Jumpstart Your Home’s Flower Garden

Plants have basic nutritional needs just like people.

Just like people, they need more of some nutrients than others. Plant nutrients are grouped into macro nutrients (those that need a lot of) and micro nutrients (those that need small amounts).  Every package of fertilizer should give its nutritional value. This is usually indicated by three numbers such as 10-20-10. These numbers represent the micro nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. 10-20-10 means the package contains 10% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus and 10% potassium by weight.

Why do annuals and perennials have special fertilizing needs when plants in natural areas thrive without special needs?

In nature, plants rely on sunlight, rain and soil nutrients. Nature limits the types and numbers of plants by the amounts of these basics available. In our flower gardens or landscaping, we have to supplement what nature can provide, if the plants are to survive.

There is a difference between the fertilizer needs of annuals and perennials.

Annuals complete their life cycle in one growing season. They need more fertilizer than perennials that have the advantage of starting over each season from a hardy root system.  Annuals could live with the same amount of fertilizer as perennials, but to get the most out of them, it pays to give the annuals fertilizer throughout the season.

Not all annuals need the same fertilizer.

Most annuals are grown for their flowering but there are other varieties that are grown for their beautiful foliage. Annuals grown for their flowers need lots of phosphorus. That is the middle number on the package in (10-20-10).  Phosphorus encourages blooming as well as strong roots and disease resistance. Annuals grown for their foliage, need less phosphorus and more nitrogen.  Nitrogen is the first number in the analysis (10-20-10) and it encourages lots of leaf growth.

Water-soluble fertilizers are available wherever plants are sold.

Water-soluble fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro or Excel Gro are good for annuals. They are easy to use, but are used up quickly. Be sure to apply them every 2-3 weeks throughout the growing season. Perennials prefer a dry fertilizer that is more slowly released such as 10-10-10.

There are good organic alternatives available.

Milorganite and Sustane are balanced organic fertilizers that will work with annuals and perennials. Organic fertilizer is much slower to release and plants might not produce quite as much growth or flowers.  With annuals, organic fertilizers should be applied three or four times each season. With perennials, organic fertilizers should be applied in early spring and again in mid-summer.

Some annuals and perennials are heavy feeders and are more demanding.

There are a few annuals such as geraniums and impatiens that like to be fed faithfully. The new “wave” petunias need to be fed weekly to do their best.  Perennials aren’t as demanding.

Over-fertilizing can be hard on any plant.

Too much fertilizing at one time can result in excessive growth that is weak and susceptible to problems.  Over-fertilized plants are more easily stressed by lack of water, excessive water, insects or diseases. For perennials, too much fertilizing may weaken their root system and make them less winter-hardy.

Water plants the day before you plan to fertilize. Carefully follow all the directions on the package and try to spread the fertilizer evenly. It’s a good idea to water dry fertilizers after they are applied.  This helps activate them immediately, and keeps them in place. Keep in mind that fertilizers will leach more quickly through sandy soils than through heavy, clay soils.

Remember . . . While proper feeding of plants takes considerable time, it results in beautiful blooms and foliage from the planting season in May, until the first frost.


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