How and Why to Use Flower Fertilizer
When you think about it, a plant’s ability to make flowers out of nothing more than soil, water and sunshine is a pretty amazing feat. As flower gardeners, our task is is comparatively easy. We just need to create the best possible environment for our plants to work their magic.
Plants need access to many different soil nutrients, in various amounts and at different times during the growing season. Incorporating compost and other organic matter is the best way to increase your soil’s baseline fertility and improve long-term plant health. But even good garden soil rarely provides all the nutrients that flowering plants need for peak performance. It’s up to gardeners to close the gap.
How to Choose a Flower Fertilizer
Most flower fertilizers contain the three major plant nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Some also contain small amounts of the minor nutrients magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron and boron. The N-P-K ratio on the package (such as 5-10-10) tells you the percentage – by weight – of each major nutrient. Broadly speaking, a 5-10-10 ratio is about right for flowering plants. Here are a few other things to know about flower fertilizer:
- Most granular organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly over the course of one or more growing seasons. In comparison, granular synthetic fertilizers are more water soluble and will begin releasing their nutrients within a matter of weeks. After a few months, most nutrients will be absorbed by the plants or washed out of the soil by rain or watering.
- Timed-release fertilizers (such as Osmocote) are usually formulated to provide a steady supply of nutrients for 30-60 days. How long these nutrients last depends on how much rain you get, how often you water, and how hungry your plants are.
- Liquid and powdered fertilizers (such as fish emulsion or Miracle Gro) are water soluble and become available to plants almost immediately. They are usually applied as a soil drench or can be sprayed directly on the foliage. Foliar feeding is effective during critical growth stages such as transplanting time, blooming time and fruit set. It can also be used to help plants overcome stress from weather, pests or disease.
If you are unfamiliar with the role of N-P-K in plant health, the differences between organic and synthetic fertilizers, and how soil pH impacts nutrient availability, visit our website to read the full article.
When and How to Use a Flower Fertilizer
Not all plants require the same amount of nutrients or need them at the same time during the growing season. Generally, the best time to fertilize plants is early summer when they are growing most vigorously. Here are some additional recommendations for timing:
- Seedlings, transplants and other young plants should be fed lightly until they have established a good root system. Dilute liquid fertilizers to half strength.
- Annuals should be fertilized consistently all season, right through early fall. Application rates vary by product, so follow instructions on the label.
- Perennials, shrubs and trees, may be fertilized in the spring as soon as the soil warms up. Fertilize again in midsummer when the plants are growing vigorously. Do not fertilize in late summer or fall.
When you’re applying flower fertilizer, here are some general rules:
- Mix granular fertilizers into the soil at planting time. For established plants, broadcast the fertilizer on the soil surface and lightly mix it into the top inch or two.
- Sprinkle time-release fertilizers on the soil surface.
- Dilute water-soluble fertilizers at the recommended rate and apply them to the soil surface. For best results, water both before and after fertilizing.
More Isn’t Always Better
Though you don’t want your plants to go hungry, overfeeding can cause problems. An overabundance of nitrogen encourages plants to produce foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit. Too much phosphorus can make it difficult for plants to absorb essential micronutrients including iron and zinc; too much potassium makes it difficult for them to absorb calcium.
There’s another problem with applying more fertilizer than your plants need. The excess nutrients may leach into in streams, ponds and groundwater, where they will damage ecosystems and pollute drinking water. For best results, follow package instructions for proper application rates and timing.
Fertilizing Flowers in Containers vs. Gardens
Most home gardeners grow flowers in containers as well as in a garden. These two different growing environments call for two different approaches to fertilizer.
The best growing medium for pots and planters is a soilless mix that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite with little or no nutrients. At planting time, it’s good to fortify the soil with compost and granular fertilizer. But in most cases, your plants will absorb those nutrients within about a month. The rest will be washed away by daily watering.
To keep container plants lush and healthy, and to ensure they have enough energy to produce flowers, you need to feed them regularly. Have you ever wondered why your planters never look as good as the ones at high end stores, restaurants and public gardens? It’s mostly about fertilizer (and partly about dead-heading). Water your container plants with a water-soluble fertilizer every 1 to 2 weeks or apply timed-release granules to the soil surface about every 6-8 weeks.
Summer is here and the growing season is in full swing. Now is the most important time to be feeding your plants. Give them a boost and enjoy the rewards!