Plants are much like people. They need frequent feeding.
This is especially true in Florida with our sandy soil, which doesn’t offer much for plants to eat. Mostly it just holds them up. So having flowers, fruit, and vegetables depends on two important things: amending the soil and fertilizing the plants.
Actually you can do these two things at the same time, but I can explain them better if I start with the feeding. Most of our plants do much better with regular feeding. Mature trees and shrubs can perhaps survive with little added fertilizer because their root systems are deep and wide and have more intake from whatever the soil supplies. But I’ve always fed my fruit trees for better growth and production and higher resistance to diseases. Pests tend to eat plants that are already suffering, not the ones that are thriving.
Don’t fertilize seedlings until they get their first true leaves, and even then used a weak solution. Feed after a rain rather than before it, especially in the summer. Heavy rains can wash the food right through the soil; it will be wasted and can pollute our waterways.
With this in mind, also don’t over-feed. Follow directions on the package or use less. Be careful not to feed when the plants are too dry or they can be burned.
You have many choices of fertilizers and any of them are better than none. Organic growers use organic fertilizers, mostly so they will do no harm to the beneficial organisms and worms that are working to improve the soil underground. I follow many organic rules but I don’t always use organic fertilizers, and I still have many healthy earthworms.
For vegetative growth – leaves and branches – you want to start with a balanced fertilizer.
All of them have three numbers indicating the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, such as 6-6-6 or 10-10-10. The latter will be stronger. Some also include the trace elements, and these are even better. Once the plant is growing well and ready to produce flowers, you may want to use a bloom booster with numbers such as 10-30-20. This is especially true if you use a great deal of organic mulch and compost on your garden for those are high in nitrogen and otherwise might result in all leaves and little or no flowers or fruit.
You can spray your plants with a soluble fertilizer with a sprayer on the end of the hose such as those sold by Miracle Gro. Liquid food can be used more quickly than dry foods, which is another option. For them you must scatter the food over the ground in a circle around the plant. Stay an inch away from the stem and a few inches away from a trunk. Spread the food over all the ground as far out as the leaves are growing, which can be a wide area for a tree.
For plants in rows you can put a line of dry fertilizer along the sides of the rows, about an inch away from the stems. In either case, the dry fertilizer cannot be used until it is watered or rained into the ground and is taken up through the roots to the leaves. If the dry particles land on the leaves, brush or shake them off so they don’t burn the plant when they get wet. I use both soluble and dry fertilizers.
When I see some of the gardens I visit, I probably don’t use enough. But I keep learning.
Today’s pick is crossandra, commonly known as the firecracker flower. It’s a woody perennial that grows to 3 feet and has glossy dark-green, opposite leaves and stems of showy funnel-shaped flowers in shades of orange, coral pink and yellow. It grows in sun to partial shade and blooms through most of the warm months. Frost can nip it back but it recovers quickly. It’s sensitive to nematodes, so mulch it well. I grew some from seeds, but it took a long time and the color wasn’t what I hoped. It’s better to root cuttings.
Now’s the time...to tell you never to feed anything that can be invasive. They grow too much on what they find. I don’t feed my shade trees but they have spreading root systems that get a share probably from every plant in the garden. Reduce your feeding in the fall and winter because when plants aren’t growing as much, they need less nourishment. It’s simply a waste.
The Tampa African Violet Society will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrowat the Common Ground Christian Church, 4207 North Blvd., Tampa. Award winning grower Jim Boyer will present a free program on propagation. Growing tips for African violets also will be offered. For information, email Sheryl Herold at [email protected] or call Mina Menish at (813) 681-1910.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.