Fertilizing Potted Plants

Early to bed, early to rise, Work like hell: fertilize. – Emily Whaley

Fertilizing PlantsWhether you are growing indoors or out, fertilizer is essential to the success of container gardens. The easiest way to go about fertilizing potted plants is by preparing a nutrient solution and pouring it over the soil mix. The fertilizer is absorbed by the roots and quickly adds what is missing from the existing soil. Even if your potting mix is perfect from the get-go, it will soon become depleted of nutrients as they are constantly used up by plants and leached out by watering. The faster a plant grows the more fertilizer and water it will require. Consequently, as watering is increased so is leaching and nutrient loss.

Once you’ve selected a fertilizer (make sure you use an organic one!), you’ll need to apply it about once every two weeks for container grown plants. This assumes that you’re growing in a high quality, compost rich potting mix that will help retain nutrients. With that said, some gardeners prefer to fertilize with a weak nutrient solution every other time they water. If this is your preference, make sure to use about 1/5 the amount called for on the label.

When you fertilize is also very important. Plant nutrient needs change with different stages of growth. For example, to get the most from annual bedding plants, start them on a high nitrogen fertilizer to promote growth and leaf development, then switch to a low nitrogen, high phosphorous solution to encourage blooming.

Fertilizer Facts

If you aren’t familiar with how to buy fertilizer here is a quick tutorial on what to look for:

There are three numbers on the front of every bag or bottle of fertilizer. The numbers are always in the same order and stand for the percentage by weight of the N-P-K or Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium contained in the fertilizer. Each of these is necessary for healthy plant growth and development. Read more about fertilizer numbers here.

The third number is potassium, which is necessary for stem growth and overall plant vigor. Potassium is used especially on root crops such as carrots, beets and potatoes, but also on young trees during the fall to encourage strong roots during the winter months. Sources of organic potassium include sul-po-mag (sulfate of potash magnesia), palm bunch ash and many liquid fertilizers.

Note: Plants can absorb nutrients through both their roots and through leaf pores. Foliar feeding (applying fertilizer solutions through leaf pores) can supply nutrients to your plants immediately. It is especially effective for giving fast growing plants, like vegetables, an extra boost during the growing season.

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