One of the best online resources for gardening is Mike McGroaty. I follow him at http://www.freeplants.com and subscribe to his newsletter. Here is his most recent newsletter on fertilizer:
Fertilizer! Magic Potion or toxic formula?
I just came in from sitting on the front porch and I
was admiring the large bed of Impatiens that Pam and
I planted under and around the willow tree. What a
blast of color!
Then I thought about what I feed them.
But first, let’s do the fertilizer crash course. On a
bag of fertilizer you will see three numbers like 12-12-12
or 18-6-4 or 5-36-5. Here’s what the numbers mean and
what they mean to you as a gardener.
The first number is the percentage of nitrogen in that
particular bag of fertilizer. Plants need and love
nitrogen, but like banana splits, too much of a good
thing is not a good thing. So you have to make sure you
are not putting too much nitrogen on any particular plant.
By the way, I like Banana Splits. Can you tell?
The second or middle number on a bag of fertilizer is
phosphorous. Phosphorous is like an under the hood tune
up for plants. Phosphorous plays an important role by
helping the plant absorb and use the nitrogen and other
nutrients that a plant needs from the soil in order to be
healthy and happy.
Phosphorous really aids in the photosynthesis process and
essentially makes and keeps the plant healthy. Which means
the plant will produce more flowers and fruit. So basically,
it takes the correct amount of phosphorous for plants to
The third or last number on the bag of fertilizer is the
percentage of Potassium in the fertilizer. Also called
potash. Potassium gives plants stamina because it helps
plants absorb and use water. Usually there is plenty of
potassium in the soil, but much of it is not in a form
that plants can absorb. The potassium in a bag of
fertilizer is water soluble and easily absorbed by plants.
Potassium helps plants survive drought conditions because
it helps the plant use water more efficiently.
So what does all that mean? That means that you have to
use the correct fertilizer for the particular plant you
are fertilizing. However, the fertilizer companies have
made this easy for us because a lawn fertilizer has a
very high amount of nitrogen because your grass grows
a lot more than typical plants and grass needs and will
use more nitrogen.
A garden fertilizer might have a formulation of 12-12-12
or 14-14-14. You can use either one, don’t get too caught
up in the details. But a garden fertilizer is meant
to be applied to your garden before you plant and it
releases those elements very quickly upon application.
It’s good for a bare garden, but not so good for established
plants in your landscape. Unless used very sparingly.
Fertilizer companies make fertilizers for things like
hanging baskets that are really high in phosphorous to
help the plants make lots and lots of flowers.
What I use on the flowers in my beds is a product called
Osmocote. Osmocote has a lot of different formulations
but what I often use is the 14-14-14.
Don’t confuse Osmocote 14-14-14 with a garden fertilizer
that says 14-14-14 on the label.
Osmocote is a coated fertilizer that is engineered to
release it’s formula very slowly over a period of months.
Unlike a garden fertilizer that releases fully in a
matter of days. Some Osmocote releases over 3-4 months.
Some of the formulations take as long as 8 or 9 months
I like the Osmocote 14-14-14 that releases over 3 to 4 months
for my flower beds because is just sprinkle it over the bed
after I plant my flowers and let it slowly feed the flowers
all summer long.
What about things like Miracle-Gro, do they work?
Yes, Miracle-Gro is a good product. The liquid formula
releases very, very quickly but is safe when used as
recommended. It’s a quick release, but safer form of
nitrogen. So even if you have fertilized your flowers
with Osmocote slow release granular fertilizer, you
won’t hurt a thing by giving them a little Miracle-Gro
along the way.
Another brand name that I’ve used successfully on my
flowers is Jack’s Classic Plant Food, formerly known
as Peters liquid fertilizer.
Okay! That’s a lot but I hope you find it informative
Chris, Growing small plants is the most fun
you can have with your bibs on!
My book, Easy Plant Propagation” makes an excellent
gift for the gardener in your life. Surprise somebody
with a signed copy!
Chris, do me a favor and send this newsletter
to at least three of your gardening friends and tell them
why you like me,or why you don’t like me. Okey dokey?
Take care, have a great day and by all means stay inspired!
McGroarty Enterprises Inc.
P.O. Box 338
Perry, Ohio 44081
Happy Fertilizing and remember to “bee” positive!