Lets Grow

Fertilizing at the Right Time

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Published March 13th, 2011

The best way to fertilize is to mix the fertilizer with the soil when you plant. This has a “timed-release” effect because the roots find the food as the plant grows. It helps the roots spread quickly. For established plantings you should sprinkle powdered fertilizers generously around your plants before mulching. This way the fertilizer doesn’t have to find its way through the mulch to get to the roots.

Plants don’t really begin to feed until the soil warms up. This is why timed-release powdered fertilizers work better for spring feeding. They are stable and will remain in the soil until the plant uses them, while liquid fertilizers are washed away.

Modern gardeners are hungry for a return to traditional gardening methods, like building garden soil with organic compost and fertilizers. Petro-chemical based fertilizers are widely believed to weaken soils over time, defeating the natural process of renewal that makes good garden soils and healthy vegetables.

For one thing, petrochemicals don’t do anything to improve soil texture. Good soil needs “looseners” like compost and peat moss, and turning the soil to mix it with air. For another, well-rounded nutrition depends on living organisms and trace mineral elements, neither of which can be found in a bag of 12-12-12 or a bottle of Miracle-Gro.

Lots of people ask us for “Miracle Gro” and we carry it in our store. But when we sell it we always think of those I.V. drip bags in the hospital, “feeding” you through a tube into your arm. It will keep you alive but it’s NOT a balanced diet. For a real-life demonstration of this compare a hydroponically grown hothouse tomato with one from an organic garden. Hydroponic tomatoes get a liquid diet similar to Miracle-Gro.

Liquid fertilizers are useful for fertilizing hanging baskets, window boxes and planters where potting soil is used and roots are confined in a small pot. Professional growers use a weak solution of fertilizer in their irrigation water to encourage rapid growth. Another good use of liquid formulas is force-feeding distressed plants, such as Azaleas that aren’t well established and can’t absorb enough food from the soil. We have Miracle Gro Azalea-Camellia (also called Miracid) made just for this.

Think twice before you put your plants on a liquid diet. You probably wouldn’t like it for yourself! In our own gardens we use lots of Holly Tone, Plant Tone, Rose Tone and Bulb Tone by Espoma Organics. These are balanced meals containing lots of wholesome natural ingredients like gypsum, greensand and bone meal to help break up clay soil. They also contain Micorrhizae, soil micro-organisms that help your plants digest fertilizer and trace minerals. Espoma is a modern version of the old-fashioned fertilizer mill; a factory where ground-up ingredients like bone meal, cottonseed meal and other components are blended into powdered fertilizers that build and replenish tired soils. We call Espoma fertilizers the “magic dust”.

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