2010-05-06 / News

Fertilize plants now for good results later

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

For gardeners, there is no peace at this time of year. There are too many plants that need to be dug in, too much lawn to cut, too many hanging baskets to set up and too many fruit bushes to tend to. Fortunately, days are getting longer and it is possible to work until about 7:30 p.m. – assuming you get home from work early enough to work on your garden.

If you can’t, there’s always the weekend.

As soon as spring bulbs have flowered, they die back, leaving you with unsightly clumps of foliage. Unfortunately, the foliage is needed for next year’s flowers and if you cut it, wave goodbye to flowers next spring. Now is the time to deadhead (cut off the dead flower heads before they turn into seeds), and fertilize with a good general-purpose fertilizer.

When you look at the numbers on the fertilizer box, look for one that has a high first number and lower second and third numbers. The numbers stand for the N-P-K ratio of the fertilizer: N is for nitrogen, P is for phosphate and K is for potash. They tell you how much of each mineral is available to your plants.

For bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, you want a high nitrogen value, but you also want some phosphate and some potash. A 10-5-5 fertilizer will do just fine. Sprinkle a little around each clump of leaves and leave the leaves for about six to eight weeks before cutting. If you cut them early, the bulb cannot store enough food for next season and it will not flower.

If your bulbs have formed a large clump, you might want to dig them out in a few weeks and spread them around so that you can increase your stock of flowers. You might also want to put some in a pot and set the pot in some dark corner for the summer. In early spring next year, bring it indoors and you will be rewarded with a pot full of early flowers.

Another plant that should get a dressing of manure, fertilizer or compost is the asparagus bed. Asparagus like nitrogen and the 10-5-5 should do just fine. Right about now, you should be able to harvest these succulent spears and enjoy some of the fruits of your labors.

You will also need to “side dress” – sprinkle around the base – your blueberry, red and black currants, gooseberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes with compost or fertilizer. After a long cold winter, they need a little boost to get them going again. Make sure that you’ve pruned out old growth to allow new growth to start.

If you have heavily mulched plants, you should also fertilize them. Mulch tends to break down and when it does, it absorbs nitrogen from the surrounding area. Often, this will starve the mulched plants of nitrogen. To eliminate this possibility, make a liquid solution of fertilizer and use it to water your mulched plants.

To make a liquid solution, pour the recommended dosage into a watering can or sprayer, add water and stir well to dissolve the fertilizer. Pour it around your plants and wait for them to appreciate it.

You can also make manure or compost “teas” by putting several shovelfuls of manure or compost into an old string onion bag and lowering it into your rain barrel. Leave it to stew for a few days and water your plants with the tea. If possible, water weekly with a manure or compost tea to keep your plants growing well and to provide a weekly nutrient boost.

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