.  Nitrogen has to be added to the soil where it can absorbed by the roots.

Sources of nitrogen include:

  • Manure
  • Urine

This is what helps plants grow nice and large.  Anything with large leaves will love nitrogen – corn, turnips, mustard greens, spinach.. etc.

High nitrogen fertilizer examples:

  • 16-6-12
  • 21-0-0

However, using a high nitrogen fertilizer on something like potatoes will cause the plant tops to grow large, but will not produce potatoes. Using high nitrogen fertilizer on beans, peas, okra, squash… may cause the plant to grow large, but will not produce.


This is what causes root growth, and in the potato example, helps potatoes grow.

Sources of phosphorus:

  • Bone meal.
  • Chicken manure – trace amounts.

High Phosphorus fertilizer examples:

  • 10-20-10
  • 2-14-0
  • 0-10-0

Hunting leases will usually have a dumping area where members dump the carcass of hogs and deer after being processed.  I happened upon a dumping ground while on a hiking trip in 2016.


This helps pod production.  Peas and beans are examples.  Where would someone find potash?  Just as the name implies, fireplace ashes.

Members of the Legume family add nitrogen to the soil, so they need very low nitrogen fertilizer.

A well rounded fertilizer such as 13-13-13 or 10-10-10 are excellent for peas and beans.

Garden Examples

Let’s throw out some examples.

13-13-13 – Well rounded fertilizer good for most garden applications.

16-6-12 – Nitrogen for growth and potash for pod production.  What would use this?  Corn, maybe okra.

10-20-10 – Lots of phosphorus.  What uses the middle number?  Anything you want good root growth.

21-0-0 – Straight nitrogen.  Do not expect any root or pod production.  Strictly large leafy greens.  Some people use 21-0-0 on corn, then side dress with something like 16-6-12.

Side Dressing

Side dressing is when you cast fertilizer next to the plant and work it into the soil, or right before a rain and let the rain wash the fertilizer into the soil.

Commercial fertilizer only feeds the plant for a few months.  I heard commercial fertilizer last around three months.  So if the plant takes longer than three months to grow, it will run out of fertilizer.  In other words, the plant will run out of nutrients.

Take potatoes for example.  I usually plant them around February – March, then harvest  around June or July.  First fertilizer application is 13-13-13.  Second fertilizer application around 2 1/2 – 3 months later would be 10-20-10.  13-13-13 for the whole plant, then 10-20-10 for tuber growth.

Final Thoughts

I hope that clears things up?  Of course some people are going to be thinking about composting.  There is nothing wrong with composting.  I had a compost pile and used it to grow squash from 10 year old seeds.  The plants were small, but they produced.

When it comes time to plant the 2018 garden we will talk about different topics.

2018 is supposed to be dedicated to food and food production.  Things should be kicking off the in the next couple of weeks.

On February 22 I went to Circle Three feed in Jasper, Texas to get my new chicks for 2018.  An employee told me they are supposed to get their plants and fruit trees in starting around February 27th.

How does this relate to prepping?  Now you know what kind of nutrients different types of plants need.

We have not even touched on stuff like Epson salts, iron powder, blood meal… etc.

Think of it this way – Plants are a living, breathing organism, very similar to us.  If you feed your plants the right nutrients they will grow and produce.