Spring is here and the plants are in full swing.
Plants perform best when they receive the optimum amount of sunlight, appropriate amounts of water, and plenty of essential nutrients for good growth and flower and fruit production. Optimize plant growth by knowing how and when to fertilize.
Fertilizers provide the nutrients plants need to grow, form healthy flowers and foliage, produce more fruit, establish a strong root system, and fight disease and insect pressure. Plants benefit most from fertilizer applications when they are at their peak of growth, and spring is one of those times.
The best time to fertilize is when many plants are emerging from dormancy. In the spring, the leaves of deciduous plants, the buds of flowering plants begin to burst, the stems and branches elongate, and new roots form. Nutrients will help with all this growth, so the rule of thumb is to make an annual application of fertilizer in early spring.
There are several ways to fertilize plants, including slow-release granular fertilizers, liquid food applied to the soil by dipping, foliar sprays, and fertilizer stakes. Additionally, using natural fertilizers like compost can add nutrients to your soil.
Compost is decomposed organic material from other plant matter and animal waste from livestock whose diet consists primarily of plants. These include chickens, cows and horses. Composts can be found already bagged at many retail garden centers or available as bulk delivery from local sources.
Compost can also be made from waste such as grass clippings and dead leaves in your garden, in addition to kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds, eggshells, and fruit and vegetable peelings. . Worm castings and mushroom composts are two additional options that add nutrients to your soil.
Plants can have individual fertilizer needs. Acid-loving plants such as azaleas, blueberries, camellias, hydrangeas, and rhododendrons prefer a more acidic soil pH to absorb optimal nutrients. Flowering plants need more phosphorus to help stimulate stronger bud, fruit and flower development.
Vegetable plants benefit from this and require more frequent fertilizer applications throughout the season as they produce and this makes them heavy feeders. Slow-release fertilizers can be incorporated at planting time for extended nutrient release. Side dressing with calcium nitrate at first and third flowering. Additionally, some growers use liquid fertilizer every two weeks.
Nitrogen is very important for all plants, but especially important for lawns and turfs. Woody plants such as shrubs and trees can benefit from an application of 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and perennials benefit from 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in the spring.
Potted houseplants can be fertilized with liquid fertilizer for most varieties. Do this once per season in spring, summer and fall, but skip winter for plants that go dormant. No matter what plants you’re trying to feed, it’s important to plan the right time.
Applying fertilizer in the wrong season can lead to increased tenderness of new growth that can be damaged, especially if applied during cold weather in late fall or winter. It is therefore best to stop fertilizing during dormant seasons. Also, in areas that may be at risk of late frost, it is best to wait until mid-spring. Everyone could benefit from putting fertilizer application schedules into their calendar.
Here are some general rules to follow when fertilizing:
- Avoid fertilizing new plants until they are fully established, as this can lead to an increase in tender new growth which can make the plant weak and long.
- Always follow the doses and application methods recommended by the manufacturer.
- Fertilize outdoor plants in the cooler part of the day, such as early morning or late evening, especially in hot summer weather.
- Always water fertilizer well to distribute nutrients throughout the soil profile and to prevent burns.
- Finally, avoid over-fertilizing and perform soil tests every year to see what nutrients your plants need.
With fertilizer prices doubling, waste not.