Here are some fertilizer guidelines from New Leaf Greenhouse:
A few key points
- Try to get your plants into the ground as soon as possible after purchase. If you can’t plant them right away, place them in shady place where they are safe from pets and slugs.
- If you are planting directly in the ground, take the time to prepare the soil properly. Don’t work in your beds when the soil is saturated with water. The wet-test for soil workability is this: take a small shovelful of earth and toss it into the air. If it does not break into small clods when it hits the ground, it’s probably too wet to work.
- If you are gardening in containers, replace your potting soil each year for best results.
- Fertilize regularly for vigorous growth and lots of flowers
All of us want our plants to bloom and grow.
For this to happen, plants need to be fed, whether they are in the ground or in planters or hanging baskets. There are many products from which to choose; liquid, granulated, or slow-release; and organic or inorganic. Knowing which product to use, and how to use it, can make the difference between glorious plants with abundant blossoms and a disappointing gardening experience. Understanding where manures and composts are appropriate is also important.
Liquid feeds, granular fertilizers, and slow-release products are all available as either organic or inorganic preparations.
In either category, there are good-working feeds that will benefit your plants as well as products that are over-rated. What’s important about feeding your plants is that you feed regularly, at a reasonable rate, and know how the state of the plant at the time you feed and the weather that day will affect your fertilization.
What are the differences among fertilizer, compost and manures?
Fertilizer changes the chemical state of the soil adjacent to plant roots, and the plants draw the feed – whether applied as a liquid or as a dry fertilizer – into the plant with water needed by the plant.
Compost does many more things. It affects the nutritional potential of the root environment by adding nutrient storage capacity. It attracts beneficial organisms that make fertilizer more available to the plant, and moderates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Worked in, it improves the permeability of the soil to water, improves soil granulation and fosters better root growth, and helps to add pore space within the soil structure for better oxygenation and water storage.
Manures may be either fresh or aged manures from grazing animals, or bagged and processed commercial products. Fresh animal manures should be aged to reduce chances of burning plants with urea, a component of all animal manures. Storing the manure in a pile under a plastic tarp over the winter is usually sufficient. Aged manure can be applied directly to the soil, and is best worked in to a depth of six or eight inches for best results. All the benefits of compost are available from manure, if you have a good source.
Bagged manures have often been steamed to kill weed seeds and pathogens, and may have a smaller nutrient charge than unprocessed manure. Some steer or chicken manures can burn plants if used in too large a proportion in potting soil; they can be used in potting soil with good “dirt” as 25% or less of the mixture. Top dressing established plants, and working bagged manure into the soil, will also yield good results.
Now, some general rules for fertilization.
Never apply liquid or granular fertilizer to dry plants, or during extremely hot weather. Chances of burning your plants with fertilizer are high during hot or dry weather. Plants that have experienced fertilizer burn first appear to be wilted… the root hairs that bring water into the roots can be burned right off by fertilizer and the plant will wilt even though soil moisture is appropriate and the fertilizer was applied at label rates. Later symptoms can include crispy leaf margins and flower bud drop. If your think you’ve burned a plant with fertilizer, the best thing to do is irrigate the plant thoroughly from above… quarts and quarts of clear water. This will dissolve the fertilizer salts and carry them away before they can do more damage.
Very dry plants can be damaged by fertilizer applications regardless of the weather. If a plant is extremely dry, it will draw the fertilizer from the soil into its roots at a much more rapid rate that if the plant had been properly watered. More fertilizer than is wanted will enter the plant, and burning might result. Follow the label rates for best results. Manufacturers of both organic and inorganic products perform extensive products tests, and their rates and application intervals are always most appropriate to the product.
What’s the best way to fertilize flower beds in the ground?
A late winter application of a granular fertilizer is the best way to get plants off to a good start. Shrubs, roses, and perennials all benefit from an annual application of granular feed while the soil is still moist and cool. Compost or aged manure might also be added around plants and worked into the soil at this time.
If you want to use a granular fertilizer, this is a great time to make an organic selection. An organic based feed will release nutrients to your plants during much of the growing season. Combined with the application of compost, such a fertilizer will build soil micro-organisms and encourage sturdy growth.
Will my plants in the ground need to be fed after they’re planted?
Annual flowers and perennials that are just getting established may benefit from a liquid fertilization at the time they’re planted or even later in the season if the soil isn’t rich or well prepared. If you have barkdust in your beds you will probably need to supplement the soil with liquid fertilizer several times during the season to keep plants growing and blooming. Barkdust ties up beneficial micro-organisms in its’ decomposition, and that limits nutrients to plants. A good way to put on liquid fertilizer over a wide area is to use one of the hose-jar applicators available at garden centers. Liquid fertilizer, even gooey fish emulsion, can be applied with one of these proportioning devices. There are liquid fertilizers especially formulated for time of planting… just follow the label directions.
A cup of diluted fish fertilizer poured over each newly planted transplant can encourage a quick start. Be sure that the plant isn’t stressed or wilted, that the soil isn’t powder dry, and that the day is not hot. Many transplants also benefit from a cedar roofing shake pushed into the ground as protection from sun, or wind if you live in a gusty area. If your plants become rangy or leggy, as in the case of petunias beaten flat by summer rainfall, pinching them and applying a liquid fertilizer can begin additional months of flowering.
What the best potting soil to use for planters and hanging baskets?
The marketplace is full of prepared potting soils, both organic and inorganic. Many gardeners like to blend their own, from field soil, compost or bagged animal manures, leaf mold, or other ingredients. A light, porous mix that drains well will also permit roots to grow freely. Whatever soil you use, you will need to do supplemental feeding, especially for combination pots with a number of plants in them or large hanging baskets such as fuchsia or ivy geraniums. There just isn’t any way that the soil itself can be formulated with enough plant food in it to nourish your plants for an entire growing season.
What’s the best way to apply liquid fertilizer to planter and baskets?
Liquid fertilizer should be applied to planters and baskets once a week for best results, at the fertilizer label rates. A household plastic bucket with a pour spout is a good way to feed—look for one that’s calibrated in quarts or gallons. Keep the fertilizer and bucket in a handy place and give over half an hour one day a week to feeding your plants… you will be well rewarded.
I’m busy! Is there any other way to feed my plants?
There are a number of products that release fertilizer over time to your plants. Some of them are plastic-coated granules – Osmocote brand fertilizer, for instance —but there are many other kinds. They’re fairly foolproof, and are more expensive to use than liquid fertilizer. However, most of them don’t release fertilizer properly at temperatures below 50°, so they’re best for the summer months.
It doesn’t matter which fertilizer you choose… just use it regularly and at the recommended rates.
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