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The Daily Guide - Waynesville, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: How and what to fertilize when

  • Plants, even low maintenance ones, benefit from being planted in favorite soil conditions and that includes knowing how much, and when, to fertilize. Second to pesticide use, most homeowners over-fertilize, which can be worse than too little.
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  • Plants, even low maintenance ones, benefit from being planted in favorite soil conditions and that includes knowing how much, and when, to fertilize. Second to pesticide use, most homeowners over-fertilize, which can be worse than too little.
    Plants need a combination of sun energy, water and soil nutrients. Soil that is well-drained, fertile and regularly compost-enriched will offer a reasonable supply of plant nutrients.
    Newly cultivated soil, although seemingly attractive, is low in organisms. Micro-organisms that should live there may not, and are certainly not, generating plant nutrients.
    Soil is an amazing ecosystem. There are more living individual organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are currently living on earth.
    Soil micro-organisms, including bacteria and fungi, cycle nutrients and water to plants. Along with earthworms, among others, bacteria digest nutrients, providing nitrogen, phosphorus and many other nutrients in a form plant cells can assimilate.
    A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria. One reference notes that is as much mass as two cows per acre.
    Part of that ecosystem includes compost, which is decomposing matter that feed all of those teeny tiny little cows…ok, just checking if you were still with me.
    One of the reasons it is not recommended to plant immediately after composting is that compost is food for all of those micro-organisms.
    To break down into nutrients, they need a little time so the best time to compost is after the growing season. In mid-Missouri, fall composting will give soil micro-organisms time to provide increased plant nutrients by spring.
    For those gardens already started this year, let’s go over plants’ appetite and get a feel for what kind of feeding to provide them.
    In general, light-feeding plants benefit only from a small amount of starter fertilizer. They won’t need anything else, assuming they are growing in compost-enriched soil: bush beans, turnips, mustard greens and peas.
    Moderate feeders need good drainage and moisture-holding mulch more than they need fertilizer. These are root crops so don’t use processed manure fertilizers: beets, carrots, okra, pole beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes. In mid-Missouri, adding potassium in recommended doses will help with potato production since this is one of the minerals often missing.
    Heavy feeders are the ones you should add fertilizer into soil before planting. These plants also may appreciate a second helping later in the season: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, kohlrabi, onions, peppers, rhubarb, squash, tomatoes and watermelon.
    Anything growing in a pot or hanging basket needs to have regular doses of fertilizers to keep micro-organisms fed. Often watering removes nutrients that keeps micro-organisms fed.
    Most fertilizers have recommended doses. Follow recommended rates. I tend to cut the rate in half to see how my plants respond, then adjust accordingly.
    Page 2 of 2 - If your plants are growing big but bearing a light crop late in the season, you are overfeeding. They do make a great conversation piece, as in “I have a six-foot tomato plant growing off my deck.
    But sadly you're missing the best part: enjoying your garden bounty.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@gmail.com.

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